Saturday, June 16, 2012

Welcome to Jamrock

It was a long, hot walk from the Whistling Bird to the Negril Hardware store. I covered most of the walk on the beach and then skipped through Traveller's Resort out to the road for the rest of the way. It was still early but the sun was hot, the road was dusty and downtown Negril was bustling.

I walked over the bridge, past the roundabout and off to the right as the road snaked along the shoreline, minibuses and taxis hurtling past me with inches to spare.  I fended off a dozen or more offers of a ride, sketchy merchandise or just a chat. I was on a mission, I said, more than half a dozen times.

I wanted to hit the Hi-Lo for some provisions but I really needed to stop at the Negril Hardware store so I could get going with my bird paintings. I couldn't carry painting solvents on the plane (turpentine!) and was taking a gamble when I even packed my tubes of oil paints. Turns out I DID get a special look-see by the TSA, who graciously leaves you a note after they've rummaged through your belongings:

I had nearly a hundred tubes of oil paints in my bags (they weighed a ton) and they don't come cheap. If they'd been confiscated I would have been up the creek -- no oil painting this vacation, no birds! And out hundreds of bucks worth of paint. Fortunately they left the paints alone -- 

I did manage to sneak on some Linseed Oil in my carry-on. I don't need much so I just put some in a small hotel-size shampoo bottle.  Turpentine was another matter. 

I actually use "Turpenoid" at home, which is a less-toxic turpentine alternative. I didn't think I'd find that in Negril but would settle for regular old turp to thin my paint and also clean my brushes. When painting with oils, you typically use some turpentine and also some oil to regulate the consistency of the paint rather than just use it just straight out of the tube. You can get some nice glazes and washes if you thin your paint with the turps.

So I stepped into the tiny outer office of Negril Hardware store, ready to buy. A long counter, the width of the store, separated customers from floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with the usual hardware inventory.  I approached the only woman sitting behind the counter -- an unusual  and welcome sight in a hardware store. She was young, pretty with styled hair and a crisp white shirt with black bow.

"Good Morning," I said, "I need to buy some turpentine."

She simultaneously raised her eyebrows and frowned. The top half of her face rose up, while the bottom half curled downward.

"Turpen-TIME?" she asked.

"No, turpen-TINE," I answered.

"What is dat, a brand name?"

"No, it's generic, it's a chemical, a solvent, used to thin paint."

"Turpen-TIME?" She turned to a man sitting near her  behind the counter.  "A  firs mi evah hear of dat, turpen-time?" He shrugged also, it being a mystery chemical to both of them.

"It's a paint thinner. Do you have any oil paint thinner?"

"Alright, mi have some paint thinner," she said and sat there, not moving.

"Well, can I see the paint thinner you do have?"

I really had no time for a JobsWorth woman this morning. Always like pulling teeth, seen?

She slowly got up and wandered toward the back shelves. After several minutes she returned with two different cans, one a Sherwin Williams "Paint Thinner" and another a brand of "Lacquer Thinner" and placed them on the counter. I looked over their contents, neither of which mentioned turpentine; both were rather sketchy about the actual ingredients.

I figured the Sherwin Williams "Paint Thinner" would be the best I could do and said, "Ok, I'll take this." I looked up and Ms. Jobsworth was gazing off not looking in my direction.

"I'll take this one," I said again, putting the can down on the counter in front of her. She wasn't more than a foot away from me and still kept gazing off, as if I weren't there.

"Hello?" I said. No reaction.

"HELLO," I said, much louder, "I said I'll TAKE THIS ONE." She jolted a bit and then looked at me, blinking, and slightly annoyed that I'd disturbed her thoughts.

"Alright," she said, picking up both cans.

"I'll also need some finishing nails," I added. I needed to re-assemble my wooden stretchers and that would take some small fine nails to put the struts back in place. She frowned again.

"What size yuh need?" she sighed.

I held up two fingers indicating an approximate length and said I just need some small really fine finishing nails and could she show me what she had so I could choose?

She wandered to the back again for a search. She soon returned with 3 different sizes of finishing nails and I picked the one I thought best. 

"How much yuh want?" she asked. I knew I needed about 2 dozen per painting so I asked how they sold them, how many in a package.

"We sell dem by di pound," she said. We agreed on a half pound. I had no idea how many nails that would be but I figured it would be a good start. She disappeared to the back once again. After a few minutes she returned with a knotted black plastic "scandal" bag clearly full of nails. She rang up my sale for the paint thinner and nails, about $520 jamaican dollars or about $6 U.S. I was handed a receipt and told I'd collect a bag for my things from the "genkleman" sitting behind me at the door, next to a table full of the black plastic "scandal" bags.

I handed him my receipt and he inspected my paint thinner and took my scandal bag of nails to make sure the receipt matched my items. He unknotted and opened the scandal bag and saw, much to my dismay, that it was filled with an entirely different sort of nail than I'd picked out. Not only were these much larger nails, they were nails with tops. Not the finishing nails, and much too big.

Well done, Miss JobsWorth.

Did I mention I was the only customer in the store? It wasn't as if she were fending off customers left and right and got distracted. 

This error, of course, required all sorts conversation and trips to the back again and a re-printing of the receipt and overall confusion. I eventually walked out with my can of paint thinner and a nice tidy package of finishing nails (no need to buy by the pound after all) and couldn't wait to get out of there.

After a quick pit stop at the Hi Lo for eggs, bread, turkey bacon, tomatoes, lettuce and wine, I was all set. It was long hot walk back to the WB, the sun much higher in the sky now, but I liked getting the lay of the land and enjoyed the walk.

Back at the WB, I set out to re-assemble my stretchers. I'd brought down 12 canvases (4 painted, the rest blank or with just sketches) and in advance of flying, I had to remove each canvas from it's wooden stretcher, which was held in place by about 100 staples. Ugh. Then I'd had to take apart the stretcher itself,  which was stapled in the corners and nailed to several strut/supports in each corner. More ugh.

The wood was pretty soft and light weight but still - it took forever to take them apart. I'd numbered and lettered each piece  as I took them apart so I knew to put them back together again with their original mates. Oy. I'd taped segments together and wrapped them in bubble wrap and had hoped they'd survive a trip in a soft duffle bag. To my delight, they all arrived without so much as a crack.

So now I had a dozen of these sets to put back together:

I spent most of that day and a portion of the next stapling and hammering. Seriously, HOURS.  But what else did I have to do? Nuttin. So, I stapled and hammered for two days until they all got put back together, more or less in their original shape. For some reason, the center cross-pieces didn't always reach their original width -- a problem. I'm guessing the humidity has caused pieces to expand and such. So it goh. I'll figure something out.

The tricky part now is to re-stretch the canvas over these frames and staple them around the back side. The blanks don't present much of a problem but the painted images really need to line up along the edges.

I'm going to need an extra set of hands to help me with that job. The staple gun is pretty heavy duty and I need two hands to operate it. I'm going to need an assistant help me stretch those painted canvases across the frames. For the time being, I've lined them up on their original stretcher with a single staple at the top. 

I think the frames may be slightly larger than when I painted them! Rut-roh. May need to paint more along the edges. We'll see.

Thankfully, my reinforcements are arriving today and I'll have some help stretching these guys across their frames. 

Looking forward to painting!

6 comments: said...

You have certainly become a "jack of all trades"!. Cannot wait to view all of the bird paintings so please don't forget to let me see them. Love, GM

dinahmow said...

You wan' someone come fi help you?
Happy hols, Victoria.

VH McKenzie said...

Yeah, dinahmow, I do! Waiting 'pon the pickney and husband. Soon to arrive!

Thanks for the postcard!!!!!

Unknown said...

Lovely story and I know exactly which store ya mean. Realy took to the Rock Victoria. Happy painting! Wish i coukd join you! Maybe next year! :-)

adaelamoon said...

Tell me how it goes with your paint thinner. I haven't been able to find turp in Jamaica for the last few years, and I find the hardware stuff doesn't work very well at all.

As for your oils paints traveling I think you can rest easy... I even carry mine in my carry on with no problem.

VH McKenzie said...

Hey adaelamoon -- so far I've just painted on a small gessoed wood block (blog post to come!) and the thinner worked "ok." It remains to be seen how it will work on the large bird canvases and if it will make the nice glazes that I'm hoping to make.

I'm wondering if we'd have better luck if we just asked for "mineral spirits" in the hardware store? Or if Mobay would have a greater likelihood of stocking turps than out here in the boonies?

Finally, glad to hear about using the carryon!!! My oil paints weigh a ton and I'd much rather put those extra pounds in the un-weighed carryon rather than my checked bag.

Would love to see your work -- do you have anything online? best,V