A Brush With Paint And Cynthia’s Glass

The number of significant tasks is dwindling! The only two large items remaining, things that will take more than a day or two or three each, are to build out the kitchen cabinets and to pour concrete and install tile on the carport floor.

When I build the kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, I want to work outside in the carport so that I’m not breathing a lot of sawdust. But I’d like to work on a nice floor rather than on the dirt that is there now. But I can’t pour the floor yet because it is the dry season and there is no sand and gravel running in the rivers to make concrete with. So these items are on hold.

In the meantime, I have decided to tackle remaining projects in order of their greatest visual impact. For example, painting large areas will make a larger impact than installing a light switch. After so long at it, we really need the illusion that the project is moving along rapidly.

With this guideline in mind, I made an ordered shortlist of projects.

I decided to start with painting the walls in the loft. Some time ago I had prime-painted the container wall that divides the loft from the roof deck. The knee wall overlooking the living/dining room was still raw stucco. Cynthia and I decided to continue the same warm, medium-gray that we have used elsewhere in the house. I went to work.

I spent four days in the loft and it has made quite a difference. Cynthia is using the loft as her hot-glass studio so I had a few things to work around. The loft sure looks a lot better now. Here is a photo taken from the east end. The screened openings at the roof line are open year round; they suck the rising hot air out of the house:


Cyn was looking for a way to store sheet glass, so we came up with the idea to make racks from plastic cutting boards and quarter-inch rebar. One important storage issue for her is that different glasses have different coefficient-of-expansion (COE) ratings. You can’t mix ratings or your glass will crack. Now she can keep these COEs separated, each COE in its own rack. Here are three of the four that I made for her:


I made a template and drilled holes in the cutting boards.

Here is a photo of the loft from the west end:


Over the seven years that we have been here, we have really culled and re-culled our possessions. Beyond art supplies, kitchen equipment, and the typical clothing and linens, we don’t have much left. We need to find a place to store a couple boxes of family treasures that you see in the foreground.

As I worked my way out of the loft and around to the stairs, we realized how badly-worn the charcoal paint looked in the stairway and in the dining room. I spent another day two-coating these walls. It made quite a difference:


In the photo above, you may have noticed the two sconce lights that Cynthia made and I installed on the wall. Here is a closeup with the light off:


I used L hooks to mount the glass to the wall.

And here is a photo with the light on (daytime). The triangles of glass match the triangles on the chandelier over the dining room table:

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

The next visually-important area to paint was the window and door framing on the west wall of the living room. I’ve been avoiding this because, well, it promised to be a tedious task. But the order of the list is the order of the list and so I began.

Preparation work is a large part of painting almost anything; I sanded, wire-brushed, and cleaned the long-ago primed metalwork and ran beads of urethane caulk at adjoining joints and seams. Then I spent a day re-prime painting everything, including all the metal rivets that had never been painted. As of this writing, I am most of the way through the project, just two top-coats of gray to go on the sliding doors:


Cynthia dragged me to Westland Mall to buy some new work clothes. I guess I was looking quite shabby — she likes her workman to be smartly dressed. I’ve had a difficult time finding comfortable shoes for my old, arthritic feet, but so far I really like my new Nike Air running shoes.



So far no paint on the new clothes…

Here is a photo looking from the loft to the upper west wall windows:


The sink comes in handy for Cyn’s studio and also for rinsing dishes from the roof deck BarBQue.

Although I’m not done with painting the west wall of the living room, I had to wait for paint to dry, plus the afternoon sun was in my eyes. So I moved on to the last remaining large area to paint — the master bedroom. Because we didn’t want to sleep in all the toxic paint fumes, we relocated to the second bedroom, which is nice because the bathroom there is fully-functional including the shower. No photos of the master bedroom yet.

In other news, Cynthia continues learning and enjoying working with fusing and slumping glass. She has a few new projects to show off including this bowl:


This bowl has some transparent seams and adds dimension to the glass. Here I held the bowl up to a window:


The underside:


Cyn is gaining enough confidence and quality of execution that she is almost willing to sign her name to her work and even part with some!

Here is a tray that she made from stacks of different color glass. The effect is called mosaic and is made like a pyramid, making numerous stacks of five pieces of glass each, and then slumping the assemblage in the kiln:


Using the same technique, Cynthia made organically-shaped cabochon beads that she will wire together to make a necklace:


Unintentionally, the sparkly frit created “faces” on these pieces.

The next photo is of a bowl. To me it feels primordial, elements swirling in The Great Nebula or perhaps plankton and primal fishes in the depths of the ocean. But it is art — you decide:


Cynthia would like the ability to grind and polish some of her glass creations, so in my free time I’ve been building her a lap grinder. These things can be bought, but I can build one for a fraction of the cost.

A motor (that I don’t have yet), will spin a one-quarter-inch thick, twelve-inch-diameter aluminum disk, on which she will put various-grit diamond disks. I made the stand with PVC plumbing fittings. Still to do is to buy and mount the motor, make provisions for a small water pump, and construct a water-splash apron. For the top, I used an aluminum, large baking sheet. Here it is so far:


One of the downsides of living in the tropical mountains of Panama is the termites and the rust. A few years ago, I think I posted a photo, I made 48 wooden drawers and a metal rack to house Cynthia’s 1,500 watchmaker’s tins full of seed beads. Well, over the years the termites have reduced the wooden drawers nearly to dust and the tins have started to rust. What to do? We purchased a bunch of aluminum, full-sheet baking trays to hold the tins. In time, I’ll build a new cabinet to hold the trays. So for four days, and one remaining to go, Cynthia and our maid have been cleaning each-and-every one of the 1,500 watchmakers’ tins and moving them to the new trays. It has been a tedious, onerous task but will be worth it in the end. The living room is in disarray from my painting and from the stacks of trays:


But one of the wonderful aspects of living here in the tropical mountains of Panama is the multitude of bird life. With my smartphone, I recorded three very-short MP4s of birds.

First, an owl just before dawn:

Second is a flock of wild parrots that flies through most mornings around 6:30 and then later in the day:

And third is a toucan in a nearby tree. Not as good of a recording because Armando was trimming bushes nearby. Toucans sound a lot like frogs:

Finally, I have been chomping at the bit to make some videos of the house. But I’d like my work to be a bit more professional looking than just walking through the house with a jittery camera. Friends are coming to visit us in two months, and although they don’t know it yet, they are going to bring with them a few small items that will make my videos much better looking. I won’t promise cinematic quality, but I think that I can improve a lot on my previous attempts. You’ve been asking for videos, so stay tuned.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

10 thoughts on “A Brush With Paint And Cynthia’s Glass

  1. I look forward to reading about your progress, and can’t wait to view your video some day! Keep up the good work,,,and stay hydrated!

    • Thanks Lynn. Appreciate the compliments on my glass pieces, I like the yellow bowl especially. It’s much prettier in person, as the iridescent colors aren’t picked up in the photos, and you can see much more depth and details. It was a “save” from the original work (that I didn’t like). Fred cut the original piece into little pieces and I then re-fired/re-fused and embellished it. Now it’s a keeper.

      The studio space is still a work in progress. I’m hoping to get a light table built (are you reading this, Fred?) instead of the board on saw horses. 🙂 But I love the glass storage system that he’s already made, and the lap grinder will be awesome to work with.

      I’ll send a PM in the next couple of days!

  2. I have been watching your house for some time as we are planning on moving to Panama sometime soon. It is spectacular! I do metal sculpture and incorporate stained glass in some of it. I will steal you idea for a glass rack when we finally get settled. Did you weld the lovely security panels? I hope to do some in the future and am curious about installing them. Can they be opened in case of fire? We have never lived where bars are common so have little knowledge of them. Lin

    • Hi Lin,

      Thank you very much for your kind comments.

      Yes, I/helper welded the security bars. They are hinged and are padlocked shut. They can be opened to wash the windows and paint the trim, but not in case of a fire because the locks aren’t reachable from inside. Doors are quicker! Most window bars in Panama are not hinged — rebar ends are embedded in the concrete block walls.

      A quick introduction to living with bars on windows and doors — We have rented several houses, all without bars, and have been “visited” in the night four times. Most crime here in the mountains is non-violent, just opportunistic. But still, you don’t want someone climbing in the window over your bed (happened to us, he landed on Cynthia, who woke and screamed. The guy apologized and jumped back out the window, closing the window behind him.) So bars are now a requirement for us. At this point, they don’t bother us at all. Some expats say that they don’t want to live in a prison with bars on the windows. But we have keys to the doors and can come and go as we please so we are not in a prison. The way that you must think about bars is to say, “I can sleep peacefully and without keeping one eye open. I know that no one can get into our house while we are home without us knowing about it.” Having this peace-of-mind is priceless and we no longer give the bars a second thought. Petty theft is common — the prevailing thought is that if I don’t respect and protect my stuff then I probably won’t mind if it is stolen. Please don’t rent a house here without bars! We have a nightly ritual where we turn on outside lights and check the locks on all the doors and gates. It has become just like brushing our teeth. Just something that we do. Oh, if you do hinge them, make sure that the hinge pin is welded in good and solid and can’t be driven out with a hammer and chisel. I’ve seen it done…

      Thanks again, and don’t let the bars scare you away. It is a different way of life, that’s all. Fred P.S. Enjoyed your website!

      • Thanks Fred! When we first started exploring on the net I did have a negative reaction to the bars but have since seen the necessity for them. I do want to make them attractive like yours. I forgot to mention that I love Cynthia’s glass. Some day I would love to try my hand at hot glass, not just stained glass. I am glad you enjoyed the web site, I hope to continue to make and sell sculptures when we get to Panama. At very least, I make lots of stuff for the house. Lin

        • Thanks Lin,

          By accepting the bars on the windows as a cultural norm, you have gone a long way to being able to thrive in this foreign culture!

          Cynthia is having such a wonderful time with hot glass. There is so much to learn about how the colors change color and react chemically to each other. It is a pursuit with some depth of learning. Fred

  3. Fred….LOVE the house. It is absolutely beautiful. Have you kept track of what it cost for materials? We are selling our lives right now and planning on moving down as well. We are not as gifted as you but hoping to learn as we go. Enjoying the blog. Thanks.

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