There's No Business Like Show Business… unless, of course, it's the painting business! How do you integrate two lifelong influences into a lifelong career? Just ask Victor DeLor, who successfully blended his love of painting with his love for the movie business.
by Ester Brody
When family and friends who noticed his artistic talents urged him to develop his knack for the brush and easel, little did they know that DeLor's creative skills would go far beyond a framed canvas. Growing up in the shadows of the world's most famous and largest motion picture studios, DeLor was fascinated by the movie business. In 1962, DeLor headed for 20th Century Fox Studios and began his career as an apprentice painter. In addition to learning the basics of interior and exterior painting, DeLor had the opportunity to work with many well-known European craftsmen in the business.
Under the direction of these artisans, DeLor tried his hand at creating painted special effects like aging, weathering, wood graining and marblizing. “The studios hired the very best artists in the industry to work on their sets and props,” says DeLor, who got the chance to work on everything from huge backdrops and props like World War II bombers to creating lifelike outdoor scenery from foam rubber and plastic. “Realism is the key in designing movie sets that truly look like a New York City street scene, a barren dessert, or a Western ghost town,” DeLor explains.
After several years working at 20th Century Fox, Paramount Studios, and virtually every other major studio, DeLor joined the painting professionals at Walt Disney. From that company's Burbank location, DeLor worked on the famed Cinderella Carousel that is crafted to look like an antique with hand-painted murals, gilding and intricate detailing on each horse. “That project alone took two years to complete,” DeLor recalls.
DeLor also had a hand in many of Disney's best-known attractions, including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. “Most of the materials used on these attractions are not what they appear to be,” says DeLor. For example, specially molded plastics are coated using various painting techniques to simulate wood or stone. “The humid weather conditions at the Walt Disney property in Orlando is brutal to wood,” DeLor notes. “Using these simulated materials greatly minimized repairs and touch-ups.”
In addition to his experience in the entertainment business, DeLor also had an ongoing interest in doing residential work for high-profile clients in Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Brentwood. Between jobs at the studios and before his position at Disney, DeLor took on some of these special residential projects.
“I've always loved the opportunity to work on these kinds of homes, which are among the most beautifully designed in the country,” says DeLor. Today, DeLor spends all of his time on new construction and renovation in the choice neighborhoods. According to DeLor, homes there receive many of the same artistic techniques he used at the movie studios. “Most of my clients are in the entertainment industry, so they tend to be well traveled and have sophisticated tastes,” DeLor explains. “My clients have very definite ideas of the kind of mood and look they want for interior and exterior spaces.”
One of the techniques DeLor is known for among designers and clients is the special effects he creates with various chemical solutions. When applied to wood surfaces, these chemicals give a weathered appearance to new wood. This look has been especially popular for interior and exterior surfaces like paneled walls, doors and accent trim work. Unlike a typical application, which requires surface preparation and the selection of stains or coatings to preserve and protect wood, DeLor uses a chemical treatment applied directly on the raw surfaces. In addition to creating an aged look, the goal is to highlight the wood grain and all of its unique characteristics.
To achieve the aesthetic on interior surfaces, DeLor often uses a mixture of water and potassium permanganate, a dry powder chemical. The amount of potassium permanganate added to water depends on the type of effect DeLor is trying to obtain. DeLor recommends experimenting with different ratios of potassium permanganate to water and applying the mixture on test panels. “The chemical which has a natural purple-red tint really brings out the beauty of the wood grain,” says DeLor “It's especially striking on hard woods like white oak.” Once DeLor has decided on a particular formula for the job, he generously applies the solution with a brush or roller. However, DeLor notes that potassium permanganate should not be left on the surface for an extended period as it generally darkens the wood faster than other chemicals used. The overall impact of the chemical solution will be most pronounced when the wood dries, but DeLor says that the new finish should be immediately noticeable.
Depending on the final look the customer has specified, DeLor will complete the application with a coat of clear polyurethane, which is appropriate for some types of interior or exterior wood surfaces. DeLor has also finished interior treated wood surfaces with top quality rubbing waxes to give the wood a slight sheen. However, DeLor notes that these topical treatments are not necessary – just a matter of taste.
In addition to wood surfaces, DeLor has also used chemicals such as ferric chloride and iron sulfate to obtain his specialized weathered effect on exterior wood surfaces and even on concrete, masonry and raw stucco. Interestingly enough iron sulfate can be obtained at most garden supply stores but the other chemicals are only purchased through specialty chemical dealers and manufacturers. For jobs that require a certain type of patina to enhance the color of the wood or other design features, DeLor uses a variety of earth tone shades from the assortment of universal tints or dry colors available at most paint stores. These tints are typically added to the water/chemical mixture. “There are many cases where a new section of wall needs to blend in with one that's been there for years,” DeLor says. “With these jobs, there's only one way to achieve that look.” DeLor faced this challenge at one recent job site where a new concrete wall prominently placed in an outdoor garden had to blend in with surrounding granite stones. According to DeLor, the customers were very adamant for the new structure to harmonize with its surroundings. DeLor achieved this by mixing water and a small amount of iron sulfate along with a combination of several universal tints. He then used a sea sponge to apply the different mixtures to create a mottled look. “My clients were so pleased, they said only Mother Nature could have done better,” DeLor remarks.
The beauty of using these specialized chemical treatments on wood or concrete is the resulting one-of-a-kind look, notes DeLor. “Each solution is created on the job, for that particular application,” DeLor says. Although it is possible to mix the chemicals and water off-site, DeLor has never done it that way. “I'm very particular in my work,” says DeLor. “Each job has its own set of needs, and I do my best to blend old and new materials to create a seamless look.”
The doors pictured on the cover of PaintPRO this month were also treated with Potassium Permanganate by Victor DeLor.