Library Mural Project Complete! Here’s the Play-by-Play

I’m so fortunate to have found a job where I am free to be creative. Sure, I’m making half the salary I was making as a defense analyst, but I’m so much happier now. This month as a library tech, I got to: redesign the library newsletter, teach a class for adults in mixed media art, and …[drumroll]… finish this big mural in the children’s room.

I say “finish” because I did NOT paint this whole thing. The mural was painted ten years ago by two former employees of the library. I was tasked with giving it a makeover because it was unfinished and very faded. Here’s the step by step process.

So, here is the “before” picture.

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There are two walls, this one and the “enchanted forest” wall. I spent most of my time working on this one, because it was so faded, unfinished, and, composition-wise, unfinished. There were also a number of random things in the mural whose presence was a mystery to me, like a corn-husk doll, for example. The overall theme was a collection of fairy tale “clues.”So we have the spinning wheel but no Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel’s tower but no Rapunzel or witch. It felt as though all the characters just left their scenes and went out to coffee together. So, I decided to go along with that.

First of all, I wanted to balance out the right side, which felt empty to me. I thought a good way to do that was to add more background. In this case a sea, complete with a tall ship and lighthouse, hinting at “The Little Mermaid.”

sea

I was also working on the road by this point, replacing the sketchy dirt with green grass. As you can see, in the lower right picture above, there was a weird rabbit and the corn-husk doll. At first I left them, but eventually I painted over them.

The other big challenge was Cinderella’s coach. The way it was painted was very flat and it only had two wheels! I decided to give it perspective. I ended up repainting the whole thing, including the pumpkins and vines. Here’s the finished view.

cinderella's carriage

I also added the two horses in the background.

And a rainbow over the castle. Because, why not? This is for the kids.

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The grass on the road and the rainbow started to make everything really pop. At about this time, people started to ask me stuff like “Did you repaint the castle?” and “Is the tower new?” I did not do anything to the tower or castle, but it seemed like people were looking at the mural with fresh eyes because of all the fresh paint around those features.

One problem I had was matching up the paint. The old paint was barely even green anymore, so once I started painting with good quality paint, everything around it looked dull. Consequently, I had to go over a lot of areas I hadn’t wanted to, like the trees in the background and the hills around the castle.

Even though there were a lot of things in this mural, there wasn’t a lot to tie it together or lead the eye around. I thought a waterfall and stream could connect the hills to the foreground, by way of the pond, which needed heavy repainting anyway.

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I also repainted the cat to look like my cat, Sophie. It was unclear to me who the original cat was supposed to be (Puss-in-Boots? The cat from Cinderella?) I decided it would be my signature and I gave her a little blind mouse to torment. That way, the cat has a clearer reason to be in the picture.

cat

It might seem like I added a lot of things to the mural, but I think I subtracted just as much as I was painting over things in green. Mostly random things whose presence wasn’t necessary to the story.

Speaking of stories, I also wanted to make these murals relate more to books, so my final addition was the suggestion of an old-fashioned book border. I painted these in lovely fall colors as you can see by my palette. (As you can imagine, I also needed a lot of coffee to get through this job. Lucky for me there’s an Italian cafe around the corner that sells the best coffee in the world!)

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And, voila!

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This left me barely enough time to work on the other wall, but that’s okay because it only needed a repeated border and a touch-up.

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I would have liked to add more trees and make the fog more “fog-like,” but there just wasn’t time. I was able to really brighten up Little Red Riding hood’s cape and basket, and the wolf, though.

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I have to admit I wasn’t crazy about this mural when I first started out. There were things I really liked about it, but as a whole, I didn’t think it was successful. For one thing, it definitely felt like the work of two artists. I’m hoping three’s a charm and that I was able to unify the different parts, aesthetically and thematically.

It was also a special challenge painting over someone else’s work. I had to respect the style and ideas that were already there while improving and building on them. As I was working on it, someone asked me if I would have liked to start from scratch. Well, sure! It’s always more fun to create ideas from scratch and have absolute, tyrannical authority over everything! But, for centuries, artists have worked in collaboration with one another to create large works. The whole piece becomes greater than the sum of its parts and the sum of its creators. At least, that’s what you hope for.

So, that’s all for the mural. A lot of words and pictures, but I hope it’s instructive for anyone else out there hoping to do a similar project. For now, I’m happy to get back to my own work. I have a show to get ready for in the spring. More on that later!

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