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posted: 8/20/2011 12:01 AM

'Fence painter' hangs cheerful paintings on gardens

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  • Groth's paintings are done in a way that stands up to sun and rain.

      Groth's paintings are done in a way that stands up to sun and rain.

  • Carolyn Groth's paints colorful, weatherproof garden art that fills a niche as homeowners dress up their outdoor spaces.

      Carolyn Groth's paints colorful, weatherproof garden art that fills a niche as homeowners dress up their outdoor spaces.
    Scripps Howard News Service Photos/Paul Kitagaki J

 
By Debbie Arrington
Scripps Howard News Service

Carolyn Groth found her niche as a "fence painter," but don't expect her to haul out the whitewash.

The accomplished Elk Grove, Calif., artist creates paintings to hang on fences -- or anywhere else where they might be exposed to water and sun.

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"People think I'm actually painting the fence -- not something to hang on it," she said. "I did paint one of my fences, but paint peels off wood. That doesn't look very pretty."

With the trend of turning yards and patios into outdoor "rooms," art created specifically for the garden has grown in popularity, too.

"You're decorating, just like an indoor room," Groth said. "So you take art outside, too."

Jennifer Khal, owner of The Secret Garden in Elk Grove, has seen this trend escalate as people treat their yards like living space -- a place to rest, relax and entertain, not just garden.

"Absolutely, people are treating outdoor space as rooms," Khal said. "You go about decorating that space just like your living room. Start with a big piece, such as a couch or armoire, then add all the elements that make you feel comfortable and at home."

Among Khal's stock of garden art and sculpture are these best sellers: decorative wall art, wrought iron and colorful pieces of Talavera pottery.

The Secret Garden also sells Groth's paintings, priced at $44 to $65.

"It's fabulous," Khal said. "I've had one on my fence for five years and it still looks bright and vibrant. I hung it on a fence under a big pine tree. It adds a spot of color where I couldn't grow anything."

Said Groth: "It's hard to sell art, especially in this economy, but fence art really sells."

Like any form of creative expression, art is in the eye of the beholder, and in garden art, the scope widens.

A salvaged brass bed can become a garden fence. A ceramic platter can become a birdbath. Rusted pieces of metal can become sculpture. An assemblage of rocks and broken crockery could pave a path.

Groth perfected her fence-art technique through trial and error. Instead of canvas, she uses hard backerboard, designed for shower-stall installation, covered with a coat of primer. Her paints all are weatherproof acrylics. The finished painting gets a coat of sealer to add to its longevity.

Groth usually paints floral themes such as bouquets of red poppies or big fluffy hydrangeas. She's also done fruit-filled still lifes and the occasional seascape or lighthouse, creating an instant "view" for an otherwise visual boundary.

"Flowers are pretty for the fence," she said. "They're really bright. I call them my happy paintings."

Bringing a smile to garden owners and visitors often is part of garden art's appeal. Hence, the continuing popularity of pink flamingos and cute gnomes.

"People buy them because they think they're endearing and they love them," Khal said. "Or they buy them as a gag. I know a guy who keeps moving his gnome around the garden, like it's peeking through the bushes. It drives his wife nuts. But it's just another way to have a little fun in the garden."

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