A Photo Collection of Beautiful Painted Wall Sundials
By John Carmichael (editor) and Dave Bell (webmaster)
This page was last updated 6 April, 2008
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Design & Construction

The Construction Phases of a Typical Hand-Painted Wall Sundial

Photos by Roberto Finozzi (Italy) from http://www.artesolare.it/

Making a painted wall sundial requires collaboration between the owner of the building, a professional dialist, a painter, and a metal worker. The dialist mathematically calculates and draws the sundial’s basic hour and/or datelines and he designs the gnomon. Often the painter or artist will take this raw sundial face drawing and will embellish it with unique artistic designs. A metal worker usually makes the gnomon. Here are the basic steps used in making a painted wall sundial.

Sundial Delineation & Design: It must be stressed that in order for any sundial to function correctly, the sundial face and gnomon design must be mathematically calculated by a qualified sundial designer for the specific latitude, longitude and wall declination. If one tries to copy an existing sundial design from the website Image Archive, be forewarned that it probably will not function correctly because it more than likely was designed for a different location. A flawed sundial design could hurt your reputation and business sundial maker. If you go to all the effort to make a painted wall sundial, it might as well keep the correct time!

Wall Surface Preparation: The wall must be cleaned of dust, dirt and debris before painting. Clean the wall with water, a mild detergent and a soft brush, rinse, and then let it dry completely. You can paint on many types of walls such as stucco, brick, cement, and even wood. Rough surfaces such as stucco and brick are more difficult to paint. Often painters will sand down a rough stucco surface or will apply a smooth stucco overcoat to a rough wall to make it smoother so that it is easier to paint and so that the gnomon shadow is less distorted. But some people like the artistic look of a rough surface.

Design Transfer to Wall: The typical way of transferring a drawing to a wall is the "connect the dots" method:

  1. First, make a full size drawing of the sundial on paper or Mylar plastic. I greatly prefer to use Mylar because it is much more durable and water-proof than paper and it won’t tear, shrink or expand and can be reused many times.
  2. Put the drawing on a table with foam board underneath it. Then using a sharp leather awl (like a short ice pick), punch holes into the lines on the drawing. Curved lines require more closely spaced holes than straight lines
  3. Tape the drawing to the wall using painters tape making sure that it is level and correctly positioned on the wall. Using Sharpee waterproof marker pens, make dots on the wall through the holes in the drawing.
  4. Remove the drawing from the wall and connect the dots on the wall using Sharpee waterproof pens. Use a straight edge ruler to connect the dots of straight lines and use freehand or a French curve to connect the dots of curved lines.
  5. Begin painting in layers. When I made my wall dial, I painted the colors between the lines first, and then I painted the lines, numerals and artwork on top in layers. Each time I painted a different layer, I had to retape the drawing to the wall and mark the dots during the painting process. Usually, it takes a couple of coats of paint to get good coverage.
  6. When finished painting, attach the gnomon to the wall.
Painting Methods, Materials & Tools: Most modern painted wall sundials are painted by hand using typical artist paintbrushes and modern exterior paints, but you could also use airbrush or spray paint, and you may even use stencils. The jury is still out on which types of paints are best. Many old and some new sundials paintings in Europe are made using the traditional renaissance fresco technique. The word “fresco” means “fresh”, referring to the technique of painting onto a thin layer of damp freshly laid plaster. Pigments are drawn into the damp plaster by surface tension and the color becomes fixed as the plaster dries. The pigments react with the lime in the plaster to produce strong vivid colors. Since the colors do not lie on the surface, restorers are able to remove years of superficial grime and soot to reveal the original embedded colors.

Nowadays, oil-based or acrylic exterior enamels are preferred for their ease of application and because few modern artists know how to paint using the old fresco technique. However, surface applied paints will not last as long as frescoes since fresco pigments are embedded within the plaster. Surface applied paint is subject to flaking, pealing and fading. Some artists suggest that the surface applied paints or frescoes can be protected by covering them with a protective coating of clear UV-resistant varnish or products such as “Clear Coat”. But others object to protective clear coats noting that they produce an undesirable reflective glossy sheen, and warn that these protective coatings eventually peel off and become unsightly.

Links about the Fresco Technique:

Antique Art of Fresco Wall Decorations: http://www.italianfrescoes.com/frescoTechnique.asp
Atelier St. Andre-The Fresco Technique: http://www.atelier-st-andre.net/en/pages/technique/fresco_technique/fresco_technique_summary.html
Contemporary Fresco Painting Resource Center: http://www.truefresco.com/
Fresco School: http://www.frescoschool.org/
Fresco Techniques: http://www.fresco-techniques.com/index.html
The Art and Nature of Fresco: http://www.muralist.org/fresco/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresco


John L. Carmichael
Sundial Sculptures
925 E. Foothills Dr.
Tucson AZ 85718-4716
Tel: 520-6961709
Email: John Carmichael (author)
Email : Dave Bell (webmaster)

My Websites:

(business) Sundial Sculptures: http://www.sundialsculptures.com
(educational) Chinook Trail Sundial: http://advanceassociates.com/Sundials/COSprings/
(educational) Earth & Sky Equatorial Sundial: http://advanceassociates.com/Sundials/Earth-Sky_Dial/
(educational) My Painted Wall Sundial: http://www.advanceassociates.com/WallDial
(educational) Painted Wall Sundials: http://advanceassociates.com/WallDial/PWS_Home.html
(educational) Stained Glass Sundials: http://www.stainedglasssundials.com
(educational) Sundial Cupolas, Towers & Chimneys: http://StainedGlassSundials.com/CupolaSundial/index.html

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Created on ... November 21, 2006

Modified on ... November 21, 2006