It’s funny were life takes you, isn’t it?
How I started painting murals is a question I’ve been asked by several people recently so I thought I’d answer here for everyone just in case you had the same question. I’m naturally curious and love hearing about how people got their start in certain industries as well.
So, how did I end up painting murals? Mural artist is not a title that I would necessarily give myself actually. I’ve only painted a handful of murals so far (Lou & Grey, Kith & Kin, Tiyana’s studio one and two, Ngozi’s office, my den, one in a building that is being renovated, my Georgetown office, and most recently one at a new co-working space in Old Town). Counting nine murals sounds like a lot to me actually…
Over four years ago when I opened my studio in Georgetown (where 10+ female entrepreneurs shared my space with me over four years) I painted a mural in the hallway. We wanted to leave all the walls white for photo shoots, but I thought it would be fun to have a little life in the hallway. So I painted a gray mural, mostly inspired by a shirt I bought from ZARA years ago and some Kelly Wearstler fabrics.
Clients would come in and out of our office and experience the mural, and that mural did lead to at least one other mural, and possibly other projects indirectly or collaborations and I just didn’t know it.
A few years ago I also did a partnership with Pratt & Lambert Paints. For the collaboration I had to do two posts on my site. I could have taken the easy route — paint a wall in my home, decorate it cute, and take photos — voila paint collaboration post. But to me, that was boring, expected, and overdone. I wanted to do something different, so I pitched the idea of painting a mural in my home office/den for one post, and doing some of my actual paintings in another. Lucky for me, they were game for my collaboration ideas.
Both of those murals were in my own spaces, and I was the client, so it was much different than being hired to paint a mural. If I didn’t like it, I could paint over it, no big deal. Then I was hired to do murals for a few awesome ladies in DC. Their spaces were basically blank canvases. White walls, tall ceilings, but my little ladder was enough to get the job done. Both murals were one color, and the designs were something I felt totally comfortable with.
In 2017 I committed to putting more time into my artwork. I got an art studio near my home in DC, moved in, and shortly after we ended up buying a home in the Old Town/Del Ray area and life got busy with moving and lots of work projects. But art manifested itself in other ways.
I would create work every now and then and usually post about it on social media, and a few of those posts got in front of the right eyes and opportunities came my way. I know that sounds “easy” — I put it out there and opportunities came my way — but I’ve spent over 10 years building a website and a readership, so I don’t consider that easy.
I was approached to do a mural for Chef Kwame Onwuachi at his new restaurant Kith & Kin in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf. WHOA! I was so excited. Kwame already had a clear vision of what he wanted, and I brought it to life for him.
All of these projects so far turned out really well and I was happy with them, whether or not they were my personal creative vision or I was bringing my client’s vision to life on their walls, it didn’t matter. I was just happy to be doing art as my job. Did I have a little anxiety about them and just wanting the client to be happy with them and love them — yes of course! But I was really confident going in.
Recently I’ve had a few murals that really stretched me. The first one was the mural I painted for Lou & Grey. I sketched some options for the team, they picked one, and then I had to figure out how to paint on glass. Surprisingly, paint looks completely different on the other side of the glass than the side you are painting on.
I had never painted on glass before and had never used such a tall ladder. I had to do the painting while the store was closed and this wasn’t like a white wall I could just paint over if it didn’t turn out well — it was a storefront in a mall! Scraping it off if I didn’t like how it was turning out wasn’t really an option.
I practiced with some paint on my own glass door at my home (my neighbors probably thought I was nuts). After that I felt more comfortable about it, but the tall ladder and getting it just right, that took a few hours to get used to. After a while my nerves were gone and I felt good about how it was turning out. I loved the final product.
My most recent mural was in a stairwell and required scaffolding, and included nine different colors. This was a huge first for me. I’m going to be honest here — scaffolding is NOT my jam. It was very scary and made the painting process very slow because I was always grasping onto the scaffolding with one hand and painting with the other, trying not to get splinters from the wood, and climbing through the scaffolding was difficult and time consuming, not to mention my hand was shaking while painting for the first few hours.
Also, I’ve always painted everything by hand, no stencils for any of my murals so far!
I had anxiety over the logistics of this project, but I knew the end result would turn out great. Everything with the scaffolding ended up being fine. After the scaffolding was down, I finished the project with my own ladder and ended up falling off of my my ladder with a huge cup of paint in my hand that went all over my head and took an hour to get out of my hair.
I think it’s always good to stretch yourself. Do things that you’ve never done. That’s how you learn. I’ve learned a lot of things from the mural projects I’ve done so far, and they keep coming my way, so I’ll keep doing them.
I really want to carve out time to create work that I just have inside me, and I’ll be documenting all of that here and on my Instagram. I hope you are ready because my site and Instagram are about to get real artsy!