Mural Painting — It Is In the Doing

Recently, I was commissioned to complete two wall murals for a taco restaurant opening soon in downtown Phoenix. It was to capture Mexico in some way and I submitted rough sketches and pricing based on a conversation with one of the owners. At that time, I was unaware there were six people involved in the renovation of this space, however, I did know there were others’ opinions to consider. Also, they were trying hard to get things open and operating to take full advantage of the incredible weather in Phoenix in October as most of the restaurant’s seating is patio space. After a short time, I received the go ahead and began the murals.

The physical circumstances were fun and unlike anything else I’d encountered. The location is on a very busy street near the city’s convention center, so as people passed they often stopped to watch me paint or ask a question or two. My work is so solitary most of the time that I welcomed the interaction.

For example, one gentleman stopped to watch and appreciate. He was a Native American attending an event across the street that addressed many of the U.S. tribes’ issues and he shared that a prominent chief was their keynote speaker. We spoke briefly about the Dakota Pipeline and I expressed my sadness at how this was being handled by the oil company. We agreed this will affect us all.

A few days later, Michelle Obama was in town to speak on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. And, if you haven’t guessed by now, I am an American citizen with strong Democratic values and opinions. What I didn’t know is how many more people in Arizona were just like me! The streets were filled with convention attendees and, I kid you not, the air was light, loving and positively ecstatic! I saw so many smiles that day as people crossed the street to be a part of something so much bigger than themselves. One gal I spoke with as I took my supplies to my car said, “I know it sounds corny, but Love was in the air today!” We both smiled and felt some hope for our country’s future (I will save my thoughts on that for another day. Lol!).

A young man with a hurried pace was very effusive and exclaimed, “Wow! I never see women painting murals. It’s always men. That’s really cool!” I chuckled. Another woman who worked in the area made a point to cheer me on every day on my progress when she passed, “You go girl! It’s looking great!” A mother with her middle school son asked me how I painted one particular part of the mural so her son, who likes to draw, could understand. He nodded and smiled and thanked me profusely for the information. Another day, I gave a brief lesson on shading to an older woman in town from Iowa who had recently taken up painting again. And, a few others just stopped to tell me how they used to paint and missed it and liked what I was doing. I kept thinking about what I miss when I’m alone in someone’s house painting a wall somewhere.

Often, it’s easy for creative people to stay in their self-effacing bubble, believing that what they do has no merit. We are, perhaps, the most insecure lot on the planet, with empathy as both our strength and our weakness, I’m afraid. But, I can tell you firsthand, I saw the joy on people’s faces, even if it was a fleeting smile on a businessman who took a quick coffee break and saw the lizard I strategically placed to draw a passerby into the mural.

And, often, with any project, we think it’s the destination, the finished product that has the most value. But, for me, what an experience this was in the doing. I met so many different and wonderful humans, making their way through each day, just like me, sharing parts of their own stories and sharing their gifts. Seeing craftspeople and contractors creating a future meeting spot reinforces Change and Possibility for us all.

I had one more day to paint, Day 14. And, this next thing I didn’t see coming at all. I was informed that while the artwork I provided was beautiful and just what they asked for, the other restaurant owners wanted to go in an “edgier” style direction and had chosen to start over with another well-known Phoenix artist. I’m not going to lie — it was a huge punch in the gut! This had never happened to me in twenty three years! However, I was secure in the fact that both my skills as an artist and in customer service were of the highest quality. So, I didn’t take it personally. But, providing hand-crafted art is unlike any other products being sold. You can’t just return it to Amazon! I was sad they hadn’t communicated effectively to each other what their end goal was to be.

I was paid in full. But, I was devastated by their decision… however, only temporarily…

Because then, I remembered how much I’d experienced in the making. That was truly where the joy was for me. The act of designing and painting something born out of the air and the daily interactions with my friendly neighbors was so full and complete. Of course, my ego would like to see the finished murals on a highly trafficked street in downtown Phoenix, no doubt. But, I know I gave it my all and the entire process gave me, as well as so many others, such satisfaction.

The act of designing and painting something born out of the air and the daily interactions with my friendly neighbors was so full and complete.”

Having a bit of distance now, I can appreciate with much delight what the artist is currently creating for that corner space now. The mood is entirely different. And, it’s beautiful! It’s funky! It’s colorful! It’s authentic! It’s uniquely his own voice. And, our styles are like comparing apples to oranges… which also brings me joy, as we are all so unique, contributing our own special piece to the collective.

Below, I am sharing some process photos and (almost) completed murals… Enjoy!

The canvasses before any renovation took place.


Blocking in the initial format for first wall. Yes, that’s an actual door!

The space for the garage door to be installed.


Almost finished second wall.


Almost finished first wall.