Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.


2014 . 06 . 25 - Comments / Commentaires (7)

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Last year, I was offered a public art project on NE Lloyd and Grand in Portland. And after over twelve months of planning, I’m set to do the painting in July! This will be my first ever outdoor mural…


Gwenn Seemel
Noah’s Ark

...but, as you can see from this image, I have done some indoor ones before, mostly when I was a teenager. Since I did an even worse job of documenting the other murals than I did with this one, I won’t share more photos…


photo by Heidi

...except, of course, this one! (I had been babysitting the little boy pictured here with me since he was an infant, and I later asked him to model for this painting. For this photo, we were pretending to be lions.) When I created Noah’s Ark, I was just sixteen years old. Seventeen years later, it’s wild to see the beginnings of my style emerging already, especially on this large scale.

many photos of Kirk Reeves

photos of Kirk from 2007

The mural that I’ll be creating next month is a portrait of Kirk Reeves, a local street performer and artist who passed away in 2012. I wrote more about his story here.

mural mock-up

drawing of Kirk

And though I haven’t even started the painting, I already have six useful tips for beginning mural-makers that I want to share:

1) Figure out how to navigate multiple clients.

Good communication can be tricky enough with one client, but, with a project done on private property according to city ordinances and with the help of taxpayer’s money, it doesn’t matter who is supposed to be my client: there are many people I have to please. It’s definitely not my favorite way of working, but it’s something I am getting used to.

2) Secure an initial nonrefundable payment.

Before you ever start sketching out ideas, get paid. If the project ends up working out, fold that payment into your overall fee; if the project dies, you will at least have been remunerated for your work. What’s more, when money has exchanged hands everything gets taken more seriously and, where art is concerned, that is crucial.

mural mock-up

early mock-up

3) Mock-ups are boring but important.

I don’t do sketches for my clients who commission portraits from me. I don’t like doing them and the drawings never do the final piece justice anyway, so the whole exercise feels futile. But, for a project with so many people to please, the mock-up is an essential tool for communication and for writing a solid contract.

4) Do only the project you want to do.

When I was first approached about painting this wall, one of the clients thought the image should be a composition with multiple faces, anonymous people with a we-are-the-world feel. I wasn’t inspired by the suggestion, so I sat down and thought hard about what I would actually enjoy painting at this scale and in this very public way. When I pitched the portrait of Kirk, there was some negotiations that had to happen, but in the end my subject matter was approved by all the clients.

mural mock-up

official mock-up

5) I mean it: do only the project you want to do.

Kirk was known for his Mickey Mouse hat, but I won’t be painting those famous ears because, although all the clients want me to paint them, none of them are willing to take full legal and financial responsibility for using Disney’s trademarked material. If they’re not willing to take on that risk, I don’t have to consult a lawyer to know that I shouldn’t either. For more about this rather puzzling part of the mural process, go here.

6) Talk to Robin Corbo.

No matter how much research I did, I wouldn’t have made it this far without getting advice from an experienced muralist. If you’re in Portland and looking to do a project like this one, Robin is now offering a mural class at Portland Community College, and the next session starts 1 July. Go here for more information.

I’ll be working in the latter half of July. If you’re in the area, please come by to say “hi!” I haven’t figured out exactly what hours I’ll be working yet, but I’ll write more as I get into the project.

- How I ended up talking at TEDxGeneva / Comment je suis arrivée à TEDxGeneva
- For Kirk
- How to make a living as an artist

CATEGORIES: - English - Business of art - Drawing - Featuring artists - Kirk Reeves - Process images - Uncopyright -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(7) Comments / Commentaires: Mural-izing

-- Claire -- 2014 . 06 . 25 --

Fantastic! I can’t wait to hear more as the project moves forward! grin
Bon courage !!

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-- Lynette -- 2014 . 06 . 25 --

Gwenn, you will be giving Kirk’s wonderful smile to Portland.  Good luck!

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-- lilotte -- 2014 . 06 . 26 --

Je viens de découvrir votre blog via Pinterest. J’ai passé une heure à regarder vos videos. J’adore votre art et votre personnalité.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 26 --

@Claire: I will imagine you sitting in a lawn chair under a parasol next to my work site, keeping me company, and I will tell you all of everything that happens as I work!

@Lynette: It will be a challenge, no doubt, but one I’m getting more and more excited about as the start date gets closer!!

@Lilotte: C’est gentil! Merci beaucoup!

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-- Lynette -- 2014 . 06 . 26 --

Murals enrich us all!  When I recently visited my parents in Missoula, MT, I saw these fine public artworks: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/1461/Traffic-Signal-Box-Locations

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-- Kristina -- 2014 . 07 . 07 --

Ack!!!!!  This is amazing!!!!  I’m counting on you to document the process and letting us know when it’s complete so we can all be sure to ogle it appropriately. 

Also, a truly wonderful tribute for Kirk Reeves.  He was a fixture in Portland for years, and I think really represents so many things that are inherently PDX. 

I’m BEAMING in your honor.  Xo.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 07 . 09 --

@Kristina: I will certainly document the process, and it even looks like OPB will be documenting at least part of it too! I meet with the reporter/filmmaker today. He wants to do a whole segment on Kirk, which makes me very happy!

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