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Black Light Painting

2 March, 2023

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By Gloria Seamen, American Painter & Decorator June 1954

Working with black light and painting murals from a scaffold as high as 60 feet might be too dangerous an occupation for many people. But not for Mrs. Glen Smith, Lubbock, Texas who claims the title of the “world’s only woman mural painter for drive in movies.” She is also one of the few members of her sex to do black light paintings, a new trend in Texas Art. 

Black light is type of paint that glows in brilliant colors when a black fluorescent light is cast upon it. “The paint,” Mrs. Smith says, “is poisonous and many painters refuse to work with it.” But she dons a mask and rubber gloves, goes ahead with her work, and enjoys every minute of it. Most of her black light paintings are for concession stands at drive-in theaters. 

There are two methods of black light painting. One consists of an entire picture painted in black light; the other is done in ordinary paint ad highlighted with black lick light paint. In both cases, black light paint must be applied under special black fluorescent light. Without it, the paint cannot be seen.

Black light paint to say the least is unpredictable. What works one time may not work another, Mrs. Smith found soon after she began experimenting with it. Having read and heard about black light, she decided to give it a try. Since there are but a few black light colors, it is necessary to mix pants in order to obtain the colors. “But you never now quite what you’re going to get,” the left-handed artist emphasized. “When you mix one color, it will reflect on another color and kill it.”

There is no true white or brown black light paint. The colors include two shades of yellow, white and red, one shade each of green, and blue. The paint comes in both water color and oil and costs $54 per gallon. As the paint has a rubber base and dries rapidly, it is impossible for the artist to go back and retouch his work. One of the most important factors in black light paining is to work fast and then get away from it. The pain is made from the same type of powder used in fluorescent tubes and is considered poisonous, making rubber gloves and a mask vital parts of a black light painter’s equipment.

Mrs. Smith prefers Masonite as a background for application of black light paint, although any type of surface will do. “Sunlight,” says Mrs. Smith, fades black light paint, and for this reason it is used only indoors. 

The Lubbock painter has only two complete blacklight pictures to her credit. All her other black light pictures are only highlighted with black light paint. “it is impossible,” she says “to create any depth in a scene when using complete black light. Limitation of colors also makes black-light painting impractical.” One of Mrs. Smith’s complete black light works is a group of wester figures in a theatere at Amarillo, Texas; the other, a fantasy in an officers’ club at Reese Air Force Base, Lubbock. The fantasy, which is done in green , red and chartreuse, depicts the faces of three colonels at the base. 

Mrs. Smith recommends 15-watt black fluorescent tubes as illumination for black light paintings. She suggests that the two 15-watt tubes be used in preference to one 30-watt tube as more light is given off. Usually, the lights are placed above the painting. Vapor black lights are used for large paintings, such as those in theatre interiors because light is projected a greater distance. 

Mrs. Smith is known to many as a traffic stopper on the plains of West Texas. Few can resist temptation to stop, or at least slow down, when passing the red-haired lady painting a mural figure far larger than herself on a drive-in tower while standing on a scaffold anywhere from 50 to 60 feet in the ai. Mrs. Smith was motivated to paint on higher levels because of a dare. A friend said she couldn’t paint a screen-tower, and the manager of her first project obviously didn’t think she could either. He gave her three days in which to complete the mural, before hiring a man. She finished and had time left over. 

The mural artist has been painting all her life as a hobby, but switched over to professional ranks about five years ago. 

She is the wife of Lubbocks fire chief and the mother of a son, Tony, now in the US Navy. Profit from her painting goes toward a home she and her husband have built. Her favorite subjects are horses and western scenes, although she has been called upon to reproduce scenes from Connecticut, Paris, tropical islands and other places she has never visited. 

Mrs. Smith won’t climb without her Saint Christopher (a Catholic Medal) which she wears around her neck. She made a big splash the only time she ever fell-in a baptistry. She didn’t have her Saint Christopher on that time. Just as a matter of record, Mrs. Smith has painted over 157 baptistries.

Religious Paintings. Especially impressive in black light are her baptistries and paintings of Christ. Thie artist refused to disclose her secret in a painting that has fascinated all who see it. It is a simple picture of Christ that hangs above the alter in a small church. As one walks through the door, eyes of the holy figure are fixed upon him, and seemly follow the beholder to any part of the church. 

Not only is Mrs. Smith in much demand in her hometown, but all over West Texas, parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico. She has trouble remembering the many places her work may be found. But they range all the way from murals of steers over meat markets to black light paintings in bathrooms over the bathtubs in private homes.

Painting and decorating contractors should investigate this comparatively new field of painting. Black light painting can be sold for many utilitarian as well as artistic purposes. 

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