I tried to convey in words the enormity of this project, with all of the serendipitous, magical coming-togetherness of it, but Instagram told me I was too long-winded. So! I guess I blog now. I hope that my wordier friends will appreciate knowing the details of what I get into, rather than swiping past a couple pictures, because there’s a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes. Most creators have adapted to whipping out their cameras and documenting all of these details visually, but I’ll admit I am being left in the dust as social media turns herself over to vlogging. I have decided that the moments when I can manage to forget about my phone leash are moments that I cherish.
Anyway, without further ado.
To start, did you know that I approached Betty in 2019 to paint a mural as a brazen novice still enrolled at HSU? You know what she said? “I want sunflowers.” Nevermind the little details of who I was or what my artwork even looked like.
Obviously, being a full-time student was not conducive to painting enormous murals and then we entered a worldwide pandemic... but I never forgot those words.
She did, however, and you should have seen the look on her face when I incorporated sunflowers in the design! The way she talked about it was like I was some kind of prophet, which made me laugh. The more I dug into this project though, the more weird, dare I say fated? coincidences seemed to pop up. So maybe I am a prophet 🤔 I’m keeping an open mind.
Fast-forward to 2022. The Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) flew a grant looking for artists talking about the housing crisis. I thought immediately of this mural, which I held onto as something I really wanted to do. I applied, but it was an awkward fit. The concepts I was trying to work in to check all the boxes for the grant were great in theory, but tasteless given the nature of what the Day Center does. In the end I was grateful that I got declined, but Betty was incredibly bummed. She expressed this to one of her supporters in the Bay Area, and the person decided to front the money so that the mural can still happen. This person would like to remain anonymous but I cannot express my gratitude for them enough. They picked up the entire tab. Check it out:
When I got the email from Betty‘s team telling me that the mural is still a go, and this time I can design whatever I wanted, I was ecstatic. And terrified. Overwhelmed, really. This is the biggest mural I have ever done- not to mention the most public. The thought of my artwork being broadcasted on this scale made me frankly want to vomit. I knew I wanted to create something visually beautiful to uplift a section of Eureka that is, as one local put it, painted the color of Band-Aids. Beyond that, I was feeling tongue-tied. The only input I got from Betty’s team was that it needed to bring about a sense of hope which for some is delightfully vague, but I was missing the delightfully part. Hope was hard to come by for me those days. I set to work proverbially banging my head against a wall for somewhere between 3-6 months. (This is the part of being an artist that so rarely gets talked about, but so far I have not found a way around it.)
One day, mid head-banging, I was walking to a friend’s house and I spotted my neighbor, Rashad. I remembered that years ago he introduced himself as a poet, and when I looked him up I saw that he did spoken word. A lightbulb went off in the old brain bucket and I asked him if there was any chance he would be interested in writing a poem for this mural I’m working on. (Paid, of course!) When I tell you he was stoked. He didn’t know anything about Betty Chinn or her Day Center, but when he learned that it supported the houseless, he immediately resonated with this project. In fact, he was the first person of many to get a strong sense of this was meant to be from this project. For me this is just everyday prophet stuff. 💅
Finally, the mental Ex-lax that I needed! I immediately was able to put together this sketch:
The team loved it and asked for no revisions whatsoever, which is completely unheard of. I thought it was because they were afraid of waiting another 6 months for revisions, but actually Betty declared that I had illustrated her life story. I sort of laughed this off as more sunflower shenanigans, but about halfway through painting the mural she came out and told me her life story and it brought me to tears. It's horrific but also inspiring, and as luck would have it, the most hopeful part of it was in fact depicted in this sketch. The sunflowers were a party trick, but I have no way of explaining how I managed the rest of it.
The painting began on July 4th of 2023 and didn't wrap up until the beginning of August. It was my first time operating a 19 foot scissor lift, which went very much like this for the first week:
I worked endlessly, putting in 4-10 hours a day with few breaks or days off. I did things the hard way, sweated, and suffered many days of what-am-I-even-doing-up-here, but looking back on it four months later I'm so fucking proud of myself.
Now that you have the back story, let's get into the process.
The Prep: It should go without saying that I was absolutely terrified when I began this project (but also filled with my usual sense of audacity) -- so instead of thinking smarter I thought, "why not harder?" and did all the prep work by hand. Mind you, this building spans almost a block. Would I do this again? No. Paint sprayers are cool and I recommend them. I will say that hand brushing in the undercoat helped me get acquainted with this wall to the point where, when I was ready to begin actually painting, she felt like an old friend. So for that I regret nothing. There are a lot of mental hurdles that go into making art on this scale and so my best advice is to put on your power suit and do whatever it takes to get you there. In my experience, no matter how efficient you think you are, folks will come up and tell you better ways of doing things. As a forever student, I make sure to get super annoyed by this at first, but then I secretly take their advice.
The Beginning: The best part of painting with a bright red under-paint is that the public has no idea what is going on. The guesses went everywhere from sunsets to volcanic explosions, and no amount of explaining could get the concept of "under-paint" in their heads. So I gave up and just started saying, "thank you!" whenever people shouted to me that they loved the color. (Fun fact: This went on for so long that I decided to leave little peeks of the under-paint in the negative space of the lettering on the poetry part. It's for the people!)
Goodbye red: Finally, 3 weeks into this beast I was able to start back-painting, or "cutting in" around the subjects. This is the most pain-staking process ever and I still look back and think about how insane I was for approaching the painting this way.
I also love it though. I hope you do too.
The Wrap Up: So I was putting in the finishing touches and wondering if I was going to be able to wrap this up before my arm fell off when I ran into another muralist in town. I told him I was finally rolling on the top coat, and his response was, "rolling..??" Apparently one does not simply roll on a top coat. It needs to be handbrushed on, and carefully. Twice. I cannot properly express to you the pain and suffering I experienced dragging my corpse over that finish line but it looked something like this:
I did eventually make it though. Here are some after pics my dear friend Kay Lopez took of the three of us finally celebrating. (Actually, that's a lie. Betty came out and celebrated this mural EVERY SINGLE DAY that I painted. Seriously, not one day went by without a game of Betty Bingo, where she said one of twenty five catchphrases ranging from, "WOW!" to "I can't believe you did this all by yourself!" or "everyone who walks by says they love it!!"-- you get the idea. I got a bingo blackout if you were curious.)
Wow, are you still reading this?!?! Thank you, dear reader, for coming along on this journey. I realize I probably need an editor but first let me wrap this up with what my art professor Jim Woglom referred to as, "mushy speech time:"
This mural meant a LOT, LOT, LOT to me. I was feeling so hopeless in 2021 that I had myself reading books with titles like Hope Matters, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, and Jane Goodall's The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide to Trying Times.
Around that time I came across some advice by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson of the How To Save a Planet podcast. She often gets asked what everyday people (like us!) can do to try to help the climate crisis. Her advice was to create a Venn diagram with three interlocking circles. In one circle, write what it is you're good at. In the second, write out what you wish to change. Finally, the third circle should be what brings you joy. "The goal," she says, "is to be in the heart of your Venn diagram, where these three circles overlap, for as many minutes of your life as you can." Although this is now referred to as the Climate Action Venn Diagram, I think it can apply to anything you want to change in this world. For this mural, despite all of my insecurities, doubts, and general sense of how-did-I-get-here panic, I knew one thing for certain: I was where I was meant to be, at the heart of my Venn diagram.
Want to give it a try? Click Here to learn more about Dr. Elizabeth Johnson's Venn Diagram. Here's mine:
Ok, that's all for me folks. Thanks again for reading, supporting, and being YOU. I'll see you around town,