Friday, 22 April 2011

Plastering with Godfrey Blount

Discussing Godfrey Blount's plasterwork allows me to use this most special photograph of Blount, the only photograph in existence I believe, of him at work.  

Godfrey Blount at work (leaning on some peasant tapestry
with some of his woodcarving in the background)
picture courtesy of The Dartford Warbler
Stewart Dick reported in The Craftsmen that (‘Godfrey Blount’s Free-Hand Plasterwork for Interior Decoration’, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907) “Mr Blount has kindly furnished me with detailed notes as to the process as follows: 

Ground – The ground should be of Portland cement, with as little sand as possible to avoid suction, and left with a slight tooth on the surface.

Mixing – Shake Kenne’s cement into a large basin full of water and beat up with an egg beater.  Then more cement should be added and the mixture stirred until it will hardly pour.  Keep this as a stock.  Have ready a board eighteen inches and a square headed putty knife.  Pour some of the already mixed stock on this board and add more dry cement, beating up with knife till thick enough to use.  The degree of thickness required will depend on the character of the modelling.  Place some of this second stock on a plasterers’s palette and with an ordinary putty knife, previously ground down till it is supple, begin your work.

Detail of a ceiling for a Gate House, by Godfrey Blount
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907
Working – Let us suppose the design is sketched out in any fashion on the cement ground (I sketch it in outline with ink).  Have sundry flat, hog-hair brushes in a small tin saucepan of water.  Then take up on the putty knife a quantity of mixture, smear it on to the design, cut it into shape with the palette knife to any extent you can and finish with the hog-hair tools.

It is impossible to give exact directions.  Here are a few hints:

First – The work is impressionistic in a high degree.  In hot summer the plaster dries so quickly that it is almost impossible to work without the addition of some size.  In winter it will keep open half an hour.  But the best work is that which is most rapidly obtained.  It is a waste of time to finish.

Second – Finger work is impossible.  The brush must do the double work of knife as well as brush.  Even the carving is done with the brush.

Third – You may lay a thin coat of plaster from stock two as a ground for immediate work as you proceed, or you may lay the ground up to your work.  This is not the original ground (of Portland cement); that, of course, has to be laid first and is covered entirely in work.
Free hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

Fourth – Stir your stocks now and then to keep them open, as you will have to mix more.

Fifth – Don’t try to correct mistakes.  Scrape off and begin afresh.

Sixth – If you don’t like sketching and can’t sketch, don’t attempt this craft.  Take up wood carving instead.

Seventh – Lumps are easier than lines.  This must influence your designs.
Free hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

Eighth – The craft is more suitable for decorative effects than realistic ones and for grotesqueness than for pretty pretties.

Ninth – In details let accidents have their share in modifying results.  A happy accident is worth an hour’s plodding.  ‘Be carefully careless’.

Tenth – Where joining a piece of new work to the old, wet the old or it will suck up the water from the new.

Eleventh – The work will crack in drying.  Fill up the cracks, they don’t matter.  Cracks are only dangerous when between the work and the ground, but if the cement ground has got a tooth and you work vigorously there ought to be no accident of this kind.

Twelfth – It is exciting work and will quickly tire you if you don’t feel sprightly."

Sunflowers and peacocks: Free hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

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