Recently finished my largest painting on Broadway and Denny on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Check out more photos here.
The most common questions I got while working on this mural were, “How did you get this job? Can anyone just paint on this wall? Etc.” A few years ago I applied for a grant through Sound Transit and was accepted to take part in the art that got to decorate the wall. When I received the grant I was told that I would be able to put up a piece sometime in the next four years.
I was able to give Sound Transit an inspirational sketch with the caveat that the mural would look a lot different from the sketch. I didn’t want it to be a production piece where I stuck to the sketch and produced a large version of my sketch. It’s good for me to have some inspiration and guidance with room for internal conversation and inspiration from the space itself.
I’m going to take a minute to tell you about my process and the various self-conversations that come up when working on a piece.
First, I start the piece with some large movements and set the color for the first layer. At that point I’m either really excited about what’s come out and I almost want to stop or I’m feeling the need to continue based on either that I have certain things to accomplish with this painting or I’m not yet satisfied with what I’ve started and I realize it needs more work to continue. Usually both are true.
As it develops I’m continually looking for balance within the piece. I can’t even allow myself to work on one side for too long because I will feel unbalanced. The urge to balance the piece becomes very strong. There’s almost a sense of panic if I look around the rest of the painting. So it takes me a bit to relax and realize that I will get to it eventually.
Then there is the issue of confidence vs. no wrong mark. In the school of thought that I subscribe to it’s said that there is no wrong thought, it’s just different and it is what it is. This really shows up in this process of painting. If I make a mark on the canvas without confidence or I’m not sure if I should make that mark, it shows up as such and I usually don’t like the result. I don’t treat it as wrong though, it’s a little lesson within the painting. A lesson that says, “you didn’t paint with confidence.”
Usually at some point during the process I have a small panic attack. I feel like everything I’ve done is wrong, it’s not going to turn out, I don’t know what I’m doing, I must be crazy, I’m just a monkey making a mess and someone needs to take the paint brush away from me. When that happens, it usually means it’s time to take a break, ask for a second opinion or just sleep on it. After that happens I usually have a small breakthrough and the next step just bursts right through. I’m relaxed, I’m excited and I know what needs to happen. That’s when it feels like I’m really in the flow of what’s going on and know what I’m doing. It’s a great feeling. This time that panic moment only occurred once during the process so the whole thing felt smooth and I’m pretty happy with the result.
When working on an abstract piece there is a question of where to stop. At any point it could be done. Most people could look at this piece at many of the stages and say, “it looks done.” And I could agree, so how do I know when to stop? Well, I stop when I find a stopping point that I’m happy with. Just like anytime anything else is worked on you know when to stop. It’s like making cookies. You could stop at the dough, because the dough is really good and you love eating dough but you don’t have cookies and you want cookies. So you put them in the oven for just the right amount of time and then you have cookies. If you leave them in for too long you have charcoal. OR you could take those cookies, crumble them up and put them in ice cream and put that ice cream into a cake and put that cake as a layer in an even larger cake and so on and so on.
With abstract painting it’s the same. If I were to continue working on this I would have to go much further until it’s quite a different thing altogether. So whenever I have stopped it’s usually because I’m at a point where I’m satisfied and have accomplished my goals for the piece.