Why I Need to Paint a Mural on the Breakroom Wall.

I’ve been working so hard to make money lately that I’ve forgotten to be creative. If you know my go-to bio, it says that “being creative every day makes me happy,” so you can gather from that how I’m feeling.  I’ve been slapping that phrase everywhere I have to write a bio for the last fifteen years!  I know this about me!!  So why am I not being creative?

I blame scrolling and Ralphs. I waste all the free time I have scrolling. Bug shared the funniest (and most accurate) meme with me the other day that had a word for it: “internest“. It’s when you’ve had too much time “peopleing” so you hide in a nest of covers in bed that completely block out the world, and then you scroll the internet. You can lose hours this way. Bug and I call TikTok the time machine. You open it up and the next thing you know you have lost two hours. It’s crazy.  Want to go into the future? Open TikTok.

The last time I did something creative was for a website I designed that hasn’t been able to go live for programming reasons, and I haven’t been able to get paid for it because it’s not generating the client money yet and the client has no funds to pay me. It’s a vicious cycle.  You have to spend money to make money but if you don’t have the money to pay, you hire a graphic designer who is a people pleaser (me!) who will work for you on blind faith that her amazing work will bring you money.

How did I get to this point? Well,  I hate taking money before a job is complete because of that one time I worked for weeks for someone who I was terribly under-skilled to do what they wanted and needed. I knew it, they knew it so when I finally finished the challenge, they were expectedly disappointed. I couldn’t handle it. I had mistakenly thought if I really dug deep I could rise to the challenge. I didn’t. I gave them all the money back because I didn’t want to waste their money. There went all my time down the drain. So maybe I’m just too nice to be a designer? I don’t know. So many times people have been happy with my work and I’ve managed to stay afloat (with the help of my books) for seventeen years!!

How have I managed to stay afloat? Through this blog and being creative! That brings me to my opening paragraph. I haven’t been able to be creative for a few weeks now. I’m tired from working my Ralphs job, which is very physically draining. I’m barely finishing my graphic design work, and I’m internesting because I’m depressed about the website that hasn’t taken off or been paid for.

Today I have a day off from Ralphs. I have a few days off this coming week. I have to come back to being creative. This reminds me of when I worked at the coupon factory generating junk mail. It was such a boring job. But I was pretty high up on the coupon-creating design ladder, so I had a nice office and the respect of my coworkers. I’ve probably told this story before, but it’s stuck with me, so I’m going to re-tell it.

There were a bunch of boxes outside my office. We had recently moved and hired a bunch of new employees so they all had new computers (with towers and huge clunky box monitors because this was back in the dinosaur days before we had laptops) and all the boxes were piled up outside my office to be broken down. All day long those boxes called to me. Make me into a castle! Make me into a spaceship! It drove me crazy. I had coupons to type and junk mail to design I had no time for cutting up boxes and taping together spaceships and castles.

Finally, I gave into the call of the boxes and made a spaceship for my friend who had a toddler son. I wasted a whole afternoon. But you know what? I was happy! I was so happy and I was known for being happy. I was the girl who could take an ugly letter about miniblinds or deals on canned salmon and make it into something beautiful. I needed to be happy to do my job. It was my signature.  After the box-craftaganza I was able to go back to focus on my boring junk mail designs with a fresh attitude.

At Ralphs I’ve been daydreaming about painting a mural on the breakroom wall. The employee breakroom at Ralphs is the most depressing space you have ever seen. It’s dirty. The paint is peeling. There’s one of those old massage chairs you see at Brookstone that doesn’t work that is sunken in the middle like someone has slept in it for thirty years. It’s so old and gross. The pleather is peeling and bits of it slough off. Employees flop into this chair exhausted and “internest” during their breaks. I can tell that someone tried to interior decorate twenty years ago. It has a Route 66 clock on the wall and some kind of traffic light decoration that I don’t understand. Motivational posters are taped up next to How to Lift Heavy Objects without Injuring Yourself posters and in between are hand-scrawled shouting messages about not forgetting to put “paid” stickers on the food you buy from the store and that all lockers will be cut open if they are left past a certain date that was three years ago. The place says: I’m underpaid and understaffed and my work-life balance solution is to not care about this place.

But then there’s me. I look at this one wall in the hallway next to the women’s restroom, which is quite big and has absolutely nothing but scrapes and paint-peeling scars on it, and think: this would be a perfect place to paint a mural. I already know what I want to paint there. I want to paint really big colorful shapes and then on top of it the words that say small at the top: “Small changes make” and then below that in really more giant letters: “A Big Difference.” Brilliant, right? Wouldn’t it cheer people up and maybe we’d all start caring more and cleaning more and then this depressing store would slowly get cleaner and happier?

I mention it to one of the checkers. She loves the idea. She mentions it to the general manager on the floor, and then my idea goes to die. It’s a no-go. Why? Because I would need to do it on the clock to be covered for insurance reasons (what if I got hurt?!!) and nobody has time to pay me to paint a mural. I’m not giving up though. I think I will illustrate my idea and take it up the ladder to corporate. Somebody will lift their head up from their phone and realize this could be a small change that makes a big difference. I could get a job painting murals in all the breakrooms like they do at Trader Joe’s who have a way easier time keeping employees because they are proud to work there. What’s my boss’s biggest problem? Finding good employees.

I think I have a case.

Why did I just spend an hour making a graphic for no reason? Because it made me happy. Guess who’s back!

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!