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A master of decorative finishing techniques such as faux painting, gilding, trompe l'oeil, murals, and beyond, Tim Murphy is a much-anticipated partner and the latest to join our Artisan Collective. We get to know him more and hear about his highly collaborative mindset and how he has evolved with this artistry as a decorative painter for 25 years.

Faux birds eye maple and satinwood marquetry by Tim Murphy.

What is your origin story in how you came to specialize in decorative painting—what was the catalyst for you?

I was in the trades as a house painter in high-end residential projects that had other tradespeople coming in after us to do different decorative styles of painting, which really intrigued me. However, I wasn't very impressed by the quality of what I was seeing. So, my thought was that with me being creative but not really knowing how to use that creativity, and having a little bit of a background in the trade of house painting, that maybe I could put these two together and make something out of this. 

The contractor I worked for recommended a school out in Long Island that taught how to do certain finishes with the products that they made. Through them I found other people who were instructors and one of them was actually doing a mural painting class over in Rome in the Summer. I saved up some money and went out there, and that was really a turning point for me. Spiritually, just being over in Europe and traveling around to see the different finishes that had been there for hundreds or thousands of years, and then also just being around someone who was making a living through decorative painting and doing it very well. It was life changing for me. 

Gilding with patina and antique glazes for ceiling restoration by Tim Murphy.

Faux finishing such as wood graining and marbleization are techniques you are especially talented at, and you have an exceptional eye for color. What are you drawn to most about these techniques?

I would say that both of them are very technical, so you have to have a certain hand for them and an eye for it. If you're duplicating something or if it's going to be right next to an existing piece of marble, and you have to paint something to make it look like that same marble, there's a movement and a technique that has to be in there. It really comes from having control of your brush, but also being able to paint in a kind of flowing pattern. That type of movement can be very sharp and defined in certain woods and marbles, but it can also be a lot looser and more of a hint or a background into something else, say, like a wall or ceiling finish.

You've done interior restoration using techniques such as gilding and hand-painted antique glazes on ceilings, which requires immense focus and endurance—in a way it almost feels like you're doing a marathon. What unique considerations go into preparing and executing projects like these?

I was doing a Venetian plaster once where I had to match the existing finish because it was a historic home and they wanted to keep that same look. We had a timeline for the work when the homeowners weren't in the house where we had to have it done by a certain day. I was working over my head on a ceiling and I really think that you definitely have to have passion for what you do because it kind of pushes you through some of the aches and pains. You also have to take care of yourself health wisethere's a certain level of fitness that translates well on the job. You know, if you don't tire too fast you can be pretty efficient, but also having a clear vision of what is in front of you helps you transition from one aspect of the job to the other. There's a balancing act of keeping the schedule and keeping the quality.

1. Faux chestnut and walnut burl wood marquetry wall by Tim Murphy.

2. Hand-painted geometric canvas ceiling mural by Tim Murphy.

1. Diamond design hand-painted floor by Tim Murphy.

2. Hand-painted floor design with drop shadow by Tim Murphy.

When it comes to your creative process, what goes through your mind when you start to conceptualize what a project can become?

Basically, having a clear vision of the end means I can work backwards from that, and then it's easy to convey that vision to somebody else. Though, for instance, there was a large-scale restoration project where there were portions of the ceiling that I didn't have clearly mapped out in my mind. I could look around the room in the state that it was in and I could see the finishes on the walls, but the ceiling had these dark areas that I couldn’t quite see what it was going to be. I just had to give it some time and thought and it fell into place, but that comes from experience.

I tend to go in with a plan, and I find that it makes the whole process more efficient—especially if other people are counting on you to get the work done at a certain time so that they can get in to do their work or so that they can tell people that the room is going to be ready. You have to have a little bit of a plan to pull that off.

As for your murals and other decorative paintings, where do you get your inspiration from?

Well, where don't I get my inspiration from? The obvious is to just keep your eyes open when you're outside. New York has a lot to offer just walking down the sidewalks, and on some of these buildings there's ornamentation and the actual things that I'm trying to paint, such as weathered wooden doors and marble entranceways. They're there for you to see, for example, how the light hits it and where the shadows are at. Or, walking through Central Park when the light comes through the trees, I think to myself that it would be a cool mural effect. So, I would say that nature and architecture are the two biggest sources of my inspiration.

I try to keep my views contemporary, even though what I do is very traditional based, just because I think it keeps you on your feet. You're not just doing the same thing this way, you know, it’s not like you’re saying, ‘this is the way you do Sienna marble’ and that's it. Yeah, sure, there are certain colors and techniques you have to use, but you can incorporate it into a different style or setting that it might not traditionally be seen in. 

That goes for trompe l'oeil as well. A lot of times I'll put something in sunlight, like a piece of molding and see how the light hits it and think, ‘How bright is it? How dark is the shadow?’ Having just a photograph to go on makes it a flat dimension, so this way you can kind of break down the differences in the color a little bit more efficiently.

Grisaille trompe l'oeil mural of Wall Street by Tim Murphy.

You've said before that collaboration with other artisans and design-minded people is important to you. How do you feel collaboration strengthens your own work?

I think collaboration is good for everybody because it kind of breaks you out of certain patterns you might not even know that you're in. I'm at the point where although a lot of the people in our industry—and perhaps artists in general—tend to have some jealously guarded secrets, I kind of feel the opposite because I think that I've learned from certain people because they’ve shared. So, I don't mind sharing, and to me it’s like, ‘look, if you think you can do it better than me, go right ahead. It may be a lower price or you might think you can do it faster, but chances are that you may have overlooked something.’

I was talking to other artisans and subcontractors, and for instance, there were plaster finishers who needed something color matched and they weren’t quite confident in doing it themselves. So, they brought me in and that ended up helping everyone out, such as the designers that are hiring them to do the job and the contractors. You're basically getting a piece of that project by sharing your views. 

It helps that you have an abundance mindset and that way you open up the floodgates to learn from each other. 

That’s a good way of putting itthe abundance mindsetbecause you have enough to share, and you're not afraid of collaboration. If everybody is collaborating then I think it's like the saying, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’

I try not to go into a project and just ask ‘what do you want? Okay, this is it. Here's my price. I'll go do it.’ For me it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, have you ever considered doing this finish?’ You put in your own experience. They don't have to take it, but I think when you give your professional opinion sometimes it sticks. It should be viewed as a team effort and not competitionthat's what it comes down to.


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