This week marks the one year anniversary of painting my first murals. Two murals in 10 days, in fact. Prior to painting these murals in Austin, I had zero mural experience & no reason to believe I could pull it off. Following is the 6-part story of how I did it. [Read from the beginning.]
We were going to attempt the mural on the back wall of the Continental Club starting at 7am on Thursday, July 14th. It was due to hit 100 degrees that day so Dana and I wanted some time before the sun cooked us completely, and we had to be finished by around 1pm.
I had paint, I had partners, I had a stencil that I hoped would suffice, but I was still scared as hell about those ladders. On Wednesday night I had plans to meet friends for drinks, but I was stewing and worrying about the ladders. Remembering my commitment not to doubt, I needed to clear my head. I said a prayer out loud, saying how scared I was and that I didn't think I could do it. I asked for help. I said I couldn't do it by myself. I didn't want to give up on the opportunity, but I also didn't want to be an inexperienced idiot and fall off a ladder and break my arm or split my head open (or Dana’s). I felt better after I spoke my fears and prayed for help.
That night I met my friends met at the private bar of the Hotel Saint Cecilia. About eight of us sat outside in the darkness, sipped our cold margaritas and chatted. It was super hot out, so at one point my mind wandered. I was still worried about those ladders. For a moment I sat quietly and my eyes drifted to the window of the indoor bar where the lights were bright. A figure moved through my line of vision, and I recognized him. It was Evan Voyles of the Neon Jungle, a friend of a friend I'd met a few times, the guy who designs and hangs all the big neon signs in Austin. Hangs neon signs, I thought. Up high. This guy might know something about ladders!
I was nervous to bother him, but I needed help so I got up without telling my friends where I was headed and made a beeline inside to bug Evan. I'd barely said two sentences about my dilemma before he grabbed a paper napkin and took a pencil out of his pocket. "The trick is to triangulate," he explained, drawing a straight ladder on a wall and a diagram of how to tie a rope to secure it. He said he'd developed this method after falling off far too many ladders.
He was literally the perfect person to ask about ladder safety methods, and he'd shown up right where I wasn't looking for him. And he was really gracious about it. "Here's my number in case you need help," he said. "But we're starting at 7am," I replied. I really didn't want to bother him. "I'm up early, busy day tomorrow.“ he said. Then my friends found me and told me they were leaving. I tucked my paper napkin ladder diagram into my purse and wondered at the perfect luck that I had to run in to him, and felt proud of myself for asking for help and keeping the faith.
The next morning I met Dana outside the club at 7am. Fabian pulled up in his truck with two straight ladders, and I showed them my cocktail napkin schematic. We had to move a wooden bench and dug out some dirt to place the first ladder. It felt pretty sturdy, and we tried the rope triangulation, but the angle where we had to set it was steep. We tested the second ladder and realized it was shaky, old and really too short. I was not confident at all with our setup. The last thing I wanted to do was bother Evan, but we were stuck. I called him. "I can be there in about 20 minutes," he said. While we were waiting, Fabian used the good ladder to boldly climb up to the roof and help us hang the stencil.
A few minutes later Evan skidded up in his truck. In a seemingly effortless motion, he lifted a giant ladder off his truck, placed it on the ground, threw some rope around it in his triangulated pattern, re-tied the rope on on our first ladder, gave both ladders a quick test and then popped back in to his truck. "Call me later when you want to drop it off," he said, and drove away. It all happened in a blur. He was like the angel of ladder safety!
We now had two very sturdy ladders so Dana and I were set to go. I was a bit nervous at first to be so high off the ground, but once I started painting I was able to focus on the task at hand. The black brick was textured and also had some deep furrows in it, so it sucked up a fair amount of paint. I had to go slowly to follow the stencil without destroying it, laying in enough paint to cover the thirsty brick without causing any drips. Dana and I each worked on a ladder; I set the outlines and she filled them in.
One funny thing about that morning is that absolutely no one bothered us or asked us what we were up to. Granted, it is in an alley, but several cars and a construction crew passed us by without a blink. In theory, we could have executed the entire mural in broad daylight without anyone's permission. There's a wonderful tradition and history for guerilla art, but it's not my style. I’d be too scared of getting caught and I want my art to be an invited part of someone's property.
A little bit after noon, about five hours in, it looked like we were finishing up. I painted over several spots and could have kept painting for another hour, but we were getting overheated, sunburned and hungry and the bar employees were set to start arriving at 1pm. I quickly painted my signature and we cleaned up our materials. We took a bunch of photos, high fived, and then returned Evan's ladder to him at his studio. I bought lunch, and then we all departed. I got back to the house where I was staying, showered, then lay on the bed under the ceiling fan. My muscles ached and I was bone tired from the heat. But, again, I was totally high.
I had painted two murals in three days. It happened. It's real. They're still there.
Stay tuned for the final post.