At last, it’s done. I painted a mural.
It was hard for me to imagine ever getting to this point. In fact, there were many times when I was sure the mural wasn’t going to happen at all. I simply couldn’t imagine a day when I would walk by that terrible concrete retaining wall and see not one hundred and six feet of cracked and dirty concrete, but one hundred and six feet of paint: paint that I put there, painstakingly covering every single square inch through months of hard work. I consider this project to be one of my greatest accomplishments to date. Not coincidentally, I also consider it to be one of the greatest challenges I have ever taken on. There were challenges I foresaw: creating an original and beautiful design, facing the physical enormity of the space, transferring and scaling the design, etc. But there were many more challenges I never saw coming: zoning issues, funding setbacks, the heat, the sheer organizational effort of organizing a project on this scale and over such an extended time period… I could go on. But what I also failed to predict was the total sense of achievement and enjoyment the mural afforded me. I had fun. Every single day. Even when it was 95 degrees out and 18-wheelers were whizzing past at ridiculous speeds and I kicked over a bucket of paint onto the sidewalk, I still loved every second of it.
The biggest surprise of all was my interaction with the community. As a plein air painter I’ve spent a lot of time painting out in public, enduring endless unsolicited comments and interruptions. Because of this experience, I wasn’t looking forward to being so completely exposed as I worked every day. But by the end of the first week on-site, my attitude was starting to change. People were approaching me with genuine interest in my project: they were curious, excited, sincere, polite, and kind. They wanted to know everything: who was I? What was I doing? Who was funding me? How did I know how to paint a mural? Was I doing it all by myself? When would it be done? After the initial barrage of questions in the first few weeks, I started to get regulars. People who lived nearby or commuted past the mural started becoming familiar faces. People started walking by and saying nothing but “thank you” with no further explanation. I was totally taken aback. The simple thank yous were so powerful and unexpected and I want to take some time to say some thank yous of my own. There’s no way I can possibly thank every single person who had an impact on this project, but I’m going to try my best.
to the bus drivers who drove by me every day. Although simple gestures, the friendly honks and waves they gave me clearly conveyed their support. When I had the rare chance to speak to the drivers as they stopped for passengers, they were, without exception, unbelievably kind and supportive.
to the young girl (and her family) in the apartment complex across the street from the mural who visited me on multiple occasions. She brought over a drawing of me working on the mural, paintbrush in hand. On it, she had written “thank you.”
to the elderly woman who got off the bus every day at the same time, and repeatedly reminded me how oppressively hot the weather was. I can’t say I was so thankful for her little reminders at the time, but she became a familiar face who I now realize was simply trying to connect with me.
to James Benson, who lived near the mural and became an avid supporter both out at the mural site and online through the mural’s Facebook page. He took a sincere interest in my process and I always enjoyed speaking with him. He also brought me an ice cold soda on a particularly hot day, which I won’t soon forget.
to Eugene Dean, one of my favorite regulars. Eugene, too, lived near the mural and stopped by regularly to check on my progress and to encourage me. I often spoke with him about the various challenges I faced throughout the project, to which he responded with words of encouragement. He was always a welcome visitor.
to the dad with several kids in tow who asked to take a selfie with me – he made me feel like a celebrity!
to all my friends at Potomac Paint, who were endlessly patient with a novice painter like me and mixed an absurd number of paint samples for me.
to my favorite Professor, John Lee for teaching me how to paint and draw in the first place and for all his advice throughout the design process. No blending!
to Lauren Ashley and Hiromi Isobe, my elementary school art teacher and high school art teacher, respectively. Seeing both of these women who had such an impact on me at the mural opening made it that much more special.
to Angela Adams, Joan Lynch, Jeff Zeeman, Tina Worden, and everyone else at Arlington Cultural Affairs and Arlington Public Arts for all their support throughout the grant application process and for tirelessly helping to promote the opening event.
to Courtney Murphy for telling me to push the design to the “next level” and for encouraging me to apply for the Spotlight Grant. I am so grateful for her involvement in this project.
to the handful of Engleside residents, many of whom I have not met, who personally funded this project after we lost the vote at the co-op level. Without them, the mural simply would not have happened.
to my parents, who helped a LOT. From being sounding boards for design ideas to lending me lots of tools to helping with the drawing, I can’t thank them enough for all their involvement in this project.
to Tom and Kristen who were always willing to keep me company while I was painting, and who listened to me talk about nothing but the mural for an entire summer and beyond.
to all the blog readers and Facebook followers who kept up with the project from near and far. I was shocked at the number of neighbors, former classmates, faraway friends, and new acquaintances who told me they had been following my progress online. Although I put a lot of time and effort into this small blog, I never really expected anyone to read it. Knowing that my hard work has been appreciated makes all the difference.
and lastly, to John Laswick for being the impetus and driving force behind the entire project. He refused to give up on the mural even after all the challenges we faced. He made it happen. Thank you for trusting me with this project and for providing me with such an exceptional opportunity.
All photos by Tom Woodruff