Lessons for a Mural Gone Wrong

By the middle of last week, I was a mess. Covered in paint, dirt, sweat, and sunscreen on the outside and filled with shame, frustration, and doubt on the inside.

I was a couple days into my latest project, a street mural in downtown Loveland and things were NOT going according to plan. I had done the research, gotten the right materials, and prepared, but at this point in the process, I was removing all the paint I had laid down and needed to start over….completely. I under-estimated the amount of cleaning that needed to be done and the paint was not sticking.

I knew what to tell myself…

“This is a learning experience”

“I will figure this out”

“I’ve never done this before, I will make mistakes and that’s ok”

“My failures and mistakes don’t define me as an artist.”

However, those wonderful thoughts I knew to think didn’t change the fact that I was feeling pretty low and frustrated. All those emotions were still there. I couldn’t “think” them away. But you know what? I didn’t let my emotions about the project stop me from continuing to work and learn. I moved forward one day at a time. Maybe it’s my shear stubbornness or maybe it’s simply God’s grace, or a bit of both. All along the way, I was taking in the experience and adjusting my approach.

For the second go around, I used a power washer, scrubbed the remaining paint off with a broom, and power washed some more. Then I shop-vacced EVERY crevice and hole. Yes, it looks as funny as it sounds. See how many stares you get when you start vacuuming the street.

I finally had a surface that would hold the paint.

Here’s one of the wonderful surprises that occurred during this big debacle. When I realized the paint was failing, I reached out to a trusted artist friend who does murals and told her what was happening. It was embarrassing to admit my mistakes, but I knew she would hold me gently as I expressed my problem. That’s just how she is. She gave me some great advice and then offered me 15 gallons of exterior paint that she had been gifted and didn’t want in her garage anymore. It was a deep, turquoise blue and so tough and thick. It was truly perfect for this project and it felt like a very real reminder that God was not going to let me stumble and faceplant without giving me a hand so I could get back up. Sure, it’s paint, but I’m convinced that God cared enough about my state of mind and my dream of making something beautiful that He provided just what I needed through the generosity of another.

At this point, I’m putting on my shapes that are created by a wandering line that loops, curves, and swirls around the bike U-racks. Purple, deep blue, orange and yellow. I’ve learned that I need to shop-vac the surface right before I paint and I’ve got a good rhythm going for the project.

So, here’s what I’ve taken away from this project so far…

  • The feelings we experience in the midst of a project or circumstance need to be felt in order to move past them. It is not wise to “think” them away or numb yourself to them. Just acknowledge and move on.

  • Rather than hiding in shame when mistakes are made, seek help. You’ll feel like hiding, but don’t give into that…

  • Take notes during the process of what you are learning so you can come to the next project with a broader knowledge and experience base to prevent the similar missteps.

I think I’m going to call this mural “For the Wanderers” or something like that. It’s so interesting to me that just like the wandering line in my design, my journey in this new project has looped, doubled-over, gone forward, then backward, and forward again. And this longer path has made a richer, fuller experience not only for the design, but for me as the artist.

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