I often am asked how I create my murals. How do you get perspective being so close to the building, I’m asked? I’m going to get to that in a bit, but first let's talk about what happens before the paintbrushes come out. Specifically, the moment when you feel deep in your gut that you’ve taken ownership of a wall and you must paint it.
The Gateway Mural was born from this deep desire to make a section of town more meaningful while creating an image that couldn’t be ignored.
We love to be reminded of the past. Gateway has been a staple in Phoenixville for so, so long. It’s not just where people went, and still go, to get the things to make them feel better when they are sick….it's the place where kids gathered after school, the place of first dates over a soda at the fountain, and where parents reconnected after their days of work and tending to the family.
The wall, once I actually looked at it, was love at first sight. I drove by it everyday, but I never really saw it. It was effectively hidden in plain sight...behind cards, neon signs, and was camouflaged into the concrete grey of that corner of town.
When asked to propose a concept, I knew two things:
It needed to be the whole gloriously gray wall.
It needed to be a historical nod to the Pharmacy itself and its place in time within our community.
The initial concepts varied, but they all fell in the theme of “Gateway to the Past” a name thought up by a fellow BAC committee member, Jeane McNamara. With the help of Jen Szilagyi, a pharmacist and daughter of, Mark Szilagyi, part Owner of Gateway, I was able to sift through some old images of the Gateway Pharmacy. Since they were all black and white, I called on the help of Ryan Conroy from the Phoenixville Historical Society to review the image and help me better understand what I was looking at. His generosity with his time and knowledge was integral in the planning phase of this mural and I am so incredibly grateful to him for that.
The process of starting the mural begins under the cover of night with a black and white rendering of the concept and a projector designed for artists. I project a line rendering of the concept on the wall and use a very wet mixture of a dark transparent neutral wash of paint to indicate the lines of the piece. It becomes a map that aligns with my project book.
Once my line sketch is finished, I begin painting like I paint my oil paintings. I start with large sections of color, like the sky, and then I move around the piece beginning with the focal points. For the Gateway, I started with the signage. For the Welcome to Phoenixville, I worked on the low bridge. I use various sizes of sash brushes for the majority of the wall and move to smaller artist brushes to paint in the details.
In the beginning, it takes a lot of vision and patience. It is slow going, and I pass the time listening to audiobooks while I am on the wall. Once the sky and large color blocks are painted in, the piece starts to take shape and each day is more and more exciting. The best part of working on a mural is the moment when you climb down from the wall and step away from the area you were working on and see how it comes to life.
How do you get perspective when you are so close and the wall is so big?
The line rendering created from the nighttime projection is all that I need to understand where things stop and start.
What is the best part of creating a mural?
The people are the best thing. The people that come by to share stories or share their support of what you are doing. Also, the people that offer help. I had a great experience this time around when my friend Karin and her daughter Meredith stopped by to help paint. They spent the half of the day doing all of the grass you see in the lower right of the mural, and it was so amazing to have them there.
What is the craziest thing that has happened while working on a mural.
First was that time when my lift wouldn’t turn on and the aux backup wasn’t working. Luckily, I wasn’t that high and was able to make it down without incident.
Second, was that time when I exploded a bucket of paint when it got sandwiched between the lift and the utility box it was sitting on below the lift. Phthalo Blue EVERYWHERE. I mean, everywhere. Luckily, the drop clothes were below, which helped contain some of the splats. It was a major clean up.
What do you do if it rains?
I cannot paint in the rain, or if there is a lot of fog due to the moisture. The acrylic paints that I use dry SUPER fast, especially in the heat, which allows me to paint right up until a few minutes before the rain starts.
Why do I see drips in your mural?
That’s just the way I roll. When I paint, I love to let the paint drip and create texture in the piece. I work in layers, so in the end, most of the drips get covered by other layers, but some I let show through. Life is messy, life has lots of drips, and that’s why I love them.
What kind of materials do you use?
I’ve included a supply checklist below if you are interested in seeing what I use.
I would like a mural, how do I hire you?
Easy, give me a call or send me an email and we can start the discussion and process that I’ve outlined above.
I would like to make a mural, how do I start?
Sweet! Find a wall, get approval and make your plan. I’ve given you a good start here. See the checklists below.
What is your best advice about creating a mural.
Murals are like marathons. You train, and your prep and you worry about them long before you actually start painting. There will be obstacles. There will. I promise. But it is one foot in front of the other each day until you start to see it coming together. And then, you can’t wait to paint each day to see it take shape. To step away and see all your planning and prepping staring at you 30 feet tall is a feeling like none other.