For the past month or so, I have had the pleasure of working on a mural project for my local water district in Alameda County. ACWD and Excelitas Technologies put together a Community Cleanup Partnership 2013 event, which put over 100 Excelitas volunteers to work with parks and ponds cleanup, not to mention painting ten murals. The murals would be enlarged versions of ACWD calendar art made by elementary-school children. ACWD’s annual calendars have been around for a while… I remember entering when I was in elementary school. I never won any place in the contest, but who would guess that years later I would be hired to turn them into murals?
The ten murals are located on three water facilities along the Alameda Creek Trail in Niles. First I selected ten calendar artworks that I thought would make great murals. Then I scaled them big and painted “cartoons” of them on the walls. These were black outline paintings and would serve as the guide for the volunteers to paint in.
As an added aid, I made paint-by-number style maps of the murals. I acted as a consultant and told the water district what supplies and quantities were needed. It’s fun picking out paint colors and assigning them all over the walls. It’s also sort of how I think when I go about a painting: an analysis of what color goes where and what to mix with what and where transitions of color happen.
Sometimes the designs had to be changed quite a bit to fit the wall. The girl who originally drew the two hands would not have figured a stairway into her design.
Sometimes I took liberties to add things that were specific to the trail environment. It is a popular trail for people to take their dogs, and the dogs are free to roam without leashes. None of the murals featured a dog, so I was sure to add one to the above. Turned out to be a good photo op for dog owners. I also saw a snake slithering along my ladder while working, so I went ahead and put my slithery friend in too (I wonder if it was a California night snake). And let’s not forget squirrels. And my favorite, mockingbirds, who were populous in the area.
This young artist, Hitomi Baba, had my favorite calendar artworks. She had won at least three times, and I love her creativity. She seems to have an interesting watercolor wash technique. I tried to replicate it with paint. T-shirt rags were very handy.
I worked with the volunteers on the day of the painting and sprinkled around some mural-painting tips. I was really impressed by their work. In the period of 9 hours, they had everything covered and filled in the shapes with clean precision. Still, it’s hard to have murals look finished when they only have one layer of paint. ACWD had me finish up the murals and give them the added something to make them look polished. Admittedly, I can turn into a perfectionist when I have ten murals staring me down.
While the murals were in progress, they did not get tagged. I suppose partially because of heightened security, and because school was still in session, and maybe there’s a graffiti code that says not to tag an in-progress mural?
But once the murals were all done and awaiting their graffiti guard to be applied, that’s when the taggers struck. One of my murals, the “Save H2O Everywhere” with the flag drops, has become a battleground. Surprisingly, painting out the graffiti was not very difficult. Tomorrow I have the pleasure of touching it up once again. I foresee the taggers will put the graffiti guard to the test. It’s unfortunate, but it really is the baptism of a mural painter to have your work vandalized.
The pink fish was also tagged, but it was a quick fix.
Most important to me is that the volunteer event went so smoothly. Everyone told me what fun they had painting, and I’m glad they felt some pride and ownership for the murals. Thanks also to the community for their positive reception of the finished murals.