This week’s blog post documents the mural my husband David (muellerlowlife.com) and I recently created.
For the record, I hate our really shitty terrible Charter WiFi and also WordPress and also maybe my old PC. I don’t which of them is to blame for this rather ridiculous day of rewriting this blog so I’ll just apply some blanket hate.
Moving on… I’m merely the grunt+ of the mural production team but I’m still catching up on sleep and unable to think about much else because the mural experience was somewhat all-consuming.
Therefore, I figured I’d tell the behind-the-scenes story of this particular mural now that we’re finally done with it.
Mostly because no one probably wants to hear about the seagull I recently befriended in a parking lot.
How Does a Mural Start?
Murals can be created using a variety of materials but what each mural really needs is a good surface.
If the surface on which the mural is to be painted/applied is not solid or it flakes away with the slightest breeze, the mural will flake away with it.
Therefore, because the mural we were to start did not have a great surface, we first needed to improve it. This was my time to shine as I’m the mural production team’s manual laborer (and photographer/narrator).
So we started with scraping away any loose paint using a pressure washer (which I really enjoyed) and old-fashioned scrapers.
However, before the scraping was to begin, we had to first rent the pressure washer. Since we had driven two hours to do this mural and estimated it would take about a week, our little car was strategically packed very tightly with luggage, supplies and gear. There was barely room to breathe in the car.
The pressure washer could fit into our car but only if everything else was taken out of it first.
So, before we picked up the rented water pressure, we unloaded all of our stuff at our friends’ house and temporarily stored it in their garage. Then, after we were done with the pressure washer, after we had scraped the wall, we returned the rental and then went back to our friends’ house to load our car for the second time that day.
And, by the end of the first day, the wall looked terrible.
This is the most demoralizing part of doing a mural. You put all this work in, and then you stand back and look up at what you had accomplished after many hours’ work, and you see… a really terrible looking wall.
It reminds me of other jobs I’ve had though the wall is metaphorical.
In any case, once we had a relatively smooth surface, we began to prime the surface.
Priming Walls Sucks
I took the bottom and middle and David took the top of the wall as he is the master of the “Click-Clack” ladder.
David says my street name is Optimus Primer.
It goes without saying that we were about as far from “the street” as muralists could be while doing this but, regardless, by the end of the first day, the wall was back to being white.
So now the wall was primed (with about two coats of primer) and it looked like a better version of what it was before we showed up.
Staff even asked us if we were “the painters” as management hadn’t told them the establishment was getting a mural.
At the same time, the white wall did affect street traffic as the wall was now a blinding sort of white and people in their cars definitely noticed the difference and braked and honked and narrowly avoided being in accidents.
Yet, before the more creative process could begin, it was night so we went to check in at our hotel and unloaded our car for the third time that day. We then showered and happily collapsed on our hotel bed, drank a beer, ate some pizza and hoped to get some rest.
However, rest was not to be.
This is because our hotel (which was wonderfully free, thanks to kind former employers/now friends) had such thin walls that, on our first night of sleeping there, I was woken at 5AM by a man whispering,
“Do you know where my wallet is?”
The man was in an adjacent room but it sounded like he was in our room whispering to only me.
And then sometimes loud people stayed in the adjacent room and blasted music or, in one special case, the news from 2AM-6AM.
Morning would arrive and they’d suddenly turn the blaring news off and be all “Time to sleep!”
It’s not like we could complain because the front desk person refused to acknowledge other humans. And, besides, it was clear the problem was the door which connected the rooms because it was made from material which should have been translucent. And there wasn’t much the staff could do about it.
In any case, we didn’t sleep much while doing the mural.
But I pitched a mural to the hotel’s assistant manager who seemed very interested so, if we get the gig, we may have to sleep elsewhere…
Anyways, the next day we finished priming the wall and so, by evening, it was time to start using some spray paint. But we couldn’t use spray paint that evening because the patio was packed with people and tables were set up very close to the wall.
So it would have been a health code violation to turn the dinner crowd blue and also… high….
Therefore, instead, we just sat on the patio looking haggard and tensely hung out with old friends.
David mostly sat there looking somewhat devastated because our mural was not going according to plan.
However, the next morning, after little to no sleep, David started painting the entire wall with a base coat and, when doing so, created a horizon of blue
and a ground-level of green.
The stage was slowly being set.
Therefore, it was time to start laying down stencils.
Where in the Hell Do You Get the Stencils?
David creates stencils using our adorable little plotter who makes such crazy sounds which are never the same sounds.
After our well-dressed friend finishes plotting, David then weeds out the excess vinyl (aka carefully pulls the cut bits out) to reveal the vinyl stencil:
Next we apply masking paper over the top of the revealed vinyl stencil so we can later transfer the stencil to the wall surface.
Vinyl Stencils Are Somewhat Sensitive
Since we had created and rolled up all the stencils into our packed car before we showed up on site
the first stencil to be laid down on the mural wall was a server who was to be placed on a utility door of the restaurant.
However, vinyl stencils require a particular temperature.
Too hot? The vinyl will stick to everything but the wall and be really uncooperative.
Too cold? The masking paper won’t come off and the vinyl may not stick to the wall and be really uncooperative.
So we started with the temperature being too cold. Thus, I found myself using my fingernails to claw off the masking paper as the paper kept ripping and refused to separate from the vinyl stencil beneath.
And, meanwhile, our fingers were becoming very numb.
But, slowly (after about three hours), the vinyl image/stencil was revealed and areas of it were then filled with a white shade of spray paint.
We had naked server.
In truth, she is the only character who has clothes because the other characters are silhouettes…
But whatever. The server needed some clothes because this wasn’t that kind of place which meant that we’d have to lay vinyl on top of vinyl and that was… tricky.
But eventually the server had clothes and a good deal of attitude because we knew that frat boys come in groups to eat dinner at this restaurant so a server would need to have a little gumption.
The next stencil to show up on the wall was one composed of cardboard.
But we didn’t start with cardboard. No, it took a few attempts to find a way to stick a rather giant geometric stencil to a concrete wall snugly enough to ensure the spray paint wouldn’t sneak under the stencil edges and then clutter up the image left.
So, in the nights before we left to go do this mural, our building’s basement became prettier.
And, finally, at long last, we ended where we should have started: cardboard.
Later on site the cardboard stencil worked super well as, with both of us pressing down on each area as David sprayed it, and the spray adhesive doing its job otherwise… soon there were a bunch of green geometric shapes on the wall.
Each shape contains a subliminal message… does anyone want a pretzel right now? 😂
Soon the weather warmed up and so the vinyl stencils became much easier to apply and the characters started to appear a bit more quickly.
As such.. the next image to appear on the wall were the Bremen Town musicians!
Anyone remember that Grimm’s fairy tale? My husband wanted to make this the feature of the wall but apparently not many people remember that Grimm’s fairy tale.
SUMMARY: Old animals were put out to pasture but they said “Forget that” and, instead, claimed a house and defended it (SQUATTERS RIGHTS!) from burglars by standing on top of each other and “singing” which sounded…
terrible. It scared the burglars and I don’t know why this hasn’t been made into a movie yet (has it?). Meh.
So, rather than creating a German fairy tale most people don’t remember, we moved on to create a patio scene.
However, before more characters were introduced, we had to create another background layer. As a result, I started to measure and mask (tape) pillars which David then painted.
Now it was time to start laying more stencils.
Therefore, next up was laying down the other server stencil…
And, after the semi-cheerful-looking server appeared quickly and without issue – mostly due to the suitable temperature – we quickly created the other characters. 😻
A useful tool in helping the vinyl stencil adhere flatly to the contours of the concrete brick wall is a heat gun and ours is adorably old and yellow.
We weren’t sure whether the German-inspired restaurant served wine but… it’s something they should consider now that someone is enjoying it on their wall while also judging her table partner’s terrible eating etiquette:
After the wine lady and her uncivilized friend were made real, we jumped over to the other side of the wall to create another table of characters as the “table” behind the ladies had to be placed over a bunch of obstacles on the surface of the wall.
And so… we skipped that stencil and David moved on to create the “First E-Harmony Date Table”.
But then we had to deal with the
Area of Why the Hell Is This Here?! Issues
Ah yes… there it is.
So the table which was to be created here was the “Bros Table”… naturally it was the bros who were to be placed in the most difficult and uncooperative area. Yet, they and their obnoxious beer-guzzling selves managed to worm themselves into where they needed to go.
As bros do. 🙄😑 Those exact silhouettes were at Table 2 on the restaurant patio the first Friday night of our mural process.
This mural has some accurate, realistic character design.
So now all the stenciled and spray-painted characters had been made real:
Yet, the mural was not complete.
The Finale: Part One
We were almost done but first a city skyline inspired by Munich, Germany was to be created as a backdrop.
We had hoped to project the detailed city skyline but the parking lot area was simply too bright to use a projector.
Consequently, on the final day before we had to briefly return to Milwaukee, seven days after we had started working on this mural, David free-hand created the basic city skyline… after I convinced him that we had to continue with our day.
He needed a little convincing because we pulled up that morning to find construction people were drilling concrete and pouring asphalt mere feet from where we would be working and… we were tired, cranky and not excited about working in an environment of deafening sounds and obnoxious smells.
… but we had to persevere. We had hoped to finish the mural in a week and had fallen behind due to a rainy afternoon the previous weekend.
So we persevered.
David then created the essential sky line and I worked on touching up weak spots, painting untouched areas and creating clean edges and framing.
As the very loud and stressful day came to an end, David decided he wanted to create more vinyl stencils for the detailed buildings and city skyline features. That was okay because we were already leaving the site to return to Milwaukee as my other half was scheduled to get his second COVID vaccine shot.
But, on our way home, we stopped at our friends’ place so David could cut the “awnings” which would serve as the final part of this mural’s finale.
David had shipped the material to our friends’ place because they owned an old theater (now titled “The Mode”) which had the space and the appropriate messaging on its marquee:
After a little decompression time with our friends, we left them and the freshly cut “awnings” and drove home to our Milwaukee apartment…
exhausted after seven consecutive 8-12 hour days of working outside…
So we went home to scrub up, take inventory and create the city skyline stencils… and also sleep.
Then we returned the next day after to put the final touches on the mural.
And the city skyline slowly became more detailed:
And soon all the painting was DONE.
Though… while it was exciting… the celebration was more like this:
Our exhaustion and feigned cheer was largely due to how we were both very sleep-deprived.
However, as a lovely change of pace, that final night the restaurant put us up in their hotel which was heaven.
It was their “basic” room and had two twin beds… but it was heaven.
We even had a chance to kind of chill for a bit on the deck which sat outside our basic room.
Of course, there was to be no relaxing until WE FINISHED THE MURAL.
And then next morning WE FINISHED THE MURAL.
For the first (and only) time.
However, naturally, the final morning was the most stressful morning because we had to drill these aluminum composite panels (the “awnings” which we had previously applied vinyl to, masked and cut) into the concrete of the building’s wall, covering the windows which weren’t being used, and the awnings would be set off from the wall with plumbing shit we had bought from Home Depot, creating a 3-D effect.
No big deal.
I’m “creative” and a hard worker but I knew jack shit about drilling concrete. My husband knows more than I do about concrete drilling but the drill he had hoped would do the job… was not going to be the drill to do the job.
But PRAISE JESUS FOR REAL because a good friend faithfully showed up as promised that morning (note: he is not a morning person but he was not grouchy and is a genius biochemist and also quite handy and he also owned a hammer drill which we hadn’t hoped we’d need).
And he saved the day.
So much went wrong that morning and there was SO MUCH problem-solving and troubleshooting but, once our well-rested friend was there and, because he seemed very knowledgeable, I just sort of stopped thinking for a time and merely took direction.
And soon there was ONE 🦇 ha ha ha
TWO 🦇 ha ha ha
And the rest. And the mural was motherflipping done.
We were done, thanks to the help of friends and family, and could finally take a breath.
I’ve heard 400 times that the mural looks better in person so if you’re ever in Madison, Wisconsin, USA… stop on by the Essen Haus and see if it’s true.
We both stared at that wall for so long we cannot lend any perspective on whether that’s true or not.
Who Needs a Straight Job?!
I’ve hit a wall with applying for non-profit and academic jobs. My intimidating resume and I are pretty happy about traveling around and transforming spaces in a creative way. I also like selling the idea of public, large-scale art.
Our next gig is in Ohio… and I did not score that mural. Rather, my husband did and so we will soon be doing a mural at a rather big Midwestern resort and water park which was originally based in the Wisconsin Dells (I even worked there when it first opened while I was on college summer break).
I figure that, if I can be of use on the production and sales of murals, then I’m happy to do that and, if the mural gigs keep coming, I may be able to volunteer for a cause I really care about when I’m not on the road (the cause being homeless kids and street outreach).
In the meantime, Ohio, here we come! If we don’t blow it, maybe this mural tour can continue.
Until then… David is back on the road doing his other job and I am catching up on some sleep as epileptic brains don’t do well when they’re sleep deprived.
The next mural needs to have more ideal sleeping quarters and a hammer drill and things will go so much more smoothly!
Fewer forced smiles and fires.
But engaging in creative endeavors while living on the road will never not involve the occasional pizza-in-trash-bag for breakfast.
That’s just life on the road for us month-to-month rent-paying artist types.
Check out more art and murals and more of my writing at: muellerlowlife.com! And, if you too would like a mural… please get in touch.
Hope everyone is staying safe and holding on! Thanks for reading! 🖤
HA Ha HA!
6 thoughts on “SHITTY WIFI + FREE WORDPRESS PLAN = REWRITTEN: The Making of a Stencil Mural”
Impressive work! Crazy that it looks better in person, because, in blogpic it looks fabulous.
Also, VERY nice portrait of the two of you.
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My work nickname is Editor Prime! ❤️
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Awwwww! Seems very appropriate! 🥰
This project is tricking amazing! You two are tricking amazing! I am going to share this with my daughter, who is an artist in New Mexico. She will be as in awe as I am. You two are also adorable! My only question is why did this thin-ass pizza have zero toppings on it? That is unacceptable. How are you supposed to recoup your energy with zero toppings? Last week I posted that’s I loved the mural, when it was a blank wall! I thought you had painted the sign Essen Haus. This version is sooooo much better!
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Haha aw!!!! 😂😘 Thank you so much, dear Naomi! I’m excited to hear what your daughter thinks! 😘 Oh the boy and I are certainly co-dependent but that means I can read his mind when he doesn’t verbalize and needs something NOW or is waffling. 😂 Artists. 🙄😂
Hee hee you’re cute. We love cheese pizza! Usually we’ll add chicken or pineapple or red pepper or roasted garlic or all of them but… think-crust cheese pizza just sounded like heaven right then. 🤤