Assembling and Painting George Washington’s Flag

Note: There were many decisions and orders and manufacturing issues
to be resolved before we got to this point.  To see other pages,
and to begin at the beginning, visit Washington State Flag, 1.

The 300sf Flag Room was staged for the duration of the project.
Black foam-core lines the walls waiting for the silk to be stretched upon.
The silk will be attached to the foam-core for stability.

The center table, currently used to lay the historic flag upon while the tracings
are created, below, will eventually be a work table, and the historic flag, for the time
we are allowed to keep it, will rest on the far table, covered and wrapped as it was delivered to us, with one exception.   The historic flag came to us folded in two places, leaving pressure marks on the face of the flag, a pitfall of not having a
conservator properly pack the flag.  Fortunately, as it was not stored folded for a long time, these were temporary marks and released over a few weeks and with gentle pressure placed across the surface.  We advise against folding in any case, as every time
the historic flag is folded it wears on the old silk and passementerie.
Textiles become brittle as they age even in the best circumstances, and the tiny breaks from folding are often not noticed until they grow to a noticeable tear.

The fold marks brought to our attention the stiffness of the silk, and we wondered if the entire flag was sized, not just the painted medallion. However, without testing that will remain conjecture.  Note the line made, right.  We assume it is a guide line.  Note the color of the silk, imperceptible unless one is searching, on both sides of the line. If only the medallion was sized, the silk would change color in this area.

Before tracing, Mitchell and I made the final decisions on the particulars
of the reproduction, and these, two, are to be laid into the tracings.

1/16-inch clear rigid acrylic is laid upon the historic flag for protection.
(Two persons centered and laid it gently to ensure the safety of the flag.)
This allows us to take overall patterns of the painting and the details,
without risking marking or tearing the flag.

On heavy vellum, the entire tracing is created.
Every detail of the flag was all measured and another set of details photographed.
Along the way, notes are taken of the oddities of the passementerie and the painting.

The first oddity is that the flag itself is not symmetrical.
It ranges from 34.5″ to 35.5 inches wide, and the length slightly droops
(or so it appears, as we are not hanging the flag nor pulling on it.)

The hand-painted letters are all a bit different, one from the next,
which leads us to surmise that a template was not used.
Three different “S” letters: the angled beginnings and ends of the letter are different,
and as most “S” letters will be symmetrical in their circular form, or bottom heavy,
it appears that the “S”in “STATE” (above)
is upside down from a lettering perspective, as it is top heavy!
Four different “E” letters (above): top heavy, bottom heavy, or perfectly even.
I wonder if the same person worked on the flag from start to finish!
The “A” letters are the most alike, above and below.
My inclination is to try to reproduce the anomalies…
It is harder to reproduce anomalies than to simply pick one of each letter to replicate.

The seal and drawing of George, as I am beginning to call him,
on the large tracing is for placement only.

As we are not to have the historic flag in our studio for the duration of the project (WA DES requested it back for storage), every aspect of the passementerie must be noted.  The twisted braid (with eyelets) which was positioned by hand into the floral motif, is not evenly spaced, also evidence that the braid was not created before application, ready to place onto the silk, but hand applied by the seamstress or tailor. I note the center line and spacing of the braid, and in doing so note that the dimensions are variable, and sometimes it is not perpendicular.  While taking these patterns we are creating a final count of yardage for the various types of passementerie.

We also have worked out our various design issues, such as creating a silk loop which the gimp trim applies to, which will make the loops stronger than the historic flag loops.

Our largest pattern, above, outlines the most general items.
Notes cover our sizes.

Finally, there are the tracings for George’s reproduction.
(Sorry for the images; hard to photograph pencil!).
I have several as we are creating studies, then more than one silk set…
I want to make sure we have a good image, and this is the first time I’ve painted on silk.


This is my final finished draft on silk, above,
though there are many tests hanging around the studio because
I liked the way I did this or that, and want to use them as reference.

I wished I’d take a photo of the room with the green silk along one wall —
Beautiful color to work in for the next months of painting!

I went from my intimate small studio with many references around,
to the expansive one above, an open space with lots of light.
The original George Washington State Flag at one end is now my main reference.

Know that the subtle shadings of colors from one blank to the next is due
to the artificial versus natural light in the room when photographed,
and fresh paint is much brighter than after it is cured…


Three new templates were created for the three blanks,
because over the next few weeks they will be traced upon repeatedly.

Those tracings were pinned into place and a white chalk transfer was created,
labeled #1-#3.  Only one, the best one, will be chosen for the flag.
The other two are insurance in case paints are dripped or a brush is dropped.

Painting upright like this under these conditions is not easy.
Painters slop paint, drip paint, and most of the time it is correctable.
But not if it drips on this silk!
Further protocol is washing my hands two dozen times a day,
because if I touch my skin I might get oils on the silk.
All paints and liquids are stored across the room or below the spill line,
so that if they get knocked they hit the floor, not the silk.
Our blue ®Sterilite storage bins are doing double duty now as lifts to level the blanks
at the right height for comfort painting, and as a place to set a reference image.


The transfers at this stage were difficult to trace,
because the darker green line of the PVA was hard to see through the layers.
In a few areas the edges of the transfer was too close to the PVA edge, shown below.
If any oils came into contact with the silk, a stain of oil will spread onto the silk —
again, think grease stains as the paint oils separated.


See the wonky edges on panel #3, directly above?

With a textile vacuum we removed both chalky droppings from the surface of the image so that they did not drop onto the silk itself, and also removed as much of the chalk outline at the edges that were problematic in images, above.  Using PVA, I balanced the primed areas so that edge was not in danger of oil paint coming into contact with silk, below.


The first tricky area was to establish the outer edge with the
first layer of warm grey paint using the faster drying medium.
On the rest of the medallion, if I fudge I can correct it,
not on the border because if I move off the edge I hit the silk.
Three days later I added the second layer, and the difference is shown above.

In almost all cases, two coats of paint are required;
I am adding thin coats so as not to build a great deal of texture..


Painting upright like this under these stressful conditions is not easy. Painters slop paint, drip paint, and most of the time it is correctable, but not if it drips on this silk!
Further protocol: I washed my hand and arms to my elbow
two dozen times a day, because if I touch my skin (brush a hair out of my eyes,
scratch my face) I might get body oils on the silk.
All paints and liquids are stored across the room or below the spill line,
the bottom of the blank, so that if they get knocked over they hit the floor, not the silk.

Eyes added, I simply had to, and George begins to come alive!
All three panels are a bit different in their sketches.

The background is a blend from left to right of
phthalo blue, and phthalo, sap, olive, and chromium greens,
as we illuminate George from behind on the right side.

The first coats of his jacket are on, moving between two blends,
a darker blend to a bright blue blend,
and his eyes begin with the brighter blue in their first coat.

Note the difference in brilliance as the paint begins to cure…
It will darken even a bit more as the days wear on.


A second deepening coat of blues will be added before I write again.
While I blend oils as I go, I am interested in
applying thin layers to avoid a highly textured painting.

The test images were all done with basically one coat; on the final flag,
most colors are getting 2-3 coats on top of the base.  With the drying time
between (4-7 days) it slows the process down a bit.
Some colors dry a bit faster, but I have learned my lesson to be patient.

The undercoats on the face laid in shadows and covered all green.
Do not be worried about the blocky undercoatings; he will look better!
I am a bit uncomfortable showing the face with the undercoats to people
who are not painters — George looks bit freaky!

A second coat on background was added.
An undercoat and a second coat on the hair.

As his jacket was begun, the yellow lapels are added.
A second coat is added to the deep blue jacket.

January-February 2020, there were three days of corrections.

I felt the lapels were too bright, above, and subdued them in the second coat — the fresh paint is brighter, and I am working against bright green versus the faded olive green, and sometimes adjustments have to be made.

I also felt the primed edge needed to be a more generous.  I traced out the edges again, giving me a tiny bit more “slop” in case.

Frankly, tracings are a stressful as paint —
Again, I can’t clean paint or wayward tracing pencil off the bright green silk.

The Corona virus stopped things suddenly, and I did not get back to
painting for almost four weeks.  We could not foresee how it would change our studio other than protocol: NO one in the studio after beginning of March,
setting up a waiting station of incoming deliveries to sit for several days.
But, clients were concerned and needed to be reassured, pickups and deliveries were canceled, and we had to rearrange the studio for storing finished items long terms.
Painting George is not like doing a bit of touch-up.
I need four hour stretches to drop into painting an image.
The last day it looked like I was interrupted, and I was — and I lost mixed paint.
Starting back up I had to clean, remix some colors, and relax into the portraits again.

The lettering was created with a small 3/8-inch specialty brush.
I decided not to use the mixed paints because of the separation;
metallic paints have different ways of mixing with other paints.
Instead I painted one of the Rich Gold, and two in the Pale Gold.
The lettering was actually the most difficult of the tasks,
because of the way I had to stand with the small brush making precise marks…
I wish I could have flipped the blanks around into various position
to make it easier, but they are large and unwieldy.

It is risky to show faces that are basically blocked in —
A layer of paint must go on underneath on the silk to cover the green,
then fine tuning can be done.  Without 2-3 coats of thin paint the portrait become too textural — something that I do not want in the flag.  Above you can see how as I fine tune (this is still not quite done) he begins to look more like himself; still, his eyebrows
are not quite right, and his nose needs a bit of work.
His cheeks are ruddy red but from afar they look about right!

Lining of the lettering, finishing George’s other faces, lace on his blouse,
and coming back for fine-tuning or corrections if needed —
and I am complete with the painting of the portraits.

Then the hand-stitching begins!

Below, each portrait as it progresses from transfer sketch to an almost finished face.
Some images were not in focus — which is why there are different numbers
of photographs for each image, numbers one-three.
I will update this page as more work is completed!

Portrait #1

Portrait #2

Portrait #3

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