A towering task

Eric Henn, of Dayton, Ohio, maneuvers his lift outside the water tower in Mt. Jackson on Monday. Henn is outlining the apple design and will use a roller to paint the apples on top of the 155-foot tank. Rich

His artwork is seen by millions, often from behind a steering wheel.

Eric Henn, an artist who’s painted murals in 45 states over the past 27 years, has transformed water towers into everything from horses and manatees to basketballs and racecars. His latest job has him painting the basket of red Gala apples on the Mount Jackson water tank.

Unlike traditional artists who paint on a canvas, Henn’s canvas is made of metal, curves outward and is suspended 150 feet above Interstate 81.

He uses a 155-foot lift and a paint roller on a 6-foot pole to reach the tank. He said he’s attached to a safety harness while he’s painting.

“You get used to the heights, but you’re never 100 percent at ease,” he said. “You gotta make sure you take precautions, because you only fall once.”

He said one of the toughest challenges while painting is accounting for the curvature of the tank.

“A lot of it goes out of sight,” he said. “When you’re up close to it, you can see six feet maybe in each direction and then everything else kind of curves out of view. So when you’re painting something, you have to swing out or get down on the ground to see it all.”

What many people might not realize, Henn said, is that all the work is done freehand. There’s no design projected on the tank, and there aren’t any stencils or tracings that he uses.

“When I’m up there, I’m basically looking at the picture and I’m making a shape of the apples before I fill it in,” he said. “So it’s pretty much like doing an oil painting, but on a steel structure.”

Henn said he’s using 16 different colors of paint to bring out the values and highlights in each of the apples. The paint he’s using is a special TNEMEC paint expected to last up to 30 years, and which costs about $400 a gallon.

The tank’s previous design was applied on paneled decals, which he said doesn’t hold up as well over time.

He said he started working on the mural in mid-November and plans to finish the project before Christmas, although progress ultimately depends on the weather.

Henn, who lives near Dayton, Ohio, said he enjoys the challenge of painting on water tanks, and sees them as landmarks for each community.

“For a lot of towns, it’s their identity,” he said. “It says they have pride. It’s not just a rusty water tower with block letters, it’s something that people remember.”

For more photos of his murals, visit his Facebook page or http://www.erichennmurals.com.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com