It's coming along!

Check out the progress Ben Bulter's Drawing 101 class has made on the construction wall mural!


Farmer's Market Proposals

About two weeks ago, after working extremely hard day and night, each group presented their proposals and concepts to Kelley Morice, Vice Chair of the Memphis Farmers Market Board for the Farmer’s Market mural downtown. As I mentioned in the last post, the groups faced numerous design challenges, including the wall’s difficult dimensions (it is nearly 300 feet long and only 5 feet at its highest point!) and the guidelines of incorporating imagery from not only the surrounding area, but also themes related to both the Farmer’s Market and MATA. As you can see from the images below, their hard work planning and designing each proposal clearly paid off. The MFM has selected a design (which I will reveal soon!) and the students hope to fabricate and install this design in a future mural painting course.
The presentations:
Group 1: ‘Growing Memphis.’ Lucy, Grace, Alex, Devon, Amanda.
This first group focused on capturing the historically rich background of the South Main area, along with an overall sense of community, the healthy and locally produced food, and transportation—this is what inspired the title of their presentation, “Growing Memphis.” The background of their study includes graphic grayscale pictures taken by them, directly from the area, which is contrasted with the brightness of the colorful images of the places like the Lorraine Hotel and The Arcade, seen in the foreground. The group emphasized their desire to show the passage of time and to display a sense of community within their design. A few particular challenges they faced were the protruding blocks that support the green pillars at the ends of each wall [see previous post for picture] and blending the two separate walls to create one cohesive image. Between the photos they took themselves and photos they selected from the MFM Facebook page, though, they were able to unify the whole design by repeated imagery and adding faces to the podiums in order to blend them in with the rest of the faces (many of which are local Memphians!).

Just a sense of the large scale of the mock-up itself...

Group 2: ‘Moving Through the Seasons.’ Brannen, Megan B., Lizz, Julia, Emily.
Inspired by the landmarks in the surrounding area, this group’s concept was whimsically depicting the South Main area as it ‘moves through the seasons’ and the colors and imagery specific to each one. They included bright and vivid colors that they felt would enhance the site overall, especially this time of year with the gloomy weather! By doing this, their composition allows bright details to jump out to the front, while the gradation in the background allows for the viewer to “drift from one season to the next.” The flags stringing across the mural both unify the composition, as well as emphasize the bright, energetic decoration of the MFM when it is in season. MATA’s role in the design is the trolleys, which appear throughout the seasons, in the mural and outside of it (in the downtown area in general). The Mississippi River bridge, area storefronts, the pyramid and signs specific to the areas are iconic and recognizable features that any passerby could relate to or connect with. Down to the details in the silhouetted skyline, every design element was carefully based on a site-specific source.

Group 3: Graham, Meg D., Erin P., Kenny, Edith
A unique aspect of this group’s presentation was that they were interested in not just incorporating the area surrounding the MFM, but also emphasized that the Farmer’s Market does not exist exclusively within the city limits—people outside of Memphis visit, support and contribute to it as well. They wanted to allow contributors, visitors, and patrons to interact and identify with the mural and simultaneously entice others to come to the market. While they included imagery from the downtown, such as the Mississippi River, they also brought in other recognizable themes of Memphis, like dogs from the dog park in Overton and musicians. Overall, their goal was to ‘poster-ize’ their design for a simpler effect, using more graphic elements and a ‘realistic color pallet.’ They wanted to construct a continuous narrative by beginning the mural with a MATA bus, making its way through the composition through farm and urban landscapes. Some areas were left not fully colorized, as they wanted to leave them open-ended to allow for more personalized insertions that relate more strongly to the community, that can be filled in later.

A detail of the sections that they chose to leave more open-ended ^

Clearly, the MFM Board had an extremely tough decision...they thought all of the designs were very strong, but chose to use group 1's design (Growing Memphis)! There are a few revisions to be made, such as toning down the color pallet a bit, dispersing the faces more evening and adding more representations of landmarks, but overall, they thought this design would be best suited for the area. Again, the mural will not be executed by our class, but hopefully it will be by a future mural painting class!


Polytab Demo

Last week when Master Muralist Eric Okdeh was in town for his lecture with Noni Clemens (see 2/1/2012 post for more info) he actually came to our class on Thursday and did a demo with the polytab material that we will be using to help execute our murals. This is a relatively new technology in mural painting, that the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program helped to discover, which muralists can use to their advantage. The polytab itself comes in cloth-like rolls and can be adhered to just about any wall surface using Nova Gel—and guess what it’s originally used for…the interfacing of men’s suits! One advantage to using this material is that muralists can paint directly on it inside their studio, allowing them to keep working, when bad weather would normally prohibit them from painting outside. One of the things I found particularly interesting about this material, was that it allows the community to engage with the mural—people can come in, help paint, and contribute without having to work outside on the wall, avoiding safety hazards. When the panels of painted polytab are ready to go up on the wall, they are adhered with Nova Gel and after drying, the cloth is essentially woven in to the wall, keeping the texture of the wood, brick, concrete, etc. –visually, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference of a polytab surface and the actual wall. When Eric demoed the material, there wasn’t an existing painting on the polytab, so he just used blank panels to show us how to apply them with the Nova Gel. A post about our mural bus tour around Memphis is soon to come, where you will be able to see examples of how this process is used!


Making Progress!

So if you haven’t noticed already, the construction wall mural is coming along so well—and quickly too! As I explained in the post about the planning process of the study for this mural, the collage was a highly collaborative process, with the students working together to make one cohesive design. After the design was completed and Xeroxed, the collage was clipped into 30 different sections, which proved to be a much more involved process than you would think! The sections were then gridded into a one-inch (on paper) to one-foot (the actual wall) scale and each student was assigned one 4x8 section to work from. Especially since the weather had been so bad the few weeks before, the students seemed very anxious and eager to get out there and actually begin painting. The first step was for each student to grid his/her panel (4x8 ft.) on the actual wall (I got to do one too! Although I admit I worked at a snail’s pace…), which they already painted a light gray color when they were still planning the study. After that, they sketched in their specific design, according to the grid, which required everyone to use ladders to reach the top sections of their panels. By the end of the first day, most students completed penciling in their designs and one or two even started to paint! For this mural, (besides the gray background) the only paint we are using is black exterior house paint, which certainly has its advantages, but also disadvantages. Student Lucy Gaines says that liked working with the just black because it “made the process a lot quicker and makes the mural look really graphic, so that even when you see it across campus it really stands out—in a way, it doesn’t really even need more than one color.” However, she also found it perhaps too close to feeling like drawing rather than painting, and she is excited to work with multiple colors and solve issues of blending and color choice.

Emily Murphy working away....
Devon, Julia, Lizz, Lucy and Brannen making some serious progress on the second paint day...


Farmer's Market Mural Design

[click on photo for better view]

Over the past few weeks, partly due to the typical Memphis weather this time of year, the library construction wall mural has been put on hold until next week and the students have been working on design proposals for the Memphis Farmer’s Market mural downtown. Two weeks ago, the students divided into groups of five to work together to develop three successful mock-ups to present to the Memphis Farmers Market Board. While collaborating as a whole class (16 people!) worked well for designing the construction wall mural, I think we all found that working in small groups had its advantages as well—it seemed to be the case that many students found the process of collaborating in smaller groups to be easier and more efficient. In smaller teams, students could bounce ideas off of each other, and it also gave some, who may not be as vocal in a large group, the chance to better express their thoughts. While each group had their own, unique way of executing their designs, the main commonality was our ole friend, Photoshop. This made the process of duplicating, resizing, rearranging and tweaking the images used for the collage infinitely easier; and though Photoshop can be (let’s be honest) frustrating at times, it allowed the students to create cohesive designs.

However, creating cohesive designs was undoubtedly a challenge, as they were working from a 1-inch to 1-foot scale, making the mock-ups over 11 feet long and only a few inches high! —Essentially, a long, skinny, sliver of a space. So clearly, designing for this vertically challenged wall was not an easy task, yet each of the three groups managed to come up with a distinct, successful and creative mural proposal, if I do say so myself, to present to the board. Not only did they have to work with the restrictions of the space itself, but they also had to consider specific design instructions. Though the guidelines still allowed for artistic freedom, the students were instructed by MFM and MATA (Memphis Area Transit Authority) to include imagery specific to the South Main/Front Street area, public transportation-related images (like trolleys or busses), images specific to the actual Farmer’s Market, and images that relate to the Memphis community as a whole. The mural also must help establish landmarks downtown, respect neighborhood identity and the unique character of downtown, and enhance the surrounding environment. Yesterday in class, the students dry-ran their proposals for a few members of the MFM board and on the 13th, they will be giving their presentations for the entire board. Both MFM and MATA are required to approve the design, along with the Center City Commission and DRB (Design Review Board—responsible for reviewing and approving exterior public art for projects that receive a DMC incentive and for public projects within the Central Business Improvement District).

As stated on their Facebook page, MFM ‘is a weekly non-profit outdoor market featuring local farmers and artisans, live music and fun activities,’ running from mid-April through October from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and located at Front Street and GE Patterson.

[click on photo for better view]

A few weeks ago, I went out to the site to take measurements and pictures of every angle of both walls that the students are designing for, which took long than expected, seeing as how the length of both walls combined is nearly 300 feet! Another design challenge is that the height of each wall varies from side to side...it's only about 1.5 feet at its lowest point, and 5 at its highest, not to mention there are two blocks protruding from the right side of wall A and left side of wall B that need to be somehow incorporated into the design. Clearly, each group had their work cut out for them, but the results are stunning--specifics and pictures of each group’s proposals are soon to come!


Mark your calendars!

Coming up in just a few weeks, the Art Department and Urban Studies program at Rhodes are excited to be bringing Eric Okdeh and Noni Clemens from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program to our campus for a public art colloquim as part of the MOSS lecture series, sponsored by the Lillian and Morrie Moss Endowment for the Visual Arts. For over twenty years, the Moss Endowment has allowed exceptional artists and art historians to come to our campus to participate in a number of projects ranging from academic lectures to artists-in-residencies. This is such a great opportunity for not only the Mural Painting class, but also the whole community to learn more about the positive impact of public murals on the community. I've heard a little bit about the sort of mural 'epidemic' happening in Philadelphia, but honestly didn't know much about the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program itself. Their mission statement expresses their desire to work to improve public spaces through uniting artists through collaborative work and to execute murals that engage and have a positive influence on the entire community, with their ‘Golden Rule’ being, ‘when we create art with each other and for each other, the force of life can triumph. I think that this statement can easily be applied to the long-term aspirations of the mural painting class and that their lecture will offer a further boost inspiration.

So please join us in welcoming Noni Clemens, Administrative Manager for the Mural Arts Program's Art Education Department and Eric Okdeh, Master Muralist for a discussion on Public Art and Community Engagement on February 16th, 7pm in Orgill Room (in Clough).


The Mural Arts Program unites artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives. Mural Arts began in 1984 as part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network’s effort to eradicate the graffiti crisis plaguing the city. Since then, the organization has grown to become one of the largest public arts initiatives of its kind, producing more than 3,500 murals and providing critical art education and workforce development opportunities through its Community Murals, Art Education and Restorative Justice programs. As a hybrid of city agency and nonprofit organization, Mural Arts stands as a national and international model for arts organizations, with a 27-year track record of leveraging the community-based process of public art to catalyze true social progress and positive change within Philadelphia’s communities.

For more information, you can check out their website and be sure to come to the Lecture! On their website, you can also browse the many different murals around Philadelphia, such as the ones pictured above, along with each mural's unique story.

Image Description:

The Bottletree, 2010

Acrylic, Stained Glass, Mirror, Bottles with personal effects

An interactive work of public art spanning two buildings in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of Philadelphia. Images & writing lie hidden in glass bottles embedded in the tree and painted in the sky. The tree consists of 700sq ft of stained class.