Actually Painting the Mural: part 1
We started the mural last weekend. It’s funny how every time I’m away from *the wall* it seems ten times taller in my mind than it actually is. Somehow my imagination thinks it’s about two stories high but it’s actually only about 15 feet. Every time I get there I sigh a big sigh of relief that it’s not this huge monumental impossible task. In-person, it seems much more approachable.
Still, that’s pretty high up when you are standing on a half-foot plank of scaffolding. And speaking of scaffolding, my dad really came through for me. I was so worried about what to do to get up there. Did I need to rent a hydraulic lift, did the client have scaffolding, would ladders suffice…who do I call, what do I ask for?… I was a wreck trying to figure it all out. So I called my dad, like I often do when conundrums like this arise, and it turns out scaffolding is totally in my dad’s wheelhouse! He knew somebody who would lend me what I needed for FREEEEEE!! I love my dad. He always comes through for me. I paid him a small fee for all his help but he deserves so much more. If I continue to get jobs like this (which I hope I do) I’m going to put him on my payroll. He told me he would happily be my “Props Manager.” Sounds good to me! Now just to book some more jobs!
Friday night we drove out through thick Coachella traffic and got to our location in Twentynine Palms just in time to check out the scaffolding and go out to dinner with my parents. I had hoped we’d have time to set the projector up and chalk in the outline of the mural while it was twilight but guess what? Some dumb bunny forgot the dangle that connects my laptop to the HDMI cable to the projector!! Dang dangle! Isn’t it always something like that? We were three hours from home so there was definitely no going back for a dangle. And really, I didn’t need it. I can draw bougainvillea on a wall just as easily as I can on a piece of paper. I don’t know why I thought I needed a projector. I think it was more of a security blanket than anything else but there were a few moments where I wanted to shout some bad words.
We tucked ourselves in for the night in a trailer nearby that my client let us borrow and waited for morning. I have to say I felt pretty vulnerable way out there in the desert all by ourselves. Sound carries and there is a bar nearby. When some jovial people walked by at four in the morning, both Bug and I popped up and watched from the window. I held my pepper spray tight and wished for my dogs. I wish I could take my dogs out there but I just don’t think my client will be keen on golden retriever hair all over her bridal trailer.
The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and scoped out the grounds. I am so happy I am a morning person because getting a headstart on these projects is key when you are working in the desert. The sun rises fast in the clear blue sky and by noon it will be blistering hot. Then come three in the afternoon the winds kick up and trying to get anything done in the wind is a fool’s pastime.
While Bug slept (teenagers need a ton of sleep, as we all know) I chalked up the outlines. From my brain! Who needs a projector? Not this girl!!
When Bug woke up we drove to a nearby Starbucks for some breakfast and lunch. Bug had the forethought to suggest we buy some wrapped mozzarella and tomato sandwiches which saved us valuable time later. She was so right. Once we got started painting there was no way I was going to stop for lunch. Wrapped sandwiches were perfect! We even set them in the sun so the cheese would melt and be perfect by the time we ate them.
After chalking in the outlines, we painted primer where we wanted the leaves and flowers to go. It turns out this was a mistake but I didn’t know it at the time. I had done a lot of research on painting murals and everyone suggested primer because stucco is very porous. In theory we didn’t want all our expensive desert-proof paint to soak into the stucco and be wasted. And I had thought the color might not show up well on the tan surface. Well, it turns out the stucco wall was already painted with primer and it was super smooth. Whoever did the faux painting on it before we got there did an amazing job and our paint went on like butter. Plus since it was the expensive paint it was perfectly opaque and covered the wall easily. We didn’t need primer. What a waste! Live and learn.
After the primer, we painted the branches. Besides being a huge help painting (she has the eye and is easily just as good as I am) Bug was my official paint-mixer because she is the master of color. Have I mentioned that on this blog before? I swear someday she’s going to get a job at Pantone as a color expert. It’s just the way she is. She always has been. It was really nice having an assistant so I didn’t have to constantly go up and down the scaffolding and she was happy to spend more time in the shade. It turns out I’m a little less afraid of heights than she is so I got to do all the up-high dirty-work. I’m not complaining. It was fun. I felt like a monkey.
After the branches we painted the flowers! We started with a deep red and moved on to pinks and purples. We still have so much more to do.
It is a challenge covering all that white. I deeply regret how heavy-handed I was with the primer. I was second-guessing what to do about it constantly. Should I mix up some of the base wall color? Paint more flowers? When you are deep in the project, it’s really hard to see it as a whole. Thankfully I shared it on Instagram and lots of people told me I was doing just fine. But you know me, I stressed myself sick about it.
Finally, we decided to take a break. We were both so dirty and hot. AND, the wind was becoming the worst pest ever. When it’s super hot you think, Oh, it will be nice when the breeze cools us off but then the breeze brings his big brother wind and everything is chaos. Your paint plates flip over, the scaffolding starts to bang against the bells, your hair blows in your face… Everything on the paint-mixing table starts to slide sideways, and next thing you know you’re chasing your folder of papers over hill and dale. I was pissed off at that wind. It just mucked everything up.
Even though it was much cooler and technically the perfect temperature to put in several more hours of painting, both Bug and I were stick-a-fork-in-us DONE. I think the sun really zapped us. We had applied sunblock regularly but you can really get worn out spending hours and hours cooking your largest organ.
Since Bug had Easter plans with her dad on Sunday and desperately wanted to take a shower at home, we decided to call it a day and finish the rest of the mural the following weekend. (Which is this weekend!!! EEEEeeeeee!)
We took ourselves out to dinner. I had a grilled cheese sandwich and french fries and Bug had a burger and a side of mac and cheese and neither of us felt guilty about it. Nothing like a hard day’s work to free up some calories!
Now we get ready to go back this weekend to finish up all those white spaces and add in the detail. I’m very excited about it. I love painting outside. I just wish it could stay morning all day. At least it’s spring though. There’s no way we could ever do this in the summer.
Stay tuned for part two!
How to Overthink a Mural
A few weeks ago one of my favorite clients (Rasta Rita) and I were working on their margarita trucks. I’ve been creating renderings so that they can be hand-painted by this really great artist that we all admire. Turns out that really great artist is booked up and getting harder and harder to hire these days. You know where I’m going with this… when Mario, my boss at Rasta Rita shared his struggles, I casually suggested that Rasta Rita hire me to paint their margarita trucks. What a dream job right? I’ve always wanted to paint a taco truck, a margarita truck would even be MORE fun!
Except I don’t really have any experience in painting automobiles. I think the closest I’ve gotten to painting on a metal surface like a truck is painting a refrigerator red and maybe some bunnies on fingernails. It would be a total learning curve but where there’s a will there’s a way, right? Mario was intrigued but not quite ready to take a chance on a newbie with no proof of skills. Being a whiz at photoshop isn’t exactly the same thing as knowing how to paint a pin-line on a truck, must less a bunch of flowers and words that require the skills of a seasoned sign painter. So he offered me a test. I could paint a mural on their cantina location out in Twentynine Palms (next to Joshua Tree) and if I did a good job, I might be considered for truck painting.
You’re on, I said!
And then I proceeded to stress the beep out.
Give an anxiety-prone artist time and she will use every single minute of it to over-plan and prepare. I watched youtube videos for hours, I pondered paints that can withstand extreme desert weather. I studied bougainvillea leaves and tested out my skills on a canvas, I stressed about expensive paints soaking into porous stucco surfaces and imagined my paint budget sponging away into the wall. I calculated how much gas it would take me to drive to the desert multiple times and how much a hydraulic lift would cost so I could reach the top of the mural wall and not fall to my death…
In the picture that Mario gave me the wall looked immense. It seemed two stories tall easily. I imagined it would take me a whole week maybe even longer if I had to take breaks from heatstroke. I enlisted Bug to help me because she is quite good at painting and copying anything. And then I planned some more. I planned myself sick.
The day of the big paint job finally came and as I packed and stressed some more, I found out that the venue had been over-booked. If I was a fast painter I could possibly get the job done before the back-to-back weddings happened but I had no clue how things would go. What if I only got half of the mural done and then some poor bride had to have her wedding backdrop be a wall covered in gray splotches of primer paint. The horror! I didn’t know how long this whole process was going to take. Being under pressure to finish by a certain time was just too much for me to handle. I freaked.
I called it off. I got cold feet.
Thankfully this client is totally cool and said I could paint the following five consecutive weekends instead. I had planned to paint during Bug’s spring break but this would good plan B and more importantly, I could take some time off from stress. Sort of.
Bug and I decided to take a drive out there anyway just to case the joint and get a better idea of the scope of this project. We didn’t have anything else planned so we might as well have a little desert vaca-day. We’re always up for an adventure. Bring it on!
We got the keys and checked out the wall. Guess, what? It’s half the size I had imagined in my head. AND the surface is not as porous as I had feared. My fear level for this project dropped in half. I probably could have knocked it out in two days before the upcoming weddings but it’s just as well. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. I don’t need any Bridezillas suing me for ruining their wedding.
I was so relieved.
I also got to check out the famous artist’s version of some bougainvillea that he had painted. I wasn’t completely happy with my version (bottom left) but when I look at his, I don’t think I’m that far off. In fact, I think I can totally rock this job. I need to work on my petal shape a bit but I think I’ve got this.
We took some pictures and then headed home via the scenic route.
I love these desert mallows that grow along the side of the roads in the desert. Bug and I pulled off to take some pictures of them and Bug taught me an interesting fact (she knows all sorts of interesting botany trivia). Desert flowers grow where the dirt is disturbed. That means they grow in the distressed areas, like along a highway. Why do they do this? Probably nature’s last-ditch effort to reproduce before they die out or something like that but I took it as something else. I’ve been a little stressed out lately too and I think I’m a desert flower blooming. Distress can sometimes bring out the best in us. Of course, it’s not a good idea to be stressed out regularly but when we are, we can look for the beauty. It’s bound to show up somewhere. We just might not see it until it’s over.
And speaking of desert beauty… That’s my Bug, wearing a slip like it’s hot couture.
We didn’t spend much time taking photos but we got a few. I do love it out there.
See you again soon, pretty desert! I will keep you posted on this.