Painting A Fountain


I placed this 19th century American cast iron fountain in a client’s existing terrace pool 6 years ago.  Last fall, she was ready for a change. A rectangular pool much larger than the original circular pool was installed, and a steel surround was built to finish that new pool.  The overgrown boxwood was removed, and additional stone was added to the terrace. 

A picture frame opening was left in the stone, and planted this spring with isotoma fluvialitis.  The steel surround was painted in much the same color as the original fountain.  The surface of the steel was only primed in patches, so the surround would rust in the same manner as the fountain. The design of the surround was taken literally from the lower part of the base of the fountain.  More recently, she decided that the color of the fountain and surround was too light; she wanted to tone down the color of both pieces. 

Working with color outdoors is challenging.  But I knew I would be developing the finish in stages.  A pale blue gray would be applied first.  Though this is a pastel color, it is distinctively blue.  Successive coats would reduce that blue to a trace. 

A darker brown-black coat was applied over the blue, to tone it down.  The pool surround got its first coat of blue gray.  Like the blue, this very dark color applied to the fountain would eventually be barely visible. 

I sanded the entire surface of the fountain at this point, to bring some of the blue back up, remove some of the black, and expose some of the cream-white of the original color.  Working on the color with the fountain in place is necessary.  It is much too difficult to imagine an entire environment, and how light affects the surface.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on a ladder.

The sanded version has a lot of contrast-more contrast than what I wanted. The intent of the finish color is that it will reflect the predominant colors on the terrace, without standing out.  All of the furniture and containers on this terrace are of subtle and restrained color.  Much of that color is a result of age and exposure to the elements.  To replicate an aged finish is by no means easy, and my experience creating them is limited.  On my side-I had the time to let the finish develop. 

 The sanding brought color contrast to the surface.  The gray wash which came next toned that contrast down.  I liked the close relationship between all of the colors, but I knew I needed a gray that was a little darker, and less blue for the finish coat.  

Over the gray wash, a darker, gray/brown wash. At this stage, I was wiping off as much paint as I put on.  Though the fountain pool would prevent anyone from being this close to the surface of the fountain, It was my intent that the color be best described as gently faded. 

Every color layer is represented, to greater, or lesser extent.  The final coat of gray is dark enough to make the fountain sculpture blend gracefully with the rest of the terrace.  Subtle does not have to mean sleepy; up close,  there is plenty of visual interplay between all of the colors. 

This afternoon, the concrete interior of the fountain is to be painted black.  This will make the surface of the water reflective of what is going on in the sky.  It will also change the feeling and appearance of the color on the fountain.  In a perfect world, the fountain sculpture color will need no adjusting.  If it does, I’ll be ready. The finish color on the surround will be much influenced by the black interior.  I hope to finish that part of the painting this afternoon.

 By early next week, I hope to be able to fill the pool with water. The final step?  The water plants.

Late afternoon update-the interior of the concrete pool is painted, and the surround is one shade darker.  What a huge difference the black makes; the fountain looks darker to my eye.  It must be that no more light is being reflected onto the fountain via the pale gray concrete. I am thinking a lighter gray wash over the dark surround color is all I need to do to finish.