Written by Wendy Jann of Sophisticated Wall Art
I was playing tennis the other day when a woman from another court shouted over “Hey Wendy, you do walls and murals and stuff right?” And I nodded yes. Her husband had recently passed away and she wanted to do a commemorative wall for him at the Thousand Oaks Library in southern California. Little did I know then, that it would be the biggest challenge I had ever faced in my entire faux career.
I agreed to meet her and some library officials to take a look at the wall and give them some ideas. On my drive over to the library I’m thinking something pretty, maybe a famous quote or whatever. I had a measuring tape and my camera.
Now the Thousand Oaks Library is a beautiful building. It’s kind of like a huge warehouse with giant pipes hanging from the ceiling. I love the library. I love books.
Imagine me trying to keep my mouth from dropping open as we stand in front of the wall they have in mind. It is the main entry wall which spans about 45 feet high and 50 ft long and slopes down a long ramp down into the main room of books.
I’ve been doing faux full time since 2006 and I love what I do. I love the challenges each project presents and I am an extremely creative problem solver….but this was, well, huge. My mind went right to finding all the reasons this job was too big for me to handle. I reasoned, “I’ll help them find someone else. Someone like Jeff Raum, a southern California muralist who knows how to do large scale stuff.”
Instead though, I just walked around and tried to look cool and looked around at my beloved library and told them I’d get back to them. They say necessity is the mother of invention and for me in this case perhaps it was true. I knew I wasn’t going to become a large space muralist over night so how else could I creatively fill up that behemoth space?
Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without Books” and I feel the same way. Apparently, so did this woman’s husband. So why not fill the wall with quotes about the love of books. What better way to honor the guy?
I remembered Say What from the Mad Stencilist and began a year long relationship with Hugh Hoegner who I could not have done the project without. I found a bunch of quotes talking about books and had Hugh superimpose them in a photograph of the wall I had taken. We were able to “show” the library staff exactly how the wall would look when it was finished before we even began.
I also made a few more “smart” decisions which really helped navigate the city’s extremely “rule bound” legal department. First, I made them responsible for getting me the accurate measurements of the wall. This was a great savings since I would have needed scaffolding just to measure. Also, with the project hinging on precise positioning, I wanted to put the burden on them for accuracy. In addition, I made them sign a copyright waiver accepting responsibility for the use of the famous quotes. If Kinkos warns me when I make a copy, then I figured I should warn the library.
I sold them the concept and the design and submitted the largest invoice to date. They loved it, but I still had to satisfy the City’s requirements for a sub-contractor and that turned out to be more challenging than the wall itself. It took more than a year to navigate the City’s and the Library’s requirements. I came to have a first name relationship with the City’s attorney and also with Katie Pierson a broker from Citadel, IDAL’s insurance carrier. I would come to find out just how solid IDAL’s umbrella insurance policy was.
And it was solid. As comprehensive as it was though, it still wasn’t enough to satisfy the City’s legal department, specifically the City’s Risk Manager. The 10 page contract required my insurance carrier to provide a Certificate that lists the three different required coverages (General, Auto, and Work Comp), term dates and limits, and a separate endorsement adding the City as an additional insured to the auto insurance. The wording provided by my auto insurance would need to have on a separate endorsement page (not written on the certificate) naming the City of Thousand Oaks and its officials, employees, and volunteers. Who knows why my car had to be involved, but this was still the easy part. The real problem was trying to understand Workman’s Comp.
The scope of this job was dictating that I was going to have to have someone work with me. The mask is a two-man process if you’re covering large spaces. I knew if I was going to pull off level lines over 50 feet long, my friend Carol had to be involved. She is my technical artist friend with an interior architecture degree. Even though she wasn’t technically an employee and even though she had great personal insurance, I was told I had to have workman’s comp coverage. As I started to learn about workman’s comp there was no way I could afford it. Citadel doesn’t handle it, but Katie a broker there showed infinite patience as she tried to help me understand how to get around it. Eventually, after trying to excuse myself from the project because it was just turning into too big of a business hassle, the City attorney waived the Workman’s Comp requirement for me. I solved the problem of insuring Carol by paying for her membership to IDAL and then paid for her to have a year’s worth of IDAL’s liability coverage. Now she was covered the same way as me and we went to work.
Did I mention that this massive wall was sloped? The ceiling slope ran in the opposite direction as the bottom slope. Talk about a nightmare to get a level line. I did some smart things in this project and one of them was to make the library provide the accurate measurements of the wall including the slope. This eliminated a time consuming step for me and it made the burden of accuracy on them. Next, I hired a licensed contractor (no insurance hassles here) to get me a level line. They brought in a large laser level and set it up in the middle of the library.
I had Chris from Van Nuys Scaffolding come out to survey the situation. I was thinking it was going to be a tough set up for him as there was a 3 foot pony wall running from the bottom of the wall to the floor. And the floor was a ramp. But he didn’t bat an eye.
It took another another 3 to 4 months of hand holding and demonstrations to get final approval bringing my total investment in the project to almost a year of negotiating. Finally, it was time to order the mask and grid the wall.
Hugh was able to take the layout design and put it on a grid where one square inch equaled one square foot so we would know where to position each letter.
Now we had to put the grid on the wall which was actually the most critical step in the entire process. If the grid lines were off, even just a little bit over the course of that space, the quotes would be slanting.
One of the other things I love about my work is relying on and trusting your support teams. I was able to give Chris, my scaffolding guru, the layout and grid so he could position the scaffolding at the correct heights. We were going to have to be moving across a 50 foot space with lettering moving from the top to the bottom all over at various places.
Once the scaffolding was set, the level line guys and I, under Carol’s precise measuring, gridded the wall. It was a long and arduous process that required all four of us to hold levels at the same time. Then Carol checked and rechecked.
I opened the mask and checked to make sure all the quotes were there and accurate and spelled correctly. If you’re not familiar with the mask process I’ll describe it quickly.
It’s kind of like a sandwich with three layers. You position the mask containing lettering where you want it on the wall with a bridge of tape that we call a hinge. You can hinge from the bottom or the top. I learned that quickly while standing at 50 feet high on a not so stiff board at 50 feet and looking down that 6 inch space where the scaffolding doesn’t meet the wall. It was much easier. Anyway whichever way you’ve hinged, you flip it up or down and slowly peel back a protective layer exposing the sticky back of the lettering. Then very carefully you slowly place it down on the wall without any bunching and crinkling…think sophisticated contact paper. Then you burnish, burnish, burnish (rubbing hard over the whole mask with the equivalent of a thick credit card or burnishing tool). And then you peel the top layer off, leaving the positive shape of the letter. It is practically bleed proof. Once the paint has dried, you peel the last part of the mask off and voila! you have precise lettering across a vast space. Painting the lettering opaque all the way to the edges was important to get an even readable finish.
The “widow” was thrilled, the library staff was thrilled, and I was thrilled. Never before had I done such a public job. People would come and stand and watch for hours. And I had pulled it off! Local newspapers featured us. A big thank you to IDAL’s insurance carrier. In fact, the city recently hired me again to do a project in the board room at City Hall.
So in conclusion, a big thank you to IDAL and its insurance carrier without which I as a single artisan wouldn’t have been able to do the job.
On a final note, since my project’s completion, Citadel has added an option for Workman’s Compensation for IDAL members. It’s complicated because each state has its own laws. Citadel has teamed with another carrier who has designated a description code. Katie is educated and helpful, if you have any insurance questions, her number is 877-247-4468. She was happy to report that they haven’t increased our rate for the past 3 years. She said, “Our insured IDAL members are careful with very few claims. It’s a win-win.”
Written by Wendy Jann of Sophisticated Wall Art