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…
...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…
...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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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