A few months ago I was contacted by one of my rowing industry friends with a need to find some timber oars for a project.
Aside from being a handy oarsman, lovely fella, and a very talented cabinet maker, Rob has created some very unique rowing related pieces of furniture and art. His website has some lovely images in the galleries.
Rob was creating a special ceiling light fitting for a client that used a number of oar blades. At first I was imagining something a bit like a ceiling fan, but he had come up with something much more clever than that. It wasn’t until he returned the blades to me for painting that I could see how clever he had been.
Once I had painted up the blades in the assorted club colours that the client and their family had rowed for, Rob did the final assembly and installation.
With this year’s Fours Head approaching, I thought I should do a post showing how I dealt with the fine detail in the new event logo that was introduced last year.
There have been many changes and new things happening with this popular event, and one of these was the adoption of a new logo and brand identity. Changing the colour of the trophy blades wasn’t going to be much of an issue, but the organisers thought it might be nice to use the new logo.
After some discussion, I said that I could do it, but only if the text was removed. This would make it a bit easier to paint, would make more room on the final design layout, and would prevent repetition with the main title painted along the top of the blade.
However, it would still be a complicated job to do well. Or would it? It was time to cheat…
Luckily one of my very talented friends from the rowing industry has a vinyl cutter and is very handy with it. With his help we created a suitable stencil that could deal with much of the detail, but yet also be easy to apply and – most importantly – be easy to remove!
It wasn’t all simplicity and plain sailing from there, but it was a lot easier than manually masking up the 4 shape seven times!
Once the basic design was applied and the details added, then it was time for the text and crew names.
I’ve been busy with a lot of different things in recent months. Here’s a few pictures to show you some of the work.
I was loaned the original Row Zambezi blade (done by another artist) in order to create two new blades. The first difficult task was to match the paint colours, but as you can see my regular paint shop came up trumps!
The final paint job on the blades came up very well (as did the matching mounts for all three) and there is a very long and amusing story about the presentation!
Another job was a pair of oars for someone. The Union Jack is always a challenge, but so too is duplicating an existing oar. The client had borrowed his friend’s university blade and I provided a near millimetre perfect copy.
And to prove that I’ve got rocks in my head, here are the painted rocks I did for my own garden – at the request of my wife and another one of the keen resident gardeners. (The garden is shared – it’s a 75 apartment building).
Although I’m playing catch up on the blogging side of things, there have been a few jobs completed and delivered in recent months.
A couple of these have employed a simple new – and rather discreet – mounting method.
Both oars are mounted high on plain surfaces. Many of my other mounting methods using timber plates with brass hooks and so on would have looked quite distracting on these modern clear spaces. The mounts used here are almost invisible unless you get right up close below the oar and look up. You can just see the shadow of one mount in the left hand image.
Although there are slight differences between these two examples (round shaft on the carbon oar vs flat on the back of the timber), the overall result is the same. Small timber blocks act as a stand-off from the wall for a nice visual line and to prevent the collar hitting the wall. The block then has a slotted mirror plate fitted. With two mounts fitted a set distance apart, it is quite easy to put two appropriately secured screws into the wall for fitting.
Both clients very pleased with their oars and with how they are neatly displayed.
A few weeks before Christmas last year I received a message from an old rowing friend who lives overseas. His wedding anniversary was coming up and he wanted to paint a trophy blade for his wife as a gift. No problem I thought. I can do that.
Then he told me the date he needed it. THAT would be an issue.
Then he solved one problem for me by telling me that he wanted to paint it himself. And then he asked me if I could tell him how.
Sure. How hard could it be? I used to be a Design Tech teacher. Surely I could show a grown up how to do something using a few messages and images.
(* apologies that I have no images to show – we have to protect the names of the innocent…)
It started off quite easily. I’ve helped a few clubs before with blade repair and preparation for paint, so I already had emails with step by step instructions that I could forward on. Sanding, filling, sanding, more filling, priming, sanding, undercoating, sanding. Simples.
The top coat wasn’t so simple as there is a bit of skill and experienced involved in getting good coverage, a smooth finish, and also avoiding any drips or runs. On top of that the design had two colours that needed to be masked off and done separately. Let’s just say, that for a bloke who’s in a very technical and specialised field of high finance who has probably not painted anything since primary school, it was not too bad.
With a few sample images from my archive to act as a guide, he made a stencil and marked up the design very well. Then things got a bit difficult. Most people are fine with a pen in their hands, but few are comfortable writing with a brush.
To get him comfortable with a brush I asked him to look up some step by step calligraphy images and to see how to build up the letters with pen/brushstrokes. Instead of dabbing at it randomly to try to build up an image that looked like writing, he should approach it as if he was writing. A quick demonstration video also helped.
The club logo is quite detailed and he did get a bit frustrated with that, but then he had a great idea. Would a paint marker pen be OK for the fine detail? Yes it would!
The finished job was a bit wobbly in spots, but it was his first ever go at this – and all from very much a standing start with no applicable artistic experience to fall back on. He was a bit down about it at times during the process, but I did have to remind him that I’ve got more than 20 years of experience at this, so of course my demonstration videos made it look easy!
However, the most important thing was the recipient. His wife would have been pleased to get a blade that I painted, but to get one that her husband had painted was all the more special on their anniversary.
I have recently completed an oar renovation and painting job that celebrated the famous 1948 Olympic win of Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell. It’s a great story that I wish I had time to re-tell, but if you are keen you can watch the film version or read a few articles at the Hear the Boat Sing blog.
The blades themselves were in very good condition for their age. They are made from a single piece of wood and are likely pre-WW1. The leather sleeve and collar were in excellent condition, but the protective copper blade tips were rather sad. The design for painting was to mimic those used by Bert and Dickie.
Sam Hoare as Dickie Burnell and Matt Smith as Bert Bushnell in the BBC film Bert and Dickie
After stripping back the old varnish and years of grime, the old tips were removed, the blades repaired and the shafts revarnished. I prepared the blades in a two tone undercoat to make the later top coats a little easier to do.
With new material sourced (you can imagine how difficult 0.4mm copper sheet is to find) and a few handy tips from Master Craftsman Mark Edwards of Richmond Bridge, I set about making replacement copper tips.
Next up was the detailed paint work required for a Union Jack. All those straight lines might sound easy, but quite a lot of tape was used to get the job done.
Although I can be socially distant in the workshop – as I am all year – the lockdown still brought things to a halt.
This business is really only part time as I am the primary carer for the little person in our family. So when lockdown knocked out our usual routines for child care, I became full time ‘daddy daycare’ with our full on little one!
However, I have still managed to get a few hours of work in each week, all squeezed in around my wife’s work hours.
So far I am busy keeping up with last quarter’s job bookings.
Completed and shipped recently are jobs for Australia, Germany, and the USA. Locally I have done four duplicate Head of the River Fours blades (two with mounts), and two pairs of Twickenham blades have been repaired and painted ready for the next season. Next to complete I have four OxBridge oars that are already well on their way, and I’m even rebuilding a set of eight sculling blades for a local school.
Welsh job for Australia
What I haven’t done is get anything done on the four boats clogging up the middle of the workshop!
A few months ago I helped out a small start up club with a long email detailing how best to renovate and paint old blades.
The club didn’t have enough money for new oars, so they were chasing older ones that would do the job suitably for novice and intermediate. However, despite seeking second hand equipment, they didn’t want a second class experience.
Today I received a warm thank you email complete with photos of the lovely newly renovated and painted oars. Our heroes at the Carrick Rowing Club had found the time over lockdown to really get stuck into the job and what a job they have done.
I didn’t earn a single pound, but I feel all warm and fuzzy inside!