OHIO TOWN – varnish on figured foam – 2005

You, especially if you patrol the aisles of building supply stores, have run across sheets of a light, pink material, used for insulation. Foamula is a common trademark.

This material, albeit soft and yielding, has found a structural use in the building trades. It, and things like it, are carved or cast into architectural shapes and then coated with a firmer material to give fake pillars, ashlar treatments, cornice features and the like.

In an experimental mood I bought a Foamula board. While tossing the stuff around, I decided to see how it reacts to heat. I applied a torch to it and it shrank. Next, I masked off some areas of the board and applied a torch to it. The torch had a greater effect upon the unprotected areas, leaving a pattern of relative highs and lows. For greater control I substituted a paint removal gun – a more powerful version of a hair dryer – and found myself with things to do.

The following is a brief description of the technique. In this demonstration I start with a fresh sheet. Imagine a featureless pink rectangle.

The blank sheet mocks and teases, as would any good canvas – except it does so in a Pepto-Bismol way.

My first decision is to use mud as the covering agent. The mud around here is clayish, free and ultimately recyclable. Furthermore, it seems to have the nicest relationship with the surface of the Foamula. How to handle the mud? In one scenario I would have spread it around and then have done a big finger painting. In another, I would have taken a leaf rake to the surface and produced wavy patterns. Ultimately, I recruited cut-wood elements, destined for other uses.


These I put about and splattered with the mud.

I then gingerly removed the wood and applied the paint remover gun.


This shot is of another project, but I like its looks. I then wash off the mud leaving a pattern of islands and depressions that are anywhere from a quarter to a half inch deep.


Now I need to make sense of what is somewhat random and unresolved. The overall pattern is a given, unless I want to dig in again. But many interpretations are possible. I have taught myself not to have a crisis as I can go over the sheet repeatedly with different approaches.


In this iteration I have washed the image in layers of colored and diluted primer. The whole thing reminds me of an archipelago, but I will resist the impulse to turn it into a kind of Indonesia. I feel that I may be done with the primer, as the surface is now pretty well protected against any unwanted interactions of varnish and foam. In direct sunlight and with any solvent, the varnish can begin to dissolve the foam. This may lead to strong results, as the foam then sets up hard. But one must accept an element of unpredictability.


At this juncture I have begun to add varnish, which has pooled and flowed. I have also rubbed colors over the plateau surfaces. The painting is full of effects. One compromising aspect is the composition of shapes, which is neither vague nor specific enough. Is this a killer? Possibly. Whatever its shortcomings, this exercise serves to illustrate some of the issues that one might encounter.

I can go in some known directions. One is to do as I have done too much and paint the entire surface in one color and go over the entirety with a tinted clear glaze. Another is to deal with depressions as one domain and the plateaus as another and give each aspect a different color treatment. As matters stand, the painting is mumbling to itself and we’re not on speaking terms yet. This socialization process is bound to go beyond the deadline for this post. So, in closing, let me put up something that I did recently.


This is a splatter painting using tinted glazes over a figured background of a greenhouse plant.

Also, the three-faced self- portrait included in “Face Off With Sunil” is painted and clear varnished on foam.

Is anyone inclined to try this technique? I sure would like to see your results.