Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"I am a Muralist" - A Social Justice Mural with Smart Kiddos

Hi everyone!

Prepare for a word-y, picture heavy post. This one's a doozy.

If you've followed this blog for a long time, you'll know that I originally started it as a way to document and explain my art lessons with kids, so that other teachers and teaching artists could benefit from them. I have since moved on and changed careers, and my blog has changed to reflect that. I used to be a Teaching Artist. I was on a roster with the local art council, and would get hired to visit schools to work with their kids in creating murals. Sometimes the contracts would last over a month, and sometimes just for a day. In my job now, I work a 9-5 as a graphic designer for a company. It's a more steady income flow, and it was just a nice career shift for me. While I definitely love still doing my own mural work on the side, there are days when I really miss making art with the kids. 

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with a classroom on a mural again. The school guidance counselor reached out to me through my website, and asked if I would be willing to donate my time to help them create a mural. My work just happens to give me 2 days per year to do service work, so that worked out perfectly for this project. This is how the school counselor described their situation:

"100% of our students receive free lunch. Our students are mostly kids of color and many are first or second generation Americans. Many of our kiddos have challenging home lives and have parents who are incarcerated, addicted or absentee. My role as the School Counselor is to teach skills and give support to these young people regarding the hurt, frustration, sadness and anger they have. We are a school of many white walls. I believe children will invest in what they see their environment to be and I don't believe white sterile walls are good for anyone, let alone children."

How could I possibly say no to that? We met up with the teacher who would be leading the project with me, and game-planned. The students would create a mural based on a poem that they were used to reading every morning before they started their school work. Here is that poem, written by Luis Valdez:

Tú eres mi otro yo.
You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti,
If I do harm to you,

Me hago daño a mi mismo.
I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,
If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.
I love and respect myself.

The kids were assigned to draw and write about what the poem meant to them. The teacher then sent me all of their answers and drawings. I took stock of the images that came up repeatedly in the kids' work: Landscapes. Children holding hands. Children of different colors. Hearts. Then, I took those images and turned them into one cohesive mural design, which I traced onto the wall myself before working with the kids. 

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On painting day #1, I gave a short presentation about the mural work I do. We talked about what makes a mural different from other art (it's art for everyone to enjoy, it's art for a community). We also talked about what it means to do a project together and work collaboratively (no one person gets to do the "coolest part" all by themselves. It takes ALL our brushstrokes to make up this picture, together). The biggest thing I had to tell them though, was why art is important. We talked about my murals done in the Peace Corps, in areas where the literacy rates are very low - murals become communication and teaching tools, more than the written word. Murals can explain to the public, the feelings of a community. This mural they were creating as a classroom, was going to explain their feelings and values to the school community. Murals give people voices. 

Then, we got to work. I approach murals with kids with a "one kid, one color, one job" approach. I mix a ton of colors in solo cups (house party supplies coming in handy! haha) and give one to each kid as they cycle through turns painting. Each kid gets a job. I ask them to fill in something, outline something, add some trees here, etc. They use their color, in their area, to finish their job. After 15-20 minutes, we rotate kids. Rinse and repeat until the mural feels finished. We had such a blast!

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In the end, it looks absolutely beautiful. Since the first day when I made the black outlines, I had not touched it. I only directed the kiddos, much like I imagine a conductor would direct a symphony. The kids become my paintbrushes :) They did such a great job!

In the middle of the second day, the guidance counselor came up to tell me this: "one of the Latina girls you have been painting with just told me that she has felt sad with all the people saying they are not happy with immigrants being here. But she said that after painting this and seeing people with all the different skin colors in the mural, she feels like people really do love her." (I'm not crying, you're crying!) The lesson here is this: there are many ways to resist injustice. I was not in the streets that day, I was wrangling children with paintbrushes. But it's clearly made a small difference, if just to a few shorter, lovely humans. 

Here are a few of the kids' responses to their experiences. Again, heart melts. My favorite: "I am a muralist." Yeah kid, you sure are. 




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mount Rainier and Seattle in all it's (neon blacklight-y) glory

Hi everyone!

I recently had the pleasure of trying something I've never tried before, artistically. And I have to say, not only did it turn out pretty ok, I'm sorta obsessed with the process. I got to paint with light. 

I was commissioned by a family friend to paint a not-super-realistic portrayal of Mt. Rainier and the Seattle skyline, surrounded by a whole lot of nature, including a lake. Now, I'm not exactly sure if this is a real view that exists in life somewhere, but it was made clear to me that it wasn't the important part of the project. We cut and pasted different scenes and photos together to create this city/mountain mash-up. 

The painting was commissioned to be the focal point of my client's new home-bar area. So cool! (like the over-achiever version of the bar cart trend) I made a canvas to fit the exact dimensions of his wall space. The client's idea was to have a painting with fairly ambiguous time-of-day lighting, so that he could also commission another buddy to build him an elaborate lighting set up to go along with the painting. From my understanding, the lighting set-up will have different colors/settings/timers so that it can shine light on the painting to make it look like it's going from daylight to sunset, to night time. By the time it's dark, the only light shining on it will be blacklight. So I was asked to make the painting look normal in the daylight, and totally light up under blacklight! 

Coolest commission ever, no? Also a challenge, since I haven't worked with glow-in-the-dark/blacklight paint since I was probably 13. The process was this: I painted the painting as I normally would paint, but also added a ton of neon pigment into my colors as I mixed them. Neon acrylic is most definitely something I already had laying around, (because duh), so that part was nothing new to me. I knew that the neon would light up under the blacklight, so I was strategic about it's placement. After the whole thing was painted and dry, I turned out all the lights in my studio, except a blacklight. Then I painted over everything a bit, with the blacklight paint (I used Golden brand's glow-paint, recommended highly to me by the Art Store Guy). It was such a weird experience to paint in complete darkness. The paint totally lit up on my paper plate palette, and as I brushed it onto the dark canvas. I felt I was painting with pure light. When I turned on the lights, the glow-paint was nearly invisible. SO. COOL. 

This was beyond fun, and my client was beyond cool. I must do more of this magic. Anyone need a painting or mural with a HIDDEN MESSAGE on it?!?!? A love note that only shows up under blacklight? A political statement? A hidden design? Let's play, guys!!!

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On the easel

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Done! In day light...

Hanging in it's place at the bar!

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Under BLACKLIGHT!!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Rooster and a Restoration

Hi Everyone!

Time for some catch-up posting! This post is admittedly mostly a record for myself, just as a way to keep track of the projects I've done recently. But maybe you will like?

Project #1, yet-to-be-blogged: A rooster painting for my mom's birthday! My family members often request paintings from me for holidays and birthdays. This time, it was my mom asking for a painting of a rooster. As a family, we all recently went on an incredible trip to Hawaii together. My partner, my sister and her partner, and I, all went to the big island, then all returned to work (ahhhh #worklife). My parents and my aunt and uncle, kept vacay-ing on Kauai. Kauai has these crazy-colorful roosters that my mom absolutely loved. Hence, the painting request. I really love to paint animals of all kinds, and this was a really fun one. It was a challenge to try and capture the rainbow iridescence that sometimes happens on some bird's black feathers. I put him on a beach, to tie in the hawaiian vibe. So fun! The lighting is a tiny bit different in each of these, so attaching both pics. So fun!

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Project #1, yet-to-be-blogged: A mural restoration! This one came through a couple months ago, and was a different one. There were 3 murals painted in an older apartment complex, in the 80's. They had definitely seen better days - lots of cracking and peeling and water damage from time taking it's toll. They asked me to come in and fix them all. First, I just gave them all a good scrub down. Some of the discoloration appeared only to be dirt, which was a nice surprise. Then, I went to work peeling everything off that was already about to peel. That left some pretty signifigant empty patches, which I then spackled and sanded down. Then I added a coat of gesso, to seal the spackle work and protect against future water damage. Then finally, I did a lot of paint mixing and color matching, and restored the actual artwork. This was a new sort of challenge for me, but it was really nice to know that now it can truly be a part of repetoire, since I think it turned out pretty well. The best part, was when an older gentleman came up and introduced himself to me. He told me that his son was the one that had painted the murals all those years ago. Then he had decided to live there, and has been a resident ever since. I loved that, and felt really good to be able to clean them up for him to see every day!! Warm and fuzzy feels. 

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Portland Map for my Title Company

Hi everyone!

Hope everyone's had a great weekend. Mine was totally packed full - working hard and playing hard. Yesterday, I spent all day mural-ing. Then, drinks with friends and a sublime tribute concert! The best. 

This mural concept began back in October, when I sat over an inch-thick stack of papers, preparing to sign on the dotted line (all of them) to finalize the purchase of my home. I did this through Ticor Title, here in Portland. They were super helpful and awesome, explaining everything patiently. Since the person helping me was looking through my entire financial life, she commented on the fact that I'm a muralist as one of my jobs. She mentioned that Ticor might be interested in a mural, once they moved spaces. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Ticor reached out to me, hoping I'd still be up for a mural in their new office. STOKED, of course. We went with a big map of Portland neighborhoods for their lobby space. They were excited about a black and white look, with just one color - their branding color of blue, for the rivers running through our city. Their idea is to have homebuyers come in and selfie next to their new neighborhoods, as a marketing strategy. I love that! The even insisted I make note of the fact that I bought my first home with them, directly on the mural, near my signature. It's just such a cool company to want to do something like this. I was really happy to be involved.

The actual act of painting this felt very physical to me. I was totally sweating through this one. I think being on a ladder, and having to keep an extremely steady hand for so long, is what did it. There's not a lot of room for error in an all-typographical mural like this. But I sure liked the meditative quality of making all these damn letters and lines. Super fun, if technically tedious. And also, very different from what I'm usually asked to paint. The graphic designer part of me is at the same time, satisfied and overwhelmed. But overall, I like. More of this, please!

Good night and happy Sunday, friends!

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Hunting Mural for the Whole Fam

Hey everyone!

This mural went in the playroom of a sweet new client family's home. I've come to know them a little bit, and enjoy their energy and their aesthetic. For this mural, they asked for something that would please all of them - the husband, the wife, and the kids. The husband is a hunter, and asked to include an elk with exactly 6 points on his antlers, as well as other elk hunting imagery, like the rubbed off spot on the tree bark (I guess it's a "tell" that elk are near), and the muddy hole/pond that they drink from (or roll in? I forget.) The wife wanted a purple-y moonlit sky. The kids, well, they got a cool thing to look at in their awesome playroom. The owl mural I made a few weeks ago, is on the wall across from this one. We're still going to add at least one of two more little vignettes in this room. Should be a super cool space when it's done. Ahhhhh I just love pacific-northwest-ys and our need for bringing nature into the home, in all the various forms. Maybe that's just a universal thing though, nature. Either way, it makes this tree-hugging muralist happy. 

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Dreamy Mural for Guests




Hi Everyone!

I just finished up a mural for my friends who run Dreaming Tree Rentals out of NW Portland. This mural is small (ish) but hopefully, impactful, as it's the first thing you see when you enter the airbnb rental apartments. This wall is the central point as you walk up the flight of stairs, leading to a landing that separates off into three different apartments: "The Hideaway", "The Oasis" and "The Nest". We debated for awhile about whether the design should be more about the urban parts of the city, or more about the natural parts. In the end, we decided that maybe if you're visiting Portland and staying in the rentals, what you might want after a long day exploring, is a bit of peace and quiet. The spaces really do feel like a secluded escape from the city, and the mural speaks to that, now.

I like to think I got a little loose with this one - letting my swirly brushstrokes and shapes come out to play a bit more than usual. This is definitely how I prefer to paint, rather than rendering things more realistically. Because what is art, if not augmenting reality? And swirlies are how I choose to augment.

This was sure a fun one... I just wish you could see it! I've decided that I've been in business long enough to invest a bit more into it, and get myself a nicer camera to document my work with. Every year around tax time, I always ponder the same thing - I run a funny sort of business in that there is little to no overhead. I go to other people to work, with no actual space rental myself. Yes, I buy paint in large quantities a few times a year, and splurge on brushes sometimes (because there's just no escaping an art store without throwing down for a few new brushes that I'm sure I NEED. NEED!) ...And I pay to host my website. But other than that, my business is sort of run on my brain and my hands. So I'm going to turn some of 2016's mural income into a camera, and I couldn't be more stoked. Look forward to blog and website updates with crisper, more true-to-life color photos cuz this girl's iphone is just not cutting it anymore. But for today, enjoy the following:

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Owls and Aspens


Hi Everyone! I'm posting about a project on the day I painted it...whaaat? So prompt.

I loved this one. Not only for obvious reasons (got to paint fluffy baby owlets), but for reasons not shown in these pictures. I loved painting this wall because the owner of it was an extraordinarily sweet person with a cute, cute family. When I started painting murals for money about 14 (WHAT?!?) years ago, I only really painted for family friends, or friends of friends. But now that my business has grown, my clients are mostly strangers. And I love when I meet nice strangers and get to connect with their families. Painting inside someone's home means asking a lot of questions about their lives. It means being in their space for hours on end and playing with their children. It sometimes means eating meals in their homes or accepting a bottomless cup of tea. This job allows me to meet people in my city that I would otherwise maybe never get to know. In all these years, I can only remember a couple of instances where my gut was telling me to avoid a Stranger Danger situation, and I did not go through with a mural. The other 99% of my clients have been pretty darn lovely. Anyways, with this one, I just felt very welcomed into this family's home. They even offered to let me and my fiance stay the night when they heard our furnace was broken (fixed now!). More than that, these murals seem to mean a lot to them. I am slowly transforming a dark and dingy basement into a lighter, brighter space for their children to play. They are picking trees, colors, and animals that are significant to their family. The funniest thing was, after all that thought and planning, none of us realized until I was finished that I had painted an owl mom of twins - just like my client and her children. How did we miss that one? 

This is one of 3-4 smaller vignette-type of projects we have planned in their home. Loving the challenge of creating pieces that fade off into their wall, instead of completely covering it. Super fun!



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