Last week I painted a mural for the “Art Park” at Woodward West. Woodward West is part of the Woodward family of skateparks that are known the world over for providing the best, most state-of-the-art training facilities for action sport athletes and gymnasts. Woodward almost single-handedly revolutionized action sports, and certainly helped to make them ready for prime-time, by introducing training techniques familiar to gymnasts, but previously unknown to action sports. Foam pits and resi-pads opened up a whole new world of acrobatic tricks to skateboarders, rollerbladers and bmxers that, before Woodward, would have been too dangerous to attempt.
Woodward has facilities in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and now Beijing! The Woodward West branch is located in California, off the beaten path, about two-and-a-half hours from LA in a sleepy town called Tehachapi. It is a beautiful location surrounded by lush hills and a giant sky. The old west decor pays homage to the town’s heritage.
Last year, when dropping Drake off for a week at Summer Camp, Pam and Richie, the inline directors at Woodward West, approached me about doing a mural for the Art Park. Woodward West has many sprawling skating facilities, including a giant airplane hangar that is filled with ramps. Since the hangar is an indoor facility with many walls they decided to turn a portion of the park into a gallery that would feature art from different artists associated with action sports, hence the name, “Art Park.”
The photo above shows the wall that I reserved with Richie over a year ago when we first started talking about the project. It wasn’t until Drake went back to Camp, a full year after my initial talks with Richie, that we were able to lock down some time to actually bang out the mural. My girlfriend (and Drake’s mom!) Nikki went with me to Woodward West. We arrived late Monday night and gave ourselves until Thursday afternoon to finish the mural.
On the way to Woodward West (three hour car ride from Orange County) Nikki kept asking me what my plan was. “What are you going to paint?” she would ask. It was a fair question. We had less than 72 hours to finish a giant mural after all.
Unfortunately, despite having over a year to come up with a concept, I had no idea.
Nikki was clearly uneasy with this plan (or lack thereof).
I may have been a little anxious, but I wasn’t really nervous. My plan was just to go and look at the wall and get inspired. In the photo above you can see me staring at the wall and sketching out my concept. You can also see in the background part of the mural done by Bigfoot and Jason Maloney.
This is how I work a lot. I don’t always have a clear plan, but I usually have a pretty clear feeling and I just keep working toward it. Over the years I have developed a style that I am comfortable with and a pretty distinct visual vocabulary, so I am typically pretty confident that I will eventually get to where I am trying to go.
The hardest part was picking out supplies without knowing exactly what I needed. Richie told me that he had plenty of white primer for blocking out big shapes, so I just got some spray cans and some acrylic paint and made sure that I had the colors that I usually use and we got lots of acrylic markers for outlining. Whatever else we needed we would have to get in Tehachapi.
I sketched most of Tuesday morning. It turns out that waiting to be “inspired” by the space was a pretty good idea. The space was so unique, in that it went vertically and there was a door in the middle of it that it would have been hard to come up with a concept so well suited to it otherwise. I asked Richie if he had ladders, and he said yes, so I kept drawing up and then I asked if he had really, really big ladders and he still said yes, so I added balloons and stretched the illustration even further vertically.
The next step was to project the image on the wall and trace it. This was where Nikki proposed the first of many great ideas that she would contribute over the course of the week that would improve our work flow and efficiency tremendously. I was prepared to trace onto the wood with pencils, but Nikki suggested that we find some chalk instead. This made it MUCH easier to get the lines onto the wall and to see them against the pattern of the wood grain background.
Nikki is a fine artist. She paints portraits with oil paints. We saw the Banksy movie, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” together and have had many discussions about the “integrity” of art. Nikki will tell you that she doesn’t particularly care for street art (or pop art, or low brow or whatever you want to call it), which is fine, except for that is basically what I do, so that means that she doesn’t really like what I do. Nikki thinks that using projectors and assistants to fill in colors is cheating. Silkscreens, stencils and broad-tipped markers are an affront to her fine-art sensibilities.
I am much more reluctant to accept such rigid definitions of art. I am not even sure what “cheating” means when it comes to art. There is not a finish line; no one is getting a grade. When all is said and done it is either successful or it is not. It looks good or it doesn’t.
There was some irony then in the fact that Nikki became my assistant in essence while we worked on the mural. It was her idea to trace (TRACE!!) with chalk after all. And she helped (HELPED!!) me to fill in a lot of the color. To her credit, after we were done, Nikki admitted that she had a new appreciation for what it took to do a mural that size and especially in that amount of time. She saw that it would have been nearly impossible to have finished on time otherwise.
Pushing the vertical boundaries of an illustration on paper is one thing, but putting it into practice is another; at times it got kind of harrowing.
We finished blocking out all of the white on the first day.
And blocked out all of the large colors.
I don’t have much experience with spray paint and have always felt that I could probably work more efficiently if I did, but for now I have to get by with acrylics and work-arounds to solve my painting needs. I did, however, try to incorporate some spray paint into this piece to add some different texture to the mural. In addition to the blue and orange dots in the background, I also did the bomb-balloon and the skull’s eyes with spray paint and was pretty pleased with the results.
The second day was devoted mostly to outlining.
I would outline and Nikki would take care of the touch-ups.
The outlining took a long time. The last large mural that I did for the grand opening of D-Structure in San Francisco I used a brush to do all of the outlining and that REALLY took forever.
For the Woodward West mural I wised up and got some acrylic markers for the outlining. The wood surface was pretty brutal on the nibs, especially where the spray paint left a sand paper like surface. I started to panic because I thought that my markers weren’t going to make it to the end of the mural. I called Rachard who I knew was coming from Long Beach and asked him to pick me up some extra markers and bring them to Tehachapi with him.
One of the novel concepts of the mural was to paint on both sides of the doorway that was in the middle of the wall.
So, we placed the main character’s dismembered leg (and displaced sock) beneath the artists plaques and across the doorway.
I put in a lot of hours outlining, but I kept putting off finishing the very tallest part of the mural, namely the rabbit-balloon.
We made a make-shift scaffolding to access the mid to tall areas of the mural, but for the very top, the rabbit-balloon, the only way to finish it was to climb to the top of the extension ladder and draw whatever I could manage from my perch.
It wasn’t even really the height so much. Once you are up there and working you don’t even really think about it. It was just that the ladder was so restrictive. It was hard to get the right angles to draw a clean line and if, god forbid, you had to reach anything beyond your arm’s length, you would have to climb all the way down the ladder, move the whole thing and then start the whole process over again.
Eventually we did finish. We worked right up until our deadline, 2PM on Thursday. We cleaned up, said our goodbyes and headed back to Orange County, proud of what we’d accomplished. Nikki even said that she liked it.
We returned on Saturday for the AIL contest and to officially dedicate the mural.
Before the contest everyone gathered for a brief ceremony and then I put my signature on it.
It was finally complete!
Thanks to Woodward West for inviting us to be a part of Art Park and for being such hospitable hosts and especially to Pam and Richie for their tireless support. Thanks to Matt Mickey for letting the creation of our mural be a part of Intuition Week at Woodward West. And thanks most of all to my girlfriend Nikki, without whom I could not have ever completed the project or ever dreamed to have made it so big. Nikki makes everything I do better…whether she likes it or not.