The Concept

It isn't often that an artist is given an opportunity to create his unique vision without any limitations. Greg, the owner of the Ballard Beer Co., gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted with a mural he wanted to have painted in a cramped spot at the front of his store ... Within the time it took to meet with him about the project, I had the entire concept drawn in my head before I ever sat down to commit the image to paper. The sketch was refined over the course of a week. 

My goal was to create an image that reflected the purpose of the establishment, pull in elements of the natural environment in and around Seattle, reference the Norse influence in the surrounding neighborhood, include wildlife endemic to the PNW, and finally, include the unofficial mascot of the deep Cascades, Sasquatch. Most importantly, I wanted this piece to be "fun" as hell.

Stats

  • 88 Sq. Ft.
  • 14.5 ft high
  • 6.5 feet wide
  • 52 hours to paint over 5 days
  • 1 #10 round brush
  • 1 can of matte black latex paint
  • 26 hours on a ladder
  • 1 near-disaster
  • 1 minor "mistake"
  • 1000 time-lapse images
  • 4 bruises
  • 3 ladder pinches
  • 1 severely kinked neck
  • 2 very very sore calves
  • 13 beers
  • 5 cups of tea
  • 4 breakfast sandwiches
  • 20 rags
  • 1 fantastic client

The Process

There are no secret steps or tricks to painting a successful mural, except one: Preparation. It's all straight-forward work. The more prepared you are, the better the entire process will go. If you half-ass a step in the process, it will be reflected on the wall. 

The first step was to create a chalk grid (1 inch to 1 foot) on the wall to map out the image. I used a chalk line to snap the verticals, then a 4' level to create the horizontals. Once the grid was complete, I sketched in the basic shapes and started painting. The entire mural was painted with a small #10 round soft-hair watercolor brush. Crazy, but it was the only way to achieve the level of detail I'd sketched in the pencil drawing. The paint was a special matte mix of interior/exterior acrylic latex that I applied without any medium to thin it out. I wanted the paint thick, but I still wound up repainting every single line twice to achieve an opaque coverage. Most of the intricate detail work was drawn with a black Sharpie.

Five days later, after 52 hours of painting, I finished the mural.

The Ladder

I hate ladders ... Never been fond of heights. 

The Time-Lapse: 5 (4) days* in under a minute

Ballard Beer Co. Mural in 1000 (or so) images

*Note: I botched the photo shoot on day four. I didn't realize that I'd toggled the video setting and as a result the remote timer I was using didn't shoot a single photo (or video). 

The Near-Disaster

I was about an hour from completing the mural after fifty hours on my feet, working methodically to finish all the final nitpicky details on the midsection. I reached down to set my hand-held paint bucket on the counter next to where I was working on the ladder to step safely down the two bottom rungs to the floor. As I stepped down, my hand lost control of itself and hooked the paint can (out of sheer spite for having had a perfect week). I hadn't spilled so much as a single drop of paint the entire week. Not even on my clothes. 

Everything that transpired in ensuing seconds happened in super-slo-mo ... I see the contents of the pail spill onto the lower half of the mural. As the scene unfolds, my brain is cataloging and tracking each area that needs attention, like triage. Dense black sludge is cascading down the length of the otter and two of the fish. Flashback to Exxon Mobile in Prince William Sound. The pail hits the floor with a "splash" and spits up another black loogie onto the back corner of the mural and deposits the remainder of its payload onto the drop cloth I'd spread to protect the floor and the back wall. Paint was pooling in the electrical conduit spreading and dripping down in multiple rivulets. 

The only thought that entered my head was, "Goddammit! I was almost finished!"

I sprung into action. A couple critically important things about "preparation" are knowing your medium AND knowing the surfaces around you. I knew I had a very short window of opportunity before the paint set and ruined two days worth of work. Fortunately, acrylic paint cleans up with water and some elbow grease. After about twenty minutes of sopping up the spill with every rag I had on hand, scrubbing the shit out of the wall with a Magic Eraser, and wiping it all down with a clean sponge, I got everything cleaned up.

The mural was saved. I had to do a bit of repainting to fix areas I'd scrubbed away. But you would never know it had ever happened. 

Moral of the story: BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING. Shit always happens no matter how professional you are and no matter how careful you are. And, maybe, never paint tired. 

The Mural

Hands-down, the coolest mural in Ballard. Swing by the Ballard Beer Co. and check it out. 

Me. Exhausted.