Manifesting Murals | PART 4: You Might Get More Than You Bargained For

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.]

I woke up on Tuesday July 12th, the morning after I painted my very first mural on Fabian's garage, and I was so proud of myself. I had slept hard, my muscles sore from climbing up and down ladders for 5 hours. It was that rewarding fatigue that you get from physical labor, plus I was a bit high that my experiment had worked. And so quickly!  But I wasn't out of the woods yet -- I had the back wall of the Continental Club to paint. 

One thing I didn't mention in this heretofore chronological story is that my boyfriend had told me he was going to reach out to some of his friends to try to find me a wall. I thought it was a nice gesture but didn't think twice about it until he told me that he spoke with Steve Wertheimer, owner of the esteemed Continental Club, the best venue on South Congress Avenue. A place where I had been going since college and where my boyfriend had played many times. Steve said I could paint on the back wall of his club.

What? Did I just get offered to paint on the back side of the Continental Club?  I couldn't believe it. If this was an option, why wasn't the wall already filled with murals? 

I drove by the wall and took a few photos, trying to determine the best placement and proportions. The logistics for this mural were quite different from the one on Fabian's garage, so I had a whole new set of things to figure out. The wall is black so I couldn't project the design on it, I’d have to make a stencil. The ground below the wall was uneven and the wall was partly obstructed by a tree. Design-wise, the best placement for my arrows would be halfway up the wall near the roof.  I'd need to figure out how to safely place some straight ladders on uneven ground and get both me and Dana over 10 feet up in the air. 

Allow me to explain to you that I'm not a physical risk taker. I'm not an athlete, I've never broken a bone, I like my feet on the ground. I'm not afraid of heights per se, but I have ZERO DESIRE to climb high up a rickety ladder. We'd climbed around on ladders for the first mural, but they were steady A-frames on level ground. I was super worried about it.

Despite the fact that I’d just successfully painted my first mural, I was even more nervous than before. My mind was filled with doubts, I had no idea how I would pull it off, but how could I say NO?

My mockup

My mockup

A voice in my head said, maybe this is all a mistake. To double check that Steve actually meant to offer the wall up to me, I mocked up the design and emailed it to him.  I thought, maybe he'll see it and just cancel the whole idea! On Monday, July 11th, the morning before I was going to paint my very first mural on Fabian's garage, I emailed Steve the mockup asking if he approved. He emailed right back, "Looks good." Oh shit, I thought, I'm leaving town in five days and I have to figure out how to paint this wall.

On Wednesday afternoon, I went to use my painter friend's art studio so I could make the stencil. I had a roll of craft paper that I'd bought previously, and I searched around and found some masking tape and eventually one pair of dull scissors.  I taped a few lengths of paper together to cover about a 5 feet by 7 feet area, then I taped that to the wall and projected the arrows onto it so I could trace them. The art studio had air conditioning but it took a while to work, so it was hot in there. I had once chance to get the proportions of the arrows right, and to make a sturdy enough stencil. After I traced the arrows I pulled the giant paper off the wall and onto the floor. I used masking tape to reinforce it along the traced lines, then used the dull scissors to carefully cut it out. 

This took much longer than I thought it would take, I was overheating, and I still was so worried about the ladders. The scissors were tearing the paper so I had to be very careful. I didn't have the right tools, and in a sweaty moment of defeat my emotions took over me. Here I was making a stencil of masking tape and paper, and I didn't even know if it would work or if I'd be able to climb high enough to use it. I started crying. I lay down flat on the floor in the middle of the studio. What the hell was I thinking? I just surrendered and sweated and cried softly, thinking I can't do this. I give up. 

I let myself cry for a few minutes, then I just lay there quietly and breathed. A thought popped in to my head; I really need a straight edge and a razor to finish cutting this out. Then an odd thing happened. I sat up and turned my head to the corner of the room behind me, and my eyes landed on a metal yardstick. The perfect straight edge that I needed. I walked to grab it, and without thinking my head turned again, this time across the room to the bottom shelf of a coffee table that had a few little baskets of remote controls and random things. I walked to the shelf and my hand picked up one of the baskets. Nestled in between two remote controls was a razor. 

I had been working in this studio the previous three weeks and had never seen either of these tools. 

I thought, hot damn, said a prayer of thanks out loud, and then made quick work of slicing out the rest of that stencil. 

Manifesting Murals | PART 3: You're Gonna Need Help

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.]

The next day, Sunday July 10th, Dana and I met Fabian at the auto garage to see the wall.  The wall was white so I knew I wanted to paint black arrows on it.  It was not unlike the very first mockup I had made.

Blank canvas

Blank canvas

I considered placement and proportion. It was a tall, wide expanse of blank wall so it needed to be pretty big in order to look good.  Fabian had ladders at the shop so that wasn't a problem. We decided the best bet would be to project the design on to the wall and "trace" over it. My friend Jeff said he had a projector at his house, it just needed an adapter to hook up to my computer. We all made a plan to meet the next night at sundown.

Dana and I headed to Home Depot for supplies. I bought one can of black paint and since I was so strapped for spending money, I bought maybe two or three of the cheapest brushes. Dana convinced me to buy a small plastic paint holder with a handle. I had to drive to Radio Shack to hunt down an adapter for the projector so I could plug it into my laptop. Each time I made a purchase, I had to ignore the doubtful voice that said You're wasting your time. You're wasting your money. Twenty-five dollars for an adaptor you'll use once??

The evening of Monday, July 11th, I gathered some pencils for tracing, grabbed some cold Topo Chicos and put on some clothes I didn't mind getting paint on. I picked up Jeff and his projector and drove to Fabian's garage. Dana met us there. We put my laptop on a ladder, rigged up extension cords out to it and the projector and adjusted it til the arrows were just right.  Jeff had to help me with a setting that stopped my laptop from going to "sleep" every 5 minutes. We used the pencils to do a light trace around the entire design, just in case we didn't get finished that night.  Then it was time to lay down the paint.

I had to ignore the fear that I was about to ruin Fabian's building.

One thing I hadn't thought about was the fact that the wall was corrugated metal. That means it's wavy, and varies in depth. We were painting straight arrows on a wavy wall. If I'd really thought about this beforehand, I wouldn't have gone through with it. But I literally didn't think about it until I started laying the paint on. I had a flash of panic, envisioning wavy, unintelligible arrows that looked like wiggly mush from far away. But again, here we all were and I had committed to not doubting.  I reminded myself an important lesson I'd learned when I used to do clothing alterations for people: trust what the materials are telling you, even if it doesn't make sense to your logical mind. As long as we painted what the projector was showing us, it should look right.

I took a deep breath and smeared some black paint on the white wall.  

We were going to make this work.  We had to.

I told Dana that I would do all of the tracing and outlining, and asked her to fill in my outlines with black paint.  We stepped up and down the ladders, dragged them as we made progress, reached around each other and checked each other's progress.  Fabian stayed with us and helped with moving the two A-frame ladders and reassuring us that it in fact looked right from far away. I'm no fan of ladders but once I started painting, the concentration took over and I didn't really think about how high up I was. 

To my surprise, Jeff also stayed with us and Dana's friend Candice stopped by for a little while.  I hadn't met her before, but she arrived with a smile and even helped out with painting inside my lines. I stepped back and took a breath, and couldn't believe that here I was, PAINTING A MURAL. And four other people chose to hang around and help. They were all participating in this mad idea that had popped in to my head. It was real. It was happening. 

Around midnight, we were finished. We turned off the projector and looked at it from five feet away, ten feet away, a little ways down the street. Straight arrows on a wavy wall. It looked right. I painted a little signature, then we folded ladders, wrapped extension cords, closed paint cans and everyone went home.

That night I lay in the bed where I was housesitting.  My body was exhausted from climbing up and down ladders, reaching, stretching and concentrating for five hours straight. But I was high. Totally high on having made something out of nothing, totally high because my experiment worked.

Manifesting Murals | PART 2: You're Gonna Need A Wall

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.]

To convince myself to pursue the mural goal while allowing zero doubts to enter the process, I told myself it was "an experiment". Logically I didn't really believe that I'd be able to do it, but as an experiment I decided to proceed with an open mind that it could happen. This is art after all, why not keep my mind open to the most outlandish ideas? 

Pretty quickly I realized I could paint my arrows motif on a wall and that it could look pretty cool. I’d been painting my arrows on jackets, suits, guitar straps and leather pouches. Right before I left for Austin I’d painted my arrows on a canvas backdrop I’d made as a stage banner. That was the largest scale painting I had done before, and I loved the way it looked. I decided my arrows would be the subject matter of the mural.

The next step was to imagine what kind of place might want my arrows on their wall.  I thought about a coffee shop I'd been to, and I googled a photo of it and did a crude mockup of the arrows on the interior and exterior walls.  I emailed the photo to the general email of the coffee shop, asking if they'd be interested. More importantly, mocking up the visual helped me "see" the idea of the mural as more real.  The people from the coffee shop never responded.

My digital mockup on the coffee shop wall

My digital mockup on the coffee shop wall

I started asking friends if they knew any muralists. Some close friends of mine told me they had a friend who had painted several murals. My friend gave the muralist a call, explained my situation and asked if he’d talk to me.  The muralist didn’t want to talk to me.

Another friend told me about a place called SPRATX that sold mural supplies.  I called them and told them I was an artist visiting from Oakland and did they know of any opportunities or available walls?  Nope, they said, competition is very stiff.  There aren't that many walls available. It's really hard these days and getting harder.  I thanked them and moved on.

All these dead ends were plenty of fodder to feed my doubt, but I’d made a commitment not to do that.  So I kept going.

While I was waiting to find a wall, I still needed to figure out how I’d proceed if I found one. My friend Dana Lenko ended up being a key part of the process. Turns out she used to work at a paint shop and she went with me to two shops while we were researching. She also embraced the idea and didn't put any doubt on it. This was crucial; one dreamkiller can kill an idea before it even starts. Dana spent time talking through the idea with me and generally adding momentum and belief.  

The night I found a wall (with Jeff, Fabian, Cathy, Amy)

The night I found a wall (with Jeff, Fabian, Cathy, Amy)

On Saturday, July 9th, I met some friends out at a club to see Folk Uke perform. My friends Jeff and Fabian asked what I'd been up to, and I told them I was looking for a place to paint my arrows as a mural. Saying it out loud to other people was part of the "having no doubts" aspect, because I usually don't share ideas before I've accomplished them.  

To my utter shock, Fabian said, "I just took over an auto garage on the east side. You can paint your arrows on the side of my building."

I couldn't believe my ears. I think I must have said "Really? Just like that? You'll let me paint the side of your building??" Yep. I heard him right. I was beside myself. I texted Dana and told her we were on.

Upcycled & Re-Styled Vintage Victorian Lace Dress

Today is the start of Me Made May 2017, an annual event encouraging people who sew/knit/crochet/refashion/upcycle garments for themselves to wear and love them more.

In honor of the event, I'd like to tell you about a vintage Victorian lace dress that I upcycled & redesigned.

I absolutely love upcycling & remaking because:

  • it requires problem solving (which I love)
  • I can find superior materials & natural fibers (much harder to find new)
  • it costs more time than money (perfect on an artist's budget)
  • it's sustainable and eco-friendly
  • I never have to worry about someone else wearing my same outfit

A few years ago while shopping at the Alameda Antique Fair, I found a wad of beautiful old lace at the bottom of a pile.  I can't remember how much I paid for it, but I'm positive it was less than $20 because that's how I roll.  After I got home, I realized it was a dress, stained and damaged but with beautiful eyelet and lace, and probably dating from the early 1900s.

Last year, while thinking about what to wear to the inaugural Ohana Festival, I decided I'd like a lightweight lace dress to stay cool in the heat, so I set about re-designing the vintage dress.  Here's what I started with:

For this project, my design challenges were:

  • the waistline was miniscule
  • the silhouette was outdated
  • the lace was damaged and stained in a few places
  • the lace and cotton is extremely delicate so it won't withstand any pressure or pulling

I believe the original front of the dress was the V-neck, but to be honest I'm not sure.  I wanted to showcase the lace in the front, so I chose to make the V-neck the back of the bodice. I also chose to keep the long sleeves, which worked for a summer dress due to the sheerness of the cotton and lace.

After I surveyed the damage and stains, I decided on a cropped, somewhat loose silhouette which would allow me to wear the dress without being in constant fear of ripping it.  Again, the material is so light and airy that it drapes well enough for a loose silhouette.

When I re-design a dress, I start with a basic idea of the silhouette I want, then tackle one area at a time, stopping to try the dress on after each basting or stitching. I do a lot of pinning on the dress form, then stepping back to observe and make design decisions. I don't make or use a pattern and I don't really measure too much, I just go slow and see what looks good and allow the garment to guide the design as I go.

The neckline needed reshaping, the shoulders needed repair and reinforcement, and I needed to repair the lace in a few other areas.  I was able to leave the sleeves as is, long and with closed cuffs, only because I have really small hands and wrists (our ancestors were tiny humans).  After I reversed the bodice, I noticed that part of the skirt had a continuation of the same lace so I oriented the skirt to match the lace at the top. I created an empire waist that is just wide enough for me to slip the dress over my head (and bustline).

(Forgive the color differences, I took these photos under very different lighting conditions.)

I'm really happy with the way the dress turned out, and it's managed to survive long active days at two different music festivals. I wore it this weekend to Stagecoach, styled with a black vintage slip, vintage jewelry and my Heritage boots.

With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

As I said, the dress has survived two long and active music festivals, but at the very end of the night, when we were almost home from the Stagecoach festival, I bent forward in the passenger seat of the car and heard a rip, which happened in the back of the skirt. One of the many things I've learned from Exene Cervenka is that ripped clothing has soul, so I'll repair it and wear it again.