Passion for Murals

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How I Got Started Painting Murals

A Short Father's Day Story...

Summers were long and hot and humid in Cincinnati, Ohio. I think we were the only family in the neighborhood still operating without newfangled air conditioning! As a teen in ‘76, sleeping in past 11 a.m. was the best past time and was aided by the fact that a square 2’ x 2’ fan in the bedroom window was the only thing that moved the air, HOT air. 

So, in my days of boredom on end, days of poking at the bubbled tar in the divided cement slabs on the streets of suburbia, I got the notion to create a project that would fill my days and improve my surroundings. I decided to paint my first mural. Sadly, some years prior, my sister and I argued over what color our walls should be and, Dad, no longer patient in this debate, made an executive decision. Two walls “Pale Yellow” and two walls “Boring Beige.” To a teen with my “sensibilities” this just didn’t sit well. And, my sister’s “Starsky and Hutch” and John Denver posters were not going to be the only source of decor.

My dad was surprisingly enthusiastic regarding my mural idea and, well, my sister didn’t balk at the whole thing. I told him I wanted to paint wild animals, maybe lions, and I would do some research and look for cool photos. He went out that day and purchased Sear’s brand paint in quart cans. I’m not sure how we decided the colors or the kind of paint, but I now had weeks spread out before me to fill with something gigantic and creative and like nothing I had done before. 

Dad was often in awe of my artistic talent and took this time to share his stories of his own attempts at artistry, calligraphy mostly. His own father made painting a productive hobby. “Gramps” painted wonderful landscapes of mountains, meadows, snow scenes, and lakes that hung in many rooms of our house and I used to get lost in them as a kid. I especially loved getting birthday cards from Gramps because he never forgot to sketch a bunny next to my name and ask me about my own drawings, which was more valuable to me than the dollar bill inside! Dad used to say he wished he’d inherited some of that talent from him.

I looked through library books and our set of “Encyclopedia Britannica” for inspiration and settled on a family of lions, a koala in a tree, and a toucan. I never gave thought about that these animals would never realistically be seen in the same environment until my neighbor pointed it out. I simply chose animals that I liked. I brought them all together in a grassy landscape in my own fantasy. This took me weeks to produce and I could feel myself losing steam and excitement for the project (maybe the lack of cool air played a part - ha!). What was going to cover all four walls someday was contained to the surface closest to my bed. 

But, at least, I could curl on my side and look at my first mural “masterpiece” every night and put my back to my sister’s posters! I had taken the first conscious step toward improving my environment, no longer colorless and unimagined. However, in typical artistic temperament (or was it teen angst?), I mentally picked my painting apart, crafting ways to improve it should I ever decide to revisit it. I never painted on that particular mural again, but I think my Dad would agree I made some incremental improvements over the years in my painting abilities. :) 

I cherish that event, that memory with Dad, our collaboration. While he never was quite sure what I was going to do with my “Bachelor of Fine Arts” degree and perhaps wasn’t so patient with all my zigging and zagging, hemming and hawing over the years, I am grateful he gave me that first gentle push in the right direction. In 2006, I was proud to dedicate my book, Creative Kids’ Murals You Can Paint, to my Dad. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I feel your presence often... and your love always!

(all taken with my Polaroid Camera!)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Best Husband Ever! A Great Story...

A father-to-be has the grand desire to please his wife, the mother-to-be of their first child, in one of the most touching scenarios I’ve ever witnessed. His pregnant wife is in Alaska completing a work assignment until March 1st. And, he boldly decides to surprise her with the most special gift upon her return -- a completely decorated and well-stocked baby’s nursery. He’s not exactly sure how he envisions it and he’s very sure she has no idea of what it should look like either. He “googles” my website and this is where I have the sacred privilege of stepping into the picture, so to speak.

In our initial meeting, it’s apparent Chuck is a newbie, feeling overwhelmed at making decisions on baby purchases for a new baby girl. Undoubtedly, how to prepare for the arrival of the first child is mind-boggling. But it’s clear the immediate goal is to have the most delightful and happy environment for their new baby while absolutely blowing his wife away! But, he has already decidedly purchased the furniture and a few baby outfits at this point. After looking at the baby clothes and the artwork in his home, I suggest we look at “funky and fun” images, a little “Pee Wee Herman,” Dr. Suess, and some other illustrators for inspiration. And, through our discussion, it is clear the nursery should be “non-gender” to make room for more “possibilities” and somewhere their two current “babies,” a Yorkie and Schnauzer, are to be included.

At home, I begin to look at my bookshelf of illustrators and some images online, as well as non-gender crib bedding. I email Chuck some images to get his reaction. And, I begin to have a general idea of what the lay out should be and the style in which it should be produced. I send him a rough sketch and scans of what I propose and it’s a go. What is fun in this particular case, Chuck is very open to what would evolve in the creative process. So, even I didn’t know how this would all turn out. 

Creatively, one of the main elements that excites me is a “wash and scribble” style to accentuate the playfulness and fun of children. Often, I am asked to paint soft, nurturing, beautiful images, which I love. But, we collaboratively are not going for that here!

I paint for three days in the room and watch it come together before my eyes. I can tell you I actually laughed out loud, as I simply serve as a conduit for whatever decides to come through me. I smile at the face of the sun when he is “born.” And, the joyfulness of the doggies participating in this adventure is really fun! 

Something is still missing. The windows need dressing and the cloud shape becomes the obvious solution. We enlist the help of my friend, Rosa Harvan (, and she makes the most wonderful “poofy” cornice boards -- the final touch. On my trip back to “bejewel” the clouds, I see the furniture and the shutters are now in place. And, I spy many important baby purchases around the room. Chuck is ready. He has it all taken care of and his wife is to arrive in just a few days...

Again, I am struck with the magnitude of his love for his wife, his family, the initiative he takes to bring it all together. And, it makes me extremely happy to think about how these new parents will have the opportunity to experience their little girl observe and interact with her new world around her. And, I was given the opportunity to contribute in some small way.

Here are some final words from Chuck:

“Hi Suzanne, 

Angie absolutely loves the room.  She couldn't stop smiling when she walked in for the first time.  Whenever she went upstairs over the weekend she would take a couple of minutes to go in and get another look.  Saturday night we just sat in there listening to music, talking about our plans and enjoying your artwork.  It's perfect.  We couldn't be more thrilled with how it turned out.

Thank you so much,


Thank you, Chuck and Angie, for granting me this very, very special opportunity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Magic Behind the "The Rooster of Salesville, Ohio"

Meg Awaiting the Rooster
John preparing with "Fireweed" Red.

My trip back to Ohio was an unpredictably fun and magical turn of events. My good friend, Meg, commissioned me to “paint a rooster on the side of the barn” simply because everyone kept asking her, “Where’s your rooster?”  She and her husband, John, own several hens on their sprawling farm in rural Salesville, Ohio (they also own three horses, two cats, and a dog!). 

Meg envisioned a large-scale rooster walking over “barn red” siding and sent me photos for inspiration. That began the conversation. 

And, I returned with an image that came across my path, this wonderful painting by artist, Robert Joyner (part of a series). 

But how does a painting go from the kernel of an idea to the final piece? It can be very systematic or it can take on a life of its own. But, I am in love with the creative process when magic unfolds in a collaborative event! That is exactly what happened. 
Physical circumstances nudged us into thinking about some practical, yet creative solutions, as is often the case. Originally, “Rooster” was to be painted directly on the prepared wall. Meg and John used quality exterior primer and paint to ensure longevity (Kilz primer and Sherwin-Williams “Fireweed” exterior "SuperPaint"; and, I was using Sherwin-Williams exterior “Resilience” line as it holds its brightness longer). The moisture in the air and in the wood of the barn wall, as well as the look of foreboding rain clouds overhead, prevented me from painting on the actual side of the building. It was just too big a chance to take and I had a limited time to produce. But, this is when things got incredibly fun!

Meg and I proposed a separate "canvas" on wood and John was only too proud to show me his collection of 100-year-old barn siding. He had a storehouse of stacks and stacks of beautifully rustic wood slats in many lengths and states of decomposition. To an artist, this is like gold! He was ecstatic at my full appreciation of his treasure, stating only a small population see the beauty and potential of such a find. A portion of the pieces were already "primed" with weathered red paint. I especially liked the look of these and in no time John was ready to construct the painting's foundation.

John's ability to see how best to engineer the frame that would hold the eight slats together, not to mention his forethought on how this structure would be attached to the barn, and his sawing skills were invaluable to me. Determining the proper "random" length, John cut the pieces to size. Our "canvas" was very heavy but moveable and we employed our strong, young sons to help set it up in what became my temporary artist studio for the next two days. The studio: an historic, dirt floor barn complete with rusty old equipment, hay, wood pieces, etc., but most importantly, a long existing roof for shelter and protection!  I found myself giggling at how surreal my surroundings were! This was better than my wildest dreams. And, I laughed out loud when the hens wandered through, seemingly choosing the color palette for their future visitor who had not yet been realized. 

I was really attracted to the color palettes in Meg's original inspiring images and I love the loose and "strokey" manner of Mr. Joyner's artwork. I knew I would marry these things somehow, but I couldn't tell you exactly how. Fortunately, for me, my good friends and clients had given me very loose parameters and are supporters of the creative process. They, as writers, understand it. I am convinced that this is the space in which something divine can take place if the artist is willing and able to be the conduit. And, once I got rolling, my heart and soul were in sync and I was in complete and total joy! 

This was no ordinary creation... or even an accident. I had been intentionally calling out for art projects of collaboration with like-minded, creative folks that would impact others in a larger way and bring total joy in the process. And, no surprise, that is exactly what I received. 

I am so very grateful to my friends, to the process, to the skills, to our Higher Power, and to the Magic.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Divine Collective Unconscious

Lately, I've been seeing in my mind's eye very vivid and finished paintings with words and colors. What's interesting is everywhere I look, I know other artists are experiencing the same creative flurry. We are the visual messengers. Subliminally, thoughts of "Peace" and "Love" and "Joy" are absolutely popping up everywhere! What we focus on we create. We all want this for each other, for our world culture, and these heartfelt sentiments are increasingly pouring forth using Creatives as conduits for this divine support. Just another indication of the emerging awakened mindset it is taking to make the necessary changes in our world.

Recently, a client commissioned me to do this painting as a gift for a dear friend of hers. I love the sentiment. This particular piece has spurred even more similar pieces. I will be sharing more of these on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mural Painting for the Tweener Set... Funky, Contemporary-looking Leaves

It can be a challenge to find the right decor for the child who is balking at Disney characters, but not yet appreciative of the subtleties of an Impressionist painting by Monet. Funky shapes and metallic paint can answer this dilemma. Here's a simple and inviting "How to" project, but don't try it until you've agreed to loosen up and have fun. This may even get you going on a larger project!

Step 1: Search for leaves in your yard (we have few in Arizona!) or do a google search for leaf clip art. Go wherever you find interesting images.

Step 2: Gather your materials - You will need:
• Pencil
• Xacto knife
• Bristol board or thick acetate
• 1" blue masking tape
• plastic cups
• flat brushes
• acrylic paints (read below for colors)

I chose these colors, but feel free to choose your own, keeping in mind the color scheme in the intended space. Technically, the paints I used for this project are a combination of Liquitex tube acrylics (Michael's, any art store), some canned latex paints I had on hand, and "Minwax Polycrylic" (most paint stores, Home Depot, Lowe's). But for smaller projects of minimal wall coverage, I would recommend acrylic craft paint, such as "Folk Art" (at Michaels) and add a bit of Polycrylic for durability and smoother application. Consistency should be thin but not runny (for more information on supplies and techniques see my book, Creative Kids' Murals You Can Paint,, pages 10-16).

Copper paint by Liquitex really sets everything off! The other colors are "Yellow Citron," "Teal," "Warm White," "Cerulean Blue," "Forest Moss," and "Raw Sienna." Generally, I mix 1 part paint, 1 part Polycrylic, and 1 part water.

Step 3) Draw your leaf shape on Bristol Board (or acetate) in pencil.

Step 4) Cut out your shape with an Xacto knife, making sure to have enough space around the cut out shape. This prevents ripping easily and painting in the "wrong" place.

5) Tape your cut out to your chosen wall space. Begin painting your "base coat" color of the leaf. I am using "Forest Moss" and applying from the center of the leaf outward, keeping a thin margin for a faux vein. I use a flat 2" soft brush.

Step 6) I apply touches of Copper, Raw Sienna, Cerulean Blue, and Yellow Citron in different amounts using a 1" flat brush -- making each one of my leaves a little different from the next by varying the coverage of each color. Then, I use a very small round brush for final accents of veining, in off-white.

Step 7) Lift the stencil up. You may have some uneven edges. I chose to keep them, rather than wipe up edges as I think it adds to the hand painted look. Your choice. You can clean up by applying the wall paint with a small 1/4" brush over the unintended "blobs" after they are dry.

Here is my final leaf.

And, here is my leaf in the broader context (Centennial Middle School, Phoenix, Arizona).

But, you may simply choose to randomly place leaves on your tweener's bedroom wall as a simple solution to bringing together all the existing colors from bedding fabric, furniture, containers, and preteen chatzky (which there is plenty of!).

This could be a project you and your pre-teen produce together. I'd only recommend this, though, if infinite patience and fine motor skills are in abundant supply!

Rock on!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wrestling with Paint... and Oneself

One of the most gratifying aspects to having written an instructional book on something I’m so passionate about, is that now and then I receive feedback on how my words have given a gentle push at just the right time in someone's creative development. 

Elaine came to me (via email) seeking advice. She was recreating the  “Nature Walk” project (above) from my book, Creative Kids’ Murals You Can Paint and was struggling a bit to obtain the right consistency for her blue pond glaze. Undeterred, she wrote, This project is going to be fun! I have not picked up my brushes for years. I'm very happy to be doing this mural.” 
I was psyched! 

She’s jazzed. She’s motivated. She’s organized. She’s got it going on! She translated my response of technical advice and encouragement like this:
“I am following your guidance to the tee. Color me 'rusty' with brushes and paints these days but your advice gives me much needed confidence.  Just ‘roll right back over it’ if I don't like it! That phrase was particularly freeing... All will be well.” 
In our correspondences, she confessed it had been 27 years since she picked up a brush. It’s monumental that she finally gave herself permission and this certainly should be celebrated. I’m so happy for her!

I won’t pretend to know her reasons for delaying. But, I can tell you from my own experience why I have avoided or abandoned a project. My perfectionism has been the dragon I’ve had to slay, and not just once. That guy keeps resurrecting! However, remembering paint has a layering ability and opaque quality has been my saving grace. When painting, we are not knocking down walls, except maybe our own self-imposed barriers. We can literally just brush right over an area we think is muddy, ugly, or just plain unsuccessful. How freeing is that?! I laugh out loud at myself when I think of how many paintings lay beneath the final piece that I allow "the world" to actually view. 

Let's not forget, those hidden treasures beneath contain the real lessons. If we were to excavate, we might not only remember a pertinent piece of advice from our high school art teacher, but we might also witness our ability to intuitively respond to what is before us... or recognize how we just conquered that crazy and inaccurate self-talker... or become conscious of the many divinely inspired ideas flowing through us so much of the time. And, Bonus! -- that underpainting often makes for a more interesting texture in the final composition. To be sure, it's the process, not the final product, that is the true gift when making art. 

So, if I may offer this last bit of advice: Keep perspective, stay joyful, stay playful, and allow many healthy strokes of self-acceptance.

A great big "thank you" to Elaine for allowing me to display her process! P.24 "Nature Walk" Project in my book, Creative Kids' Murals You Can Paint!

Friday, January 21, 2011

One of the best testimonials I've ever gotten...

This is from the blog of my wonderful client, Lisa.

Nursery Inspiration

For some reason -- perhaps it was just being overwhelmed with house hunting, moving and the list of other projects that then came with the new home, the holidays, the new puppy, somewhat extreme fatigue at many moments in this pregnancy, just not caring about anything else because I'm amazed that I'm actually still pregnant (!!!!) and that's all that really matters, or, on the other hand, sadly overcome with "been there, done that" and not interested in going bonkers on another nursery decorating bonanza -- I have just not had any inspiration when it's come to getting a nursery ready for this little one.  Well, not until just recently!

Marti was anxious to get the nursery set up more so than I, so he pushed a little to decide on a theme or SOMETHING.  I didn't even want to paint really -- I was just THAT tired!  The room was kind of a latte color with one medium to dark brown accent wall.  I asked IRL and OL friends for help in deciding what would work for a little girl in a nursery with those colors and got a lot of help.  But, in the end, Marti offered to spearhead the project and get that room painted PINK!  (All this my aunt, Pat, pointed out, after we nearly FORBADE anyone to get Abby oodles of pink stuff when she was a baby!)

The room was suddenly taking shape -- but WHAT shape?  I didn't recognize it and STILL had no idea what to do with it!

Marti heard about wall decals we could put up that would effortlessly finish a design and keep me from having to spend endless weeks in there coming up with and executing something that was going to satisfy me.  The weekend after he finished painting the room, I sat down at the computer from the moment I woke up until after 12 noon looking for ideas.

I REALLY wanted something easy to work for us, but in the end, all the decals I saw were too "cartoony" or too grown up.  I wanted something that would have an impact when you saw it, but not be overwhelming.  I also wanted it subtle and understated, yet not too plain.  It had to be worthwhile if I was going to do it at all.

Did I mention I can be hard to please???

Out of sheer desperation, I was almost ready to settle on some rinky dink Pooh bear decals, but I knew I was not content.  SO, I dove into Google Images and started looking for ALL NEW IDEAS.  I typed in those fateful words:  Pink Nursery.  After scrolling through page after page of images, I was starting to wonder if there was ANYTHING that would please me!  I really wasn't in love with ANYTHING I saw.

...that is, not until I saw THIS!!!!

Passion for Murals

I was instantly smitten!!!  I HAD to have it!  Given that I had painted SO much in Abby's nursery, I was confident that I could take this on, but I was still secretly hoping it was a decal (fat chance with all those fine details!) and that I could order it and just be done with it.  (Little did I know that I'd later find out it would be even easier than that!!!!)

I backtracked the home address for the image and found out it was originally from a professional muralist's website.  That was initially disappointing because I'm just not one to have other people do things for me that I can do for myself.  Besides, how does one even locate a muralist, and who knows if some random muralist could (or would even want to) reproduce what I was looking at to my satisfaction.  Would it have the same feel, or would it come off cumbersome instead of wispy?  Would it be fine and free flowing, or would it look structured instead?  In my fear of someone else not being able to do it, I was also doubting my own abilities to just do it myself when I thought of these things and saw how much was going to go into accomplishing all that.

As I was staring longingly at the image on the website, I noticed something else.

The phone number.

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!  You've GOT to be KIDDING me!!!!  She was LOCAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just KNEW Marti wouldn't go for it, but I called her anyway just to SEE if there was a snowball's chance...

We discussed price and a couple other things, but I wasn't too excited yet because I still wasn't sure I could talk Marti out of the "stick it and go" idea he already had.  Was I EVER surprised when he came back after thinking about it and told me to call her!!!!  I really didn't believe him and he had to tell me about three times to call her before he changed his mind!

Well, long story short, I called her, she came out to the house for a consultation before I knew it, and yesterday she painted the same exact image on OUR nursery walls!!!  I am beyond pleased to not only have something that somewhat resembled the design I saw, but was EXACTLY what I saw and fell in love with.  I never would have thought it would be so easy to find a design I loved and actually have that same artist in my own home that same week completing it for me.  It still seems kind of surreal how one day after hours of staring at image after image and not having the first CLUE what I wanted, it all came together!

Not only did I get what I wanted in the nursery, but Suzanne also offered to do Abby's room up in a big way!  Marti thought it would be good to go with that so Abby didn't feel left out if we made a big deal about painting one room and not the other.

At first I wasn't sure if Abby wanted princesses and castles or flowers and butterflies.  What I did know was that before we even bought the house, she loved colorful rooms when we looked at prospective homes, so we promised to paint her room first when we got a new house.  She not only wanted a brightly colored room, but LOTS of colors!

In the end, we HAD to go with flowers and butterflies, but Abby was not settling for them.  She actually chose that on her own -- even though that's all we found when we went out looking for bedding the week before Suzanne came to paint.  With that choice, here is what we decided on:

Suzanne pulled out the flower and butterfly designs and matched the colors perfectly to create a fun and funky custom design in Abby's room!  Abby got her flowers, her butterflies, and also her variety of colors all over her room!  It's perfect for Abby at 5 years old, but will also last her for many years to come. 

All in all, I am overcome with joy at finding something I wanted, satisfaction of getting "the original" and not some lame substitute, gratitude for Marti finding a way to make it all happen, and amazingly impressed with Suzanne's talent and professionalism in her work from start to finish!

I still don't know what I did to deserve all the good fortune that keeps coming my way recently, but I am grateful for how things have turned out.