Joint Compound Artisan
For those that remember: At last year’s INTEX Expo, one of the interesting exhibits featuring something truly unique was showcased at Continental Building Products’ booth. More of an art installation than a forum for new products, the booth featured drywall contractor Bernie Mitchell, whose pieces were of such craft and talent that pictures were snapped and gawkers gazed at the great and interesting work.
These works featured Mitchell’s pastoral landscape images that were sculpted from joint compound on top of gypsum. Even if the scenes featured were not to everyone’s taste in art, no one could deny something different was on display here. Among his subjects are ducks in a creek, grazing horses and pastoral landscapes—though if commissioned, he certainly could provide his clientele with probably most other designs given their individual preference.
“Bernie is a bit of a celebrity in the drywall community,” says Steve Leonard, marketing communications manager at Continental Building Products. “We saw one of his videos and were smitten. We called him up and asked him if he’d mind trying our Rapid Deco Level 5 System and he loved it. Working on our Level 5 factory-finished board and with our specially formulated Rapid Deco mud and Rapid Joint setting compound, he created a beautiful landscape in person at the 2016 INTEX Expo in New Orleans. He got a tremendous response from attendees, who flocked to our booth to watch him put the finishing touches on this fantastic piece. He definitely was the star of our booth.”
Mitchell—quiet in manner, exercising humility in his talent and with a good disposition—is a drywall contractor based in Ontario, north of Toronto. His company, Artistic Drywall by Bernie Mitchell, is located in Buckhorn. He designs, constructs, sculpts and finishes specialty drywall features in shoreline homes and cottages. Currently, he hosts video and instructional tutorials about his craft. In addition to his work as a contractor, he is in high demand and his skill set has brought him to the attention of royalty in the Middle East.
“I perform all aspects of the drywall field of services,” Mitchell says, who began hanging board in 1976. “Framing, boarding and finishing, painting and wall sculptures.
“My brother and I were on our father’s job sites when we were children. It was an easy fit for me to follow into construction.”
With an interest in designing and aesthetics, Mitchell says he likes to design, build and finish specialty features, such as wall units, fireplaces, ceiling designs and other finishes.
Given his success and the high demand for his niche, Mitchell largely operates solo, bar the odd hiring of hanging crews for larger projects. It has allowed him, he says, to take on a work load that he governs for his pace and capabilities. He says that at this point, most of his work is word-of-mouth, no doubt a privilege in a competitive market. Even with potential customers pawing at his heels for services rendered, Mitchell is at a unique position of being able to dictate what he wants and doesn’t want to do. He says for his business, there is steady growth in both the commercial and residential sectors.
“My focus is more directed towards my artwork but I still continue to do some select drywall jobs,” Mitchell says. “I visualize the potential of nearly every workforce I’m with. It’s sometimes difficult not to share these ideas with clients. I really enjoy designing and constructing these features, whether it’s a sculpture or wall units.”
He says the most difficult aspect of his job would be the billing. The creative and business end are two conflicting and separate duties. As Mitchell states, he’s only sufficient with the creative.
Mitchell says that he currently has a large number of onsite sculptures to be done and he’s also busy working towards having an inventory of finished sculptures available for his website gallery.
“These pieces will be totally finished and can be hung on a wall as you would a painting,” he says.
Always looking for material to act as the base for his decorative works, Mitchell says he has experimented with the products he’s used over the years. One idea just feeds the next, he says. Decorative work, Mitchells claims, has fed his desire to stick to drywall contracting over the years.
He says he does a 50/50 mix between regular drywall compound and a 90-minute setting compound. The material—as he attests—is a very forgiving product when considering the many options he has for detailing the profiles. Along with regular drywall knives, Mitchell uses a regular kitchen spoon, which he says is choice for modeling up the wet material.
Wildlife and pastoral landscapes are the pictures Mitchell is asked to create the most. To him, it’s a natural fit as he’ll draw all the inspirations from nature. No doubt his location of rural Ontario lends a lot of what influences him.
“It just seems that I’ve been in training my whole life,” he says. “Since a young age, I’ve worked with many different mediums: painting (abstract), leather/wood/ice carvings, which all led to drywall sculpting. I have no formal training. [I’ve found] that joint compound is excellent to sculpt with.”