Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Nuts and Bolts of the St. Joseph's Mural Commission

Detail of the Crucifixion Window in-progress at St. Joseph's Regional School

Murals have been on my mind. I was commissioned last April by St. Joseph's Regional School in Newton, NJ to complete a mural to complete a play-scape transformation project. My surface - a 40' x 15' cinder block wall pierced with windows. When I first viewed the walls, I thought wow, that is huge. I've never worked that large, let alone outside. Fear of the unknown crept in slowly and I fought back with a determination to successfully execute this project.

Philly Art, courtesy of

I spent a summer in college interning at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and was exposed to their very successful Mural Arts Program. Every corner you turn in Philly, a wall is elaborately finished with amazing images painted by artists. This was my opportunity to understand and work on a grand scale.
Part of my original design for the mural

I took the commission which has taken about a year to design. No, I have not worked on it every day for a year, but in juggling my other projects and teaching, it took a year to come up with an initial idea, and then go through the revision process. Last June I spent two sessions working with selected students in brainstorming ideas. I took some of their ideas. along with my own to present an initial design that incorporated both scripture and elements of the school day. The schema I came up with breaks the wall into a series of stained glass windows, turning the outside into a church-like environment, giving the feeling you are outside and inside a Gothic cathedral at the same time. Ultimately, the committee felt I needed to go purely in the religious direction, so I came up with an illustration depicting 9 bible verses selected by the priest of St. Jo's, Father Brian Sullivan. The windows start with Creation and end with the Resurrection / Ascension.

On the scaffolding for the first time!
Color studies for the mural, done in marker
At the end of March, my current design was approved and then I waited for the warm weather to return. I picked up two sets of 5' scaffolding with my parent liaison, Jessie Martin, and her 70 year old mother who lent us her pickup truck and instructed me on putting it together and scaling it! Truly humbling to watch Jessie's mother climb all over the scaffolding as if she had been born on it.

Montana Hardcore Paint Markers, image from
Nativity and St. Joseph windows after completing the drawing at night.
I'm using a process that I researched thoroughly over the past year; projecting my image with an Art Prism and drawing the outlines with Montana Hardcore markers. This work required darkness for the image to successfully show on the wall so I spent about six, warm and dry weather evenings in April and May from 8:15 through 10 and 11pm drawing the design with a parent buddy, students, and my son and husband keeping me company. Numerous evenings Joel, my son, would cry because he had to go to bed and couldn't come to the mural. It was really special to have him see me work on this project and be so interested.

After my first painting session.
As of May 10th I finally began the painting. I'm using custom mixed acrylics special ordered from Golden Acrylics in New York state. They make amazing paints - this is my first time using them and I'm super impressed by the coverage, color, and texture of the paints. After I got into the project, I remembered learning about their use for mural work from my time at Pearl Paint. In about a week from ordering at Jerry's Artists' Outlet in West Orange, I had 5 gallons of artists acrylic. I'm using colors suggested by Marshall Okin at Jerry's - manganese blue, pyrole red, hansa yellow medium, bone black, and titanium white - all rated for permanence.The colors are really impressive on the wall.
Detail of Jesus from the Ascension / Resurrection Window
Ascension/Resurrection of Jesus Window, nearly complete as of 5/18
Crucifixion Window, started 5/19

I'm only working on the 2nd of the 9 windows and am hoping to complete any scaffolding work by the beginning of June. However, now that I see how long I am spending on each window, I probably have a good 70 hours worth of work ahead of me; which I'm fitting in around my retail hours at the gallery, my teaching schedule, and picking up my son from daycare. Whew! So if you'd like to follow my progress, become of fan of my Facebook page - that's where I'm posting daily updates. You're also more than welcome to stop by and watch me work.