Artist starts work on mural

He’s only been here three days, but Toronto artist John Hood is already getting a taste of Fort Frances hospitality.
“Janis from ‘Cripes, it’s a Castle’ was very nice. She kindly let me come in and drip on her floor,” Hood joked yesterday as he packed up after hours spent dodging downpours while attempting to prime the west wall of the Masonic Logde on Portage St.
Hood had hoped to have the wall primed by this morning so he could begin blocking out the design for the heritage mural he’s been commissioned to paint by the beautification committee here. Unfortunately, Mother Nature got in the way.
“I got completely soaked. I just spent the last half an hour drying out the contents of my wallet,” he said.
Luckily, Hood regards getting drenched as an occupational hazard.
The artist, who arrived in town last Sunday, has been painting outdoor murals in communities across the province for fourteen years–and has been caught in some pretty unpleasant weather in the process.
“The worst is when it gets cold. The colder it gets, the slower you work,” he noted, adding “The mural season is basically from April or May to maybe October.”
Which is why he’d ideally like to have the project completed before the brisk autumn weather sets in, Hood said. But that could be a challenge in itself.
“If I could work for 10 hours every day for 20 days, it could be done. Unfortunately, that’s impossible,” he remarked. “I might have one day of good weather and then two days of rain.”
Hood, who grew up in Montreal and earned a B.A in art from Concordia University, was hired to paint Fort Frances’ second mural through a connection he made after painting a mural in Kenora.
“A lady from Kenora who knows my work recommended me for the project. The (beautification) committee accepted me on this recommendation alone and asked me to prepare a design,” he reflected.
The committee sent Hood a number of historical photographs to base his design on, as well as polaroids of the blank wall to give him an idea of the shape of the surface he’d be working on.
“I probably used about 40 percent of what they sent me . . . I picked out what I thought were the most striking images,” he said.
Out of three sketches Hood came up with, the committee chose one depicting scenes of turn-of-the-century Front Street before the Paper Mill was built.
The design, based entirely on the photographs, is divided into three main panels or “sweet spots”, each featuring a defining colour. In order to convey the look of old photos, Hood will paint one panel in a sepia half-one, another in a blue and white half-tone, and the third in a greenish half-tone.
“The colours will be subdued. They won’t be bright, fruit-flavored colours,” Hood noted.
A top panel extending the length of the wall above the main design will depict a vast shoreline scene that will tie the design together, he explained.
“I wanted to keep this area as simple as possible. It’s still part of the mural, but I didn’t want it to detract from the main panels,” mentioned Hood.
While Hood doesn’t always work from photographs in his murals, he noted that they do work well to convey an authentic historical scene.
“The thing about painting from photographs is that people are used to thinking of history in terms of a series of photographs,” he pointed out.
He noted heritage murals are becoming more popular in communities around the country as a way of beautifying towns and boosting tourism.
Hood, who’s traveled across Ontario and even to Texas on mural commissions, drove up here in three days and got straight to work on the project. He keeps all the tools and materials he needs in the trunk of his tiny white Mazda, which is strewn with paint brushes of all sizes and containers of acrylic paint.
The only thing he couldn’t fit in the car was a scissor-lift, which he borrowed when he got here. The lift is essential because Hood’s mural will span the entire height of the lodge.
During the off-season, Hood works on interior commissions, set-painting for film, T.V and theatre, or illustration. Occasionally, he also picks up teaching gigs.
“Or I just sit and fret about what my next job will be. The old saying ‘feast or famine’ very much applies,” he said.
But mural-painting is in his blood. Both Hood’s mother and sister, also artists, have done murals.
Besides, Hood admitted, he’s hooked on the satisfaction of large-scale painting, even if it can be a little hard on the body at times.
“It’s a thrill to do something this large and finish it,” he said.