Current Work: 2007 Splash Pic

It's up to us

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Location: The intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street in Cleveland, Ohio USA

              This mural project was a huge and difficult task. Weeks before its anticipated completion, on a very cold and windy autumn day, Channel 5 multimedia journalist Brian Archer made an impromptu appearance at the work site and filmed footage for a televised report. Viewing Brian's original broadcast is an excellent way to see at a glance what this project was all about. In addition, his extended interview with artist John Rivera-Resto is included in the second tape. Just click on the links below.

original broadcast video

Video interview with
John Rivera-Resto

Background notes

              Work on this mural project began late in July 2012. Completion was projected by the end of fall. But the painting was posponed due to bad weather until it was resumed in July 2013. Man-made delays and the early arrival of winter weather in the fall of that year again postponed the completion of the mural until June of 2014. A detailed account of the experience is given in the photographic record below.

              This public arts project began as a collaboration between John Rivera-Resto and Christopher "Chris" Luciani, then Cultural Arts Manager for the City of Cleveland, Ohio (Note: in early 2013, Chris left for a career opportunity in Palo Alto, California). Under Chris' leadership, the 'Mural My Neighborhood' program employed high school students and an artist/teacher to paint murals around the city during the summer months. For 2012, however, a new approach was adopted for the program.

              Chris and John decided to "raise the bar" -way high, and produce murals of professional quality and content instead of work limited by the student's artistic abilities. To accomplish this goal, two groups of fifteen individually selected students, ages ranging from fourteen to eighteen, trained for three months prior to the commencement of site work. Two mural designs, created by John, were to be painted with the assistance of the new apprentices.

              The curriculum was a fast-pace combination of basic wall painting theory and hands-on exercises specifically designed to have them ready for the work site. High expectations demanded rigorous training. Painting a highly detailed, two thousand square foot mural, under the hot and relentless summer sun -and cold windy autumn days, high atop scaffolding, can only be accomplished by a well trained and disciplined outfit. At least a third of the work was expected to be completed by the young apprentices under John's scrupulous eye, before he took over to complete the last stages of the painting.

"It's Up To Us", original mural design by John Rivera-Resto

              Two murals were painted simultaneously: one on Cleveland's west side, the other on the east side of the city. John worked with the first group on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with the second group. Drawings and layouts were done during the night in John's shop and redied for the next day's work. During the early stages of the project, several adult supervisors worked along with the students assuring the all daily tasks and site protocols were followed. This practice allowed John the time he needed to concentrate on the design itself.

              The image shown above is John's design for the "west side" mural, the focus of this page. The title of the mural is: "It's Up To Us." A photographic record shows the project's progression from conception to completion. Since Muralmaster's intention is to provide its readers an unvarnished presentation of facts to "deglamorize" painting and the artist in order to show mural painting for what it is -very hard work requiring great skill and application, John's account of this experience will not hold back in its narrative. Assisted by a photographic record of events and a daily 'work log' that recorded each day's progression and observations, the reader will be able to follow up close and intimately.

'A world built of sweat and steel' -original mural design for the "east side" location (see entry in Current Works page)

The Wall

              John Rivera-Resto, June 2012. -I had already started work on the east side mural location when I made a Sunday visit to inspect in detail the new wall on Cleveland's west side. With temperatures breaking records in the 90's and work on the east encountering a plethora of problems, I was not looking forward to starting another mural under that infernal heat. What most people do not realise is that brick and concrete absorb a great deal of heat and become extremely hot to the touch. These hard surfaces also reflect back sunlight so you are blinded by glare. What's more, the thermal energy they radiate back at you while standing for long periods of time on one spot, is enough to cook your brains. But what made this location a block short of hell was the high level of noise polution that constantly assaulted my senses. Noise -loud deafening noise- is the one thing that drives me crazy.

The intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street, in Cleveland's Near West Side on a Sunday. The mural wall is aligned east to west so the harsh sun hits it from dusk till dawn. There is no structure to provide a cool shade. With a nearby hospital, fire and police stations, loud sirens roar by half a dozen times a day. Daytime street traffic is busy, dirty, stressful and horribly loud -I will not even mention the deafening noise for passing cars playing their music full blast. Construction crews were jackhammering the sidewalks for street light renovations during most of our painting season. I was forced to use ear mufflers for most of the summer just to hear me think. This agonizing "torture by noise" was almost relentless and dearly tested my limits.

              But really, why were we preparing to paint a mural on this particular wall? Three answers: Location, location, location. Situated at the heart of one Cleveland's most vibrant and culturally rich neighborhoods, home to large Hispanic, Asian, African-American and Italian communities, and being exactly at the middle of the "Metro Corridor", this was prime real estate. Millions of dollars in urban development were being invested to revitelize the areas on West 25 street stretching between two major landmarks: Cleveland's West Side Market and Metro Health Hospital. And it so happened that back in early May, Chris Luciani spotted a large brick wall exactly on the intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th street smack in the middle of it all. This meant that a mural on this location would be seen by hundreds of pedestrains and commuters on a daily basis.

This 2000 square-foot brick wall -18 feet in height, was built to cover up the front facade of a store that once operated in that location. The building is currently home to medical facilities.

The entrance to Dr. Frederick Blank's office, an ophthalmologist with the distinction of being Henry Winkler's (the Fonz) college roommate, is the one on the far left. The other recessed entrance is a service door for the rest of the facilities. These entrances were incorporated in the final design -since there was no other way to hide them.

              Back in early May, Chris had made inquiries about the building and managed to contact the property owner. It so happenned that doctor's offices and facilities were housed in that building and the owner was Dr. Nicholas Rinaldi. "Nick" was living his retirement in Florida but was never far from Cleveland. In fact, Nick's brother is a local celibrity and a Cleveland icon. He is none other than the second half of 'Big Chuck and Little John', as in John Rinaldi. But association with celibrities did not stop there (as I would discover this later on during the project). Dr. Frederick Blank, the resident ophthalmologist -and one of the nicest people you can ever hope to meet, was the college roomate of Henry Winkler, aka "the Fonz". Now, how cool is that?

Thursday, July 19, 2012 -work begins with a power-wash using a mild detergent. Adhesion of the paint to the surface is the number one concern for extending the longevity of a mural. Environmental pollution needs to be removed first.

Designing a mural

              I had listened to Chris rave about the location as he showed me the photos and measurements he had taken. Today I was there to carefully inspect the brick wall. It was in great condition, except for the fact that it had two recessed doors, one almost at the center, and another one on the left side (seen facing the wall). There was no way to make them "disappear" by painting over them. The recesses into the wall seem like the entrance to caverns made even more noticeable by the dark casting shadows moving from side to side as the sun arched above in its daily journey from east to west.

Apprentices begin to apply a coat of water-base primer. The primer was tinted from its original white to gray to make it less glaring to the eye in sunlight. Primer seals the wall thus reducing absorbency -which is ideal for painting applications, and also leaves the surface receptive to the finer color pigments in paint.

              When first I saw pictures of the wall I knew these doorways would dictate the framework and composition of whatever design I came up with. No painterly illusion can be sustained with such a distracting architectural eyesore in the middle of your painting. But those were the breaks and I had to deal with it. There was not a second wall choice to go to. And, I had to agreed wholeheartlily with Chris, no other wall could beat that location. So, all I needed to do now was to design a spectacular mural to fit that space and I had to have it done in a matter of a few weeks. But first, I had to attend a meeting Chris had arranged with some people from the community to listen to their ideas for the mural's theme. No sense in thinking about it until after that meeting. Still, as to the door issue, I had already thought of the solution by the time I made it to that meeting in the middle of May.

Apprentices were taught how to assemble and disassemble scaffolding as well as safety procedures for working on them. Climbing up scaffolding shakes the unit and a person at the top, concentrating on the task at hand, may lose their balance. So the protocol for climbing on scaffolding was as follows: -"Coming up!" Then waiting until anyone on top made sure they had a secure hold and shouted back -"Ready!", before beginning the climb.This was so ingrained into the apprentice's mind that it soon became second nature to do so.

              On Saturday May 12 we had a meeting with Megan Meister and Adam Stalder -the Program Director and the Economic Development Director of the Community Development Office for Stockyard, Clark Fulton & Brooklyn Centre, the geographic area were the mural site was located. They showed us plans and diagrams for upcoming street development in the area and talked about other exciting things planned for the future. So having a large-scale mural in the middle of their target area was a welcomed idea and it blended nicely with the organization's goals.

Only those comfortable operating at the top level were allowed to do so. Not everyone could. As an additional safety measure, I prohibited the use of cell phones while on the scaffolding. If an alien were to land at our worksite, it would go away with the impression that earthlings are born with a cell phone stuck to their ears!

              Chris strongly believed in getting everyone involved in community projects, especially when a project was created for that community. Several other meetings followed with an advisory committee of community members to talk about the program and to come up with a theme. It is always a difficult task for an artist to have to deal with a committee as opposed to a single client. Everyone has a feeling of what direction a project should turn to so things can go in any numbers of directions at the same time. My job was to listen, find common motifs, and distill them into a workable solution.

Looking down can be unnerving to some with fear of heights.

              I also have to offer a standard visual vocabulary so that everyone's mental picture looked more or less the same. Non-visual people think in terms of abstract concepts and words. But I had to turn their musings into a vocabulary of visual symbols. So in our discussions I would try to make them understand how difficult this was by asking: -"Can you provide an image that says empowerment, and only empowerment, at a single glance?" A silent pause followed. They began to get the idea. Slowly comprehension of how visual communication works started to emerge.

John Rivera-Resto, "Dictator-In- Chief" enjoing the view.

              Composing images into a visual language that is understandable by the majority of viewers is not an easy thing to do. When the message you intend to express is deep and complex, the imagery has to be on spot. There is also great strength in a single image because people of diverse social backgrounds, cultures and languages can look at the picture of the moon and understand what it is. Associate other images to that moon and you get different nuances of meaning. But as the artist, you are leading the thoughts, and concenquently, the message. The important thing is to have a starting poing that everyone understands.

Work progresses in slow methodical fashion. Virgin brick absorbs a lot of paint and the dries up the brush outer bristles. This makes painting harder so the brush has to be rinsed clean every 15 minutes. Apprentices work in three teams: top, middle, and ground level.

              By the end of the discussion my notepad was filled with key words and quotations. The words "gritty, raw, edgy, non-flowery, youth dropout rate, development, decay, fractures in the community, crime, racial issues, old vs. new, and so on. The one thing I loved about this group was that it was composed mostly of women, tough and sharp-minded women who had seen it all and were not afraid to call out things for what they were. They didn't want to hide unpleasant things under a fresh coat of paint; they wanted to do something about it. They didn't want decoration, they wanted something memorable. My kind of people to be sure. After two follow-up meetings where I presented my design for the mural which they wholeheartedly approved, we were ready to start painting.

Teenagers have fun working in small groups. Some get creative. Others like to wave at every passing car who never fail to beep their horns.

July 2012

              We had a late start, late by exactly one month. Work on the project was supposed to begin the week of June 18 in conjunction with the mural project on Cleveland's east side. But we had problems on two fronts. In the first place, we did not have a place in site to store the equipment and supplies, and we needed access to water, electrical power, and public restrooms. Secondly, funding to pay the apprentices was from a source other than the city, and agendas were not clicking.

Water-base paints and primers (also know as latex-base, acrylic emulsion or synthetic polymers base coatings) dry very fast in the open air. They are the ideal choice for this type of projects.

              Unlike the east side location, here these logistical amenities were provided at the site, the west side location proved very problematic. This location was busy with pedestrians and heavy traffic, completely lacking an area for our daily setup. Chris tried valiantly to secure storage space in nearby locations, but to no avail. No one wanted to rent us a space for a short term. I finally suggested a solution, which was to rent a 'storage pod' that could be placed in an alley next to the wall. It was then negotiated that the crew could have the use of restrooms at the medical facilities, and water would be hauled out in buckets from a tap in the staff's lunch room. The scaffold, a heavy tubular modular structure with nine foot long planks, would have to be assembled and then taken apart for storage every day. This was an unpleasant task, but as long as we had plenty of hands, a doable solution.

Wall priming completed on the second day of work.

              The second problem had to do with the conflicting requirements between our working schedule, and those imposed by the program paying the kids wages. We needed the crew on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but they would only pay for weekdays between a restricted set of hours. So it took Chris more time to work around the problem. All in all, we lost an entire month. One must keep in mind the dilemma this placed me in. I had already begun working since June 18 on the east side location on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. And even on the days being delayed for the west side crew, I was working at the shop long into the night doing drawings and layouts. So I was working full-time six days a week, 14 hours a day, with the west side mural far behind schedule.

A temporary storage pod (also known as a container bin) was used to store equipment, materials and supplies. It is the size of a one-car garage with a roll up door.

              What made things even more daunting was that, regardless of the starting date, the youth program on both locations had to stop before the beginning of the school year. After that, I had to go at it alone with one assistant. The thought of only two pair of hands dealing with the scaffolding on a daily basis filled me with dread. I knew there and then that I would have to return in the spring of 2013. I had anticipated doing so because you always have to comeback for final touches and for the application of clear preservative. But what became clear was the additional time I would have to add to the spring schedule. Since I make my own agenda, I was okay with it. Still, the one thing I couldn't anticipate were further delays by the capricious Cleveland weather and those of human obstruction.

Ric Owens was my 'Sergeant-at-Arms', making sure everyone was following site and safety protocols. Teenagers have a habit of wondering off as soon as they feel like taking a break (which happens a lot). Ric made sure he knew where everyone was at all times and herded back those who wandered off.

               Cleveland weather is difficult to pin down. Every evening I would check online the weather forecast for the next day. The odds it being right were about 50-50. When rain was forecast, it would be sunny. When sun was forecast, it would rain. If rain was forecast for the early morning, it would rain in the after noon. And if the next day's pronouncement was 90% thunderstorms, it turned out just partly cloudy. We lost almost half of the time on this site due to bad weather. The odd thing was that it only happened on the three days we worked on this particular location. The other three days when I worked on the east side mural, the weather was hot with not a cloud in the sky. It was enough to make you believe in curses.

When working with young apprentices on a large project, I don't paint; I supervise and instruct. It is not until much later, with the initial stages are done and only a few remain, that I have the luxury of being able to concentrate on taking over the brush. Producing this kind of mural requires great concentration and attention to detail. The finish product has to be identical or better than the design rendering.

              The first day at the job was spent going over setup and safety rules. We taught the apprentices how to assemble and disassemble the scaffolding, the proper way to climb up and down the levels, and how to observe work safety etiquette. You can easily slice off a finger if cross sections are not handled properly. If a heavy wheel jack or tubular section for on a foot, it will break it. Moving the planks into place can break a wrist if they are not held properly. And worse, you can break your neck if you fall off. Being distracted or careless can get you or your co-workers hurt as easily as accidents or a gust of strong wind.

              The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. It issues workplace health and safety regulations. These regulations include limits on chemical exposure, employee access to information, requirements for the use of personal protective equipment, and requirements for safety procedures. Regulations on the use of scaffolding at a work site is also well-defined by OSHA. It benefits everyone to learn what these regulations are and how to properly implement them, especially when working with minors.

              But the reality is that millions of children work on scaffolding every year, either for a school, community or church related project and, in my opinion, no one seems to take safety and training with any degree of seriousness. I'm not one of them because I've seen too many preventable accidents. So I will give you a tip that could save you a lot of grief: follow OSHA regulation and confiscate cell phones from any kid working on a scaffolding! And this also applies to most supervisors.

Beginning the second phase of the project: marking and "blocking" large areas for base coloring. Spacing marks (our rulers) are done on blue painters tape every twelve inches and attached along the entire length of the wall. These markings provide coordinates to help construct the drawings and for the correct placement of paper layouts.

              The first task on any mural project is to prepare the wall surface. Compared to the surrounding buildings, our mural wall was relatively new. It was only a few decades old. But during that time it was coated with layers of grime, dust and salt. The oily residue of engine exhaust was the worse offender. Paint does not stick well to grease. So the wall was cleansed with strong detergent and rinsed several times with clean water. The next step after cleansing was to prime the surface with a good quality primer. Not everyone primes walls before painting a mural, but I do. Here are some compelling reasons for doing so:

1- Primer has bonding agents which allow it to stick to walls. Paint in turn sticks better to primer. This will make the finished painting last longer.
2- Primer fills and seals most surface pores. As a result, paint application will go smoother because there is less resistance from surface textures. In addition, brushes will last longer on a smooth surface.
3- Primer is cheaper than paint. You will need two coats of paint to equal the surface quality achieved by one coat of primer.

The wall dimensions correspond exactly to the design rendering. This gridded rendering becomes the bible of the project until all the elements of the mural are drawn exactly to scale on the wall. Not all elements of the design are drawn at once, this is done in stages. Certain large areas are first colored and then drawings are added on top.

Measurements diagram made from the gridded design rendering. This was then copied by the apprentices on the wall. Rulers and water levels were used to assure the perfect alignment of all vertical and horizontal lines.

Seeing the apprentices work, t's hard to imagine that when I first began teaching them in April, only a few knew how to read a ruler -inches, halfs and quarters were just vague words to them. Figuring out square footage was like doing calculus, and half could not read time on a traditional clock! At the time I though they were tyring to pull a fast one on me. But they were not joking. This was third grade knowledge and these kids were smart and sharp as whips! I kept saying to myself -"What is wrong with our schools?

Paints were supplied by the Sherwin Williams Company. I pre-selected exterior grade colors with a flat finish. For the final detailing, I would mix and combine them with Artist Acrylics to achieve the desire color saturation. Once completed, the mural would be coated with 'Liquitex Gloss finish', a water resistant varnish to provide a permanent, high durable protection. 100% acrylic polymer varnish is flexible and non-yellowing when dry, non toxic and it greatly increases depth and color intensity.

Once sections are marked and drawn on wall surfaces -such as the panels in this particular door, they are "blocked" , that is, covered with a base color. Murals are painted in layers, one color over the other, beginning with backgrounds and ending with foreground objects and figures.

My young apprentices from the Mural My Neighborhood Program

              Of the fifteen teens that initially enrolled in the program, ten worked as mural painting apprentices at the site. This particular team was brimming with enthusiasm and ready to work. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed working with them. They also got along famously with one another and worked very well as a cohesive team. Discipline was good and they followed directions well. I could not have asked for a better group of young apprentices.

              I divided the group into teams of two and assigned them specific daily tasks. Ric would get there early and unluck the pod. Then a couple of teams were incharge of erecting a work station tent, setting up tables and organizing equipment and supplies, another team was incharge of hauling the water buckets used to weight down the tent and for cleaning, and the last two teams would join Ric in setting up the scaffolding. Every work-day they would report to Ric at 9:30 am and by the time I got to the work-site at 10:00 am, everything was ready for the day's painting assignments.

Thalia Fomby, 15.

Yanna Morgan, 16.

Jacob Buntyn, 15.

Amanda Maldonado, 16.

Joshua Serrano, 17.

Thalia and Shamyra "Peaches" Johnson, 15.

Gabriel Pichardo, 14.

Margaux May, 14

Chamar Bright, 15.

Victoria Velez, 17.

August 2012

              Work on the mural progressed nicely and the weather held for a couple of weeks. But by the middle of August the school year began and my young apprentices left. I was sad to see them go, though I would see then on ocassion when they dropped by to volunteer some time or when I hired some of them to work on my other projects. On the other hand, now that I didn't have to supervise and instruct, I could begin to paint and speed up the process.

              During the first two weeks of August the underpainting of the building facades were completed. They looked so pleasing in their simplicity that people though this was the finished mural. In fact, they didn't know what was coming, not that it was a secret. A local paper had written a story that included an image of the mural design. But seeing a mural on paper does not compare with the magic of seeing it in person. What's more, no one had seen anything like it. So we had novelty in our hands and a captive audience during the entire duration of the project.

After carely marking each of the six building facades in the design, we proceeded to paint them in their appropriate base colors. Large sections of the design, such as awnings, store signs, and window openings were marked and painted during this stage.

This part of the job goes on at a slower pace as each section is checked and double checked to make sure the lines are accurate to the inch and perfectly leveled. The successful placement of subsequent layers and elements depends on the perfection of this stage.

Work progression two weeks later, August 4th.

I only worked 3 days a week at this location. For the next 3 days I moved to the East Side mural location, to work with another group of apprentices. See Current Works link: 2012-2013 "Mural -A world of sweat and steel" for pictures and commentary about this mural project.

Mural progression, August 16. Rainy weather delayed us even further.

August 18. Completion of the project's first phase: blocking the buildings. This is the end of the Neighborhood Mural Program student involvement. A few of the students will return to volunteer their time after school or on the weekends. But by the end of the month, all activity on this mural stopped as I concentrated my full-time effort to the mural being painted on the city's east side.

A local resident wanted to know what it felt like to paint a mural, so I gave her a brush and put her to work. She will have a great story to tell.

Mural progression, August 23rd.

Painting storefront details on building 1.

September 2012

              By now it was only Ric and I working on the mural but we were doing very good progress. Now that I was actually taking over the brush, things were speeding up. I could paint in a day what it would take students to do in several weeks. On occasion some of the students came by after school to volunteer some time. But the weather was not cooperating. We had more working days of rain than sunshine. We concentrated on the first building and began doing the faux work. Still, the weather was not helping. Things were moving alone but it became obvious that the mural would not be completed this year. The underpaint of the building facades done by the students looked so nice that many thought that was the finished mural. So Chris decided that it was best for me to concentrate and finish the east side mural by working in the entire week instead of splitting my time between the two jobs. I felt that was the right decision and that's exactly what we did. By the second week of September we had packed and moved to the east side mural location.

Detailing bottom panels. Amanda Maldonado, one of the most talented students in the program, returned to volunteer her skills to the project. A year later, almost to the day, she was hired by Muralmaster as a full-time apprentice to continue work on the mural. Joshua Serrano and Gabriel Pichardo also did volunteer time.

I would later change this design. While it looked good under night lighting, I didn't work during the day. So we did not continue with the "distressing" effect. Certain things did not work visually because of the mortar lines on the wall. They proved to be very noticeable and distracting on smaller scale details when sunlight bathe the wall in sharp angles. So I opted for simplification of design elements or integration of mortal lines into the design.

The decorative cornice on building 1 is completed.

Detail view of cornice. This is an example of the kind of results that makes you say: -"You can do amazing things with paint!"

Painting corbels and adding faux effect to brick. The idea is to make them look old and dirty -but still interesting.

Ric Owens with Graig Wilson, a tattoo and display artist doing volunteer work on the mural. Without any more help from students, Graig was a welcomed addition, especially when it came time to disassemble the heavy scaffolding by day's end. A month later, he joined my Muralmaster team on some of my seasonal projects for 2012 and 2013.

To date, I have employed four students from the program in seasonal projects for area businesses. During seasonal work, were I mostly do decorative and display contracts, I have worked and collaborated with crews of up to 25 individuals. It is a grueling work schedule for me with long days and little sleep. But I need to pay the rent and make up for the low compensation of "prestige jobs" like this one. On the other hand, it provides area artists a short-term source of much needed income and invaluable artistic training.

Detail of faux aging effect on the brick. Whenever possible, the wall's actual brick surface was incorporated into the texturing.

Applying a faux aging effect to the brick.

Detail of faux painting in progress. You make somber looking buildings "attractive" by adding architectural details. The detailing is what makes the structure interesting to look at.

Detail showing how the recessed entrance blended into the design.

Tracing the contour of a figure unto the wall. The back of the drawing has been rubbed with chalk so that the pencil tracing leaves a chalk mark on the wall.

The contour traced on the wall. This is done to mark the area were the brick lines will be filled in with cement. A smooth surface is desired for painting detail figures.

Mixing floor leveler cement with a acrylic emulsion. At this point we are experimenting with several products.

Applying mix to the brick joints withing the contour. Floor leveler mix proved too course for our needs. So for the rest of the work, we used mortar mix instead.

Brick lines filled with cement mix. By doing this we discovered that while the bricks look evenly set from afar, some sticked out more than others. This made getting a leveled surface impossible. So for the rest of the figures we decided to apply two layers of cement -one to fill in the mortar lines and a second to even out the surface.

Painting over cement with base color.

During the first tracing, 'registration marks' were done on pieces of masking tape along the edges of the paper to issure proper realignment of the drawing for second tracing.

While covering rendered areas with base painting, great care is taking not to remove tapes with registration marks.

Paper rendering of cat. This type of drawings are called "cartoons".

Cat drawing placed in postion and redied for tracing. The second drawing was placed precisely into position aided by the registration marks. The entire cartoon was then traced, and the chalkmarks were "inked" parmanently with fluid paint.

Figures are painted with the aid of reference photographs or preparatory drawings.

The under-painting done in rapid brushstrokes, "blocking" (covering) large areas with opaque paint in a fast manner. At this stage I did not continue with the final modeling because I was dissatisfied with the cement rendering. The entire surface would later be covered up and redone.

September 14. Cat underpaint detail. This was the last thing we painted for the year. We moved our operation to the east side mural location after deciding to continue work on this mural in 2013.

"Lonely girl texting" rendering (second version) completed the following year in October 2013. Notice the absence of mortar lines on the figure.

April to June 2013

              April 2013 was a sad month for Cleveland. Early that month, Chris Luciani left his position as Director of Cultural Arts in Cleveland Ohio for a position as Production Manager and Producer with the Children's Theatre in Palo Alto, California. Before leaving we had a meeting with his Cleveland boss and the person taking over his responsibilities to go over the continuation of the mural projects. I had conflicting feelings. A part of me was happy with the move because I felt Chris was grossly underappreciated in Cleveland and the move could be a transition to greener career pastures. But the other side of me thought I was screwed.

              From the beginning I felt the two murals I was creating was a collaboration project with Chris and that's the way we worked things out. His vision was to see the projects come to fruition and I knew I could depend on him to get me through it. He handled all the incidentals and took care of the project needs so I could concentrate on the painting. If we needed an extra pair of hands to handle the scaffolding, he was there. If we needed supplies, he provided them the next day. When the heat was almost unbearable, he would be at the work site with bags of ice. He made friends with everyone in the community and everyone loved Chris. But soon I began to suspect the feeling was cooler with his higher ups. When someone gets results and this brings praise, resentments begin to rise to the surface. Mavericks rock the boat and many don't like the waves. Now that he was gone, I doubted his successor would show the same passion for the job.

              I had entered a contract with the program to do two murals, but the city was to provide me with supplies, equipment and assistants. It was kept simple because I knew that Chris and I could work matters through without making the process complicated. He and I were both doers. But the student involvement as assistants, a key component of the project, didn't last long. Ric would stay on as assisting artist, but the money allocated to him by the program for coming back this year was little more then a stipend. He really got the short end of a stick and didn't realise it until it was too late. I was paid the larger portion of my contract by the end of 2012, with the remainder to be paid upon completion of the projects. But when you consider that these murals were worth over $65,000 each, and that what I recieved would not have equaled 10% of that, and then you factor in that I turned over most of that money to pay for studio space and assistants, I ended up with a huge loss. What's more, the time I spent on these projects was time I didn't have to spend on lucrative commissions available to me.

              I understood well what I was getting myself into and it was fine with me. It soon became obvious that we had major problems to overcome, particularly with the east side mural. We also had to contend with a year of record breaking heat and then more than normal rain fall. Add to that the fact that one of the projects began late so we ended up with a labor shortage. However, I was going to finish the murals because they were also important to me. I saw them as a career investment. Chris and I also saw this as something that could be the beginning of a new trend; something positive for the city. But that was then and this was now. Take away the promised assistants and other resources, and I was up a creek without a paddle. Still, I was hoping for the best when I returned for this year's painting season.

              In June 2013, I had been three weeks short of finishing the east side project when we had a problem and, in my estimation, the program administrator dropped the ball (this is discussed in the 2012-2013 "Mural -A world of sweat and steel" entry in the Current Works page). But now that I was returning to the west side mural site, I was confident of finishing the project by the beginning of November. And I would have done so if the program administrators had provided me with a little of the passion Chris had shown for the project. In fact, their non-actions created unnecessary delays that extended the project into the next year causing me to take over the entire project under Muralmaster. To help provide additional funding to cover the cost of assistants and mounting operational expenses, a small community group headed by Mrs. Gloria Ferris helped close the funding breach and assured the mural's completion. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The "tropical paradise mural" was painted for Mr. Nick America mostly on evenings and weekends during the first two weeks in July. Private commissions like this one helped pay for my expenses while continuing work on the project.

July 2013

              I was set to begin the first day in July. But a new storage pod needed to be rented out and delivered at the site and the scaffolding and supplies had to be moved in. To my chagrin, this took the entire month. I was counting weeks from July to early November to complete the project, with cushion of a week or so to account for bad weather delays. I could ill afford any major breaks on this timetable. Now my cushion was gone. I could still meet my deadline, but it was going to be close. By July 25th I was already at the shop working on layouts and by the 31st we began work at the site.

In addition to the day spent on the mural, I worked 4 to 6 hours each evening at a studio doing detailed large scale drawings for the transfers. I created over 200 cartoons for the east side and west side murals. This is a time consuming chore. The drawings have to be done to exact scale. You work every single day. If it rained at the work site you simply work longer at the shop. I paid shop expenses from my own pocket as this job could not have been possible with it.

Completed drawing gridded and ready for tracing. The grid lines will match the ones on the wall. I mark the contour in red for the first tracing. This is the area that will be rendered smooth with cement. The paper used is white "butcher paper", bought at restaurant supply stores. It comes in 36" wide rolls and is thick enough to withstand heavy handling.

This is a finished drawing rolled and identified for storage until needed. Large paper drawings are lined with masking tape around the edges to strengthen them. At the site the wind will rip them apart if this precaution is not taken.

A gridded color rendering of each building on the design is framed for easy viewing on the work site. The frame has to be heavy so that it does not fly off during a wind gust.

A supply and equipment list is prepared for each week's work. It pays handsomely to be organized. An apprentice is put in charge of keeping everything in its place.

Paints, equipment and supplies are stored on site. For the second season, a smaller pod was provided by a community agency. But this took several weeks to a accomplish since any money transfer by non-profit agencies is a process measured in weeks instead of days. But after the pod was delivered on Monday, July 15th, I had to wait two more weeks for my supplies and scaffolding to be transferred from the east side location to this site. This was a huge loss of time and income for me since I had cleared my schedule to commence immediately and let go another lucrative job. Why did it take two weeks to get my things from point A to point B? I still don't know the answer. What weighted heavily on me at the time was loosing an entire month of good weather.

Tower scaffolding is assembled and taken apart for storage each day. Doing this task is the equivalent of lifting weights twice daily, every day of the week. At the end of the day, muscle-sore and tired, we dreaded taking this cumbersome construct apart. Lifting sections high up to the third level was a dangerous job for only two workers (me with an injured back). Somehow Ric and I managed, but at a cost of cracked fingers and many bruises.

I had requested a scaffolding with 6 ft. planks instead of 9 ft. planks be delivered for the season. We did not have the manpower to safely manage heavier planks. I was assured a couple of times that my request had been passed along to the rental company. But when the scaffolding arrived, it was the one with 9ft. planks. When I contant the rental place, the owner told me he never got the request. He was a nice guy and straighten the thing that same day. But the fact that I was lied to didn't sit well with me. This lack of consideration became the norm.

On corporate jobs assistants are budgeted in and most of the time the scaffolding stays erected and in place for the duration of the project. But for this job we have no more student apprentices and no volunteers to help with the task. Worse, I could not hire anyone. The budget was peanut shells -and they didn't last long.

July 31st. I was back full-time for the season with Ric Owens as my assisting artist. I decided to start work on the farthest section of the mural, building 6, because it seem to me to be the most dangerous street corner and I wanted to get it done fast. This was also the most detailed and time consuming area of the mural and was wiser to get it out of the way while the weather good.

The paper cartoon was chalked, attached to the wall in the right coordinates, contour traced, then removed and the area rendered smooth with cement, primed twice, retraced again as a full drawing after attaching the paper drawing on the exact coordinates, then the chalk lines were inked and the base-colors blocked. That's a lot of work before doing any of the actual painting. Most of this work was mostly done by my trained assistants. Paint modeling was done by me on the entire mural.

This detail show a figure contour inked and ready for cement rendering.

All the figure contours were done on the top window. Notice the registration tapes left behind on the wall to match the drawings for the second tracing.

A grouping of figures for building 6 primed and ready for a second tracing. We could never get rid of all the mortar lines, but it was enough to make the painting work.

As cement dries it shrinks and mortar line become visible again. So you add a second layer. A third layer would have been nice. But this can be time consuming and I didn't have the resources. So we only did the bare minimum to make it work. Once painted, other than when hit by the sun at a low evening angle, the imperfections would become all but invisible.

August 2013

              August turned out to be a great month of good weather. But Ric and I thought we were going to get killed by incoming traffic. Our arrival at the site coincided with a street renovation project on that intersection and construction workers were jackhammering concrete sidewalks. The busy two lane street had been closed down to a bottleneck of one lane and maniacs were racing the one block stretch just to squeeze in before the next car. We moved a heavy concrete trash bin closer to our work space just to serve as a barrier between speeders and us. The dust and the noise were unbearable. Non-stop horns and sirens were a daily occurance. Add a burning sun to the mix and you get a small version of hell on earth. By day's end I was jittery and on edge.

              On another ocassion I almost did get killed by a shooting piece of 1 inch thick threaded rod. Had I been two foot to the right of my painting position, I would not be writing this entry today. A trailer truck tried to make the turn from West 25 into Clark Avenue when all the back wheels went over 4 thread rods with nuts extending from the sidewalk corner. These were there to secure new traffic light poles. The tires exploded in what sounded like four mortar rounds going off in succession. I reacted instinctively by hitting the ground as a piece of rod that had broken off hit the wall with a thud. It's always the unexpected that gets you.

              I managed to continue working by blocking out most of the noise with heavy duty ear mufflers. Then we tried to get out of that corner as soon as we could. In four decades of painting, I have already used most of my nine lives. No sense in tempting fate. By the end of August we managed to complete most of building 6, the most complex and detailed part of the mural. We also slowed traffic as the painting became the daily show. The public finally got a good idea of what was in store for them and they enthusiasticaly beeped their approval as each building section began to be transformed.

Background blocking completed.

Ric Owens retracing the cartoon on the wall. We go through a lot of pencils.

Once the drawing is traced, it is made permanent by going over the chalk lines with "ink" (dilluted paint).

Amanda Maldonado, now 18, came back to volunteer some of her time.

Lettering is a specialised skill. It takes patience and practice to do it right. I was glad to have Amanda do most of the lettering. I would latter correct the outline, but she did the bulk of the work by tracing and filling out the letters with two layers of paint.

This image shows Ric Owens rendering a figure with cement. The main concern was to keep the edges smooth to have a nice transition between the brick and the cement.

Most of the window figures on building 6 have been rendered and primed. The pores in the cement absorb a lot of paint. So a second application of primer is needed to seal them. Notice the registration marks on masking tape left in place for the second tracing.

Tracing a cartoon is not always perfect. So I use a reference image to make corrections as I inked details on the drawing.

The "father and son painting over graffiti" figures are completed. During the summer the wall absorbs sunlight and it heats up like an oven. The paint dries within a couple of minutes so you have to paint fast. Blending colors is hardly possible so you keep your paint thin and paint in layers using a lot of water to smooth the edges.

Detail of little kid painting. Young children emulate the habits of those around them. Learning how to take pride in doing good things has to be taught by example. This is my take on that. Now, look again at the image. Notice that what you hardly notice... is the concrete rendering. Without filling in the mortar lines between bricks, you could not work out this painting effect on the actual brick wall in so short a time.

This is how you paint in layers. First, you add a base color of opaque paint to skin areas making sure to thin the paint so that the inking is barely visible. You never want to loose your drawing.

Next, you "model" form over the base under-paint with highlights in a lighter value.

Lastly, you finish modeling the face with dark tones. In practice, the wall surface got so hot, that it was very difficult to blend the flesh tones to my satisfaction. On another day, when temperatures get lower, I will come back and do a better job with the shading.

I continue by "washing" the officer's uniform. The wash is a very thin application of paint to cover an area fast. The advantage of the wash over heavy opaque blocking is that the drawing is still visible through the paint.

The officer's uniform after modeling of lights and darks.

Detail of painting progression from an angle to avoid sun glare. From this point of view the color look richly saturated.

The remaining figures on building 6 are prepared for retracing. The name of the gallery comes from Bob Dylan's 'The times they are a-changin' lyrics.

Ric Owens admiring his handiwork. Notice that all the figures are life-size. I have to confess that doing this kind of "realistic painting" on a brick is not very... realistic. When the sun hits the wall at a sharp angle the brick lines become extremely distracting and the realistic effect is blown. For this reason, it is best to photograph a mural painted on brick when the day is cloudy because the cloud cover filters harsh sunlight.

August 8. Mural progression. I use reds and yellows mostly to attract the eye from one focus point to the next. No color is added by chance.

Detail of the Cleveland Browns football with the "Dawg" graphic. I figured the Browns could use the help to enlist new fans. But a more compelling reason for the creation of this tableau is the fact that a love of sports brings closer people of disparate backgrounds.

The intersecting space between the brick wall and the side walk is filled with concrete. To complete the illusion of reality, we were going to paint a portion of the sidewalk at the lower part of the mural. Filling the gap helped the transition blend better. The concrete also put an end to the problem of growing weeds.

August 12. Drawing of figures on building 6 completed.

August 12. Mural progression.

Detail, "Food Drive group". I was not pleased with the face of the little girl so I primed over the drawing to search for a better model. "Casting" faces is very important to convey meaning to a mural. Viewers need to relate to them.

Detail, "sweeping lady." The gallery sign on the door is finished and the base flesh color has been applied.

Detail of sign on second gallery door. Amanda paints the letters and I "cut" the surrounding space with black paint.

Blocking colors on the food drive sign.

Continuing group modeling.

Detail of Asian and Muslim neighborhood kids. I included them in the compostion to show the neighborhood's changing demographics. This was a first. After completing this section, several people came to me to thank me for including them in the mural.

Detail of "kid with football." In Cleveland, football is a religion. It crosses all social and cultural boundaries. In my work I try to find commonalities that brings us closer to each other.

August 21rst. Group completed. White police officers have it rough in a multicultural neighborhood. There are levels of distrust and misunderstanding creating constant friction. I believe you can't change old attitudes ingrained during a lifetime, but you can change young minds before prejudices and bigotry sets in.

I chose to represent a "white" police office like any regular guy, someone with interests and quirks just like the rest of us. Here he is sharing the glory days of the "dawg pound" with neighborhood kids. They found a common ground to break the barrier. The football analogy makes the image approachable. It needs no other words.

Food Drive sign in progress.

Elderly couple, under painting in progress. This used to be a German neighborhood many decades past. Some of these families still live in the neighborhood. I used this elderly couple to represent them. How do you know they are European immigrants? Simple. European ladies do their hair different than American ladies do. Also, they carry themselves with a certain Old World flair which I believe is capture in this portrait.

Mural progression.  Note how the original base red color has been adjusted to its right shade at the bottom. You always make color adjustments on location to account for actual lighting conditions.

Elderly couple in progress. I finished the faces and moved on to model the rest of the clothing. The elderly gentleman looks exactly like Bill Schenk, a German client I met when I first arrive to Cleveland. The funny thing about Bill was that his accent was worse than mine (back then I could barely speak English) but he could care less if people understood him or not. He just assume they would get him in time. So I followed his example.

Food Drive lady in progress. I do the under-painting in a very fast manner, again making sure I can still see the drawing beneath. I always start with the face because this is the most difficult part of the painting. I purposely selected a "traditionally built" beautiful lady for this image. I've known many of them but I've never seen them represented in other mural paintings. Well, here's another first, they deserve to be on my best mural!

August 17. Food Drive poster completed. Both Ric and Amanda worked on this painting blocking all the colors. Then I proceeded to outline in black.

The Cleveland Police Department has one of the worse websites in the country. There is not a single good picture of a police officer or uniform paraphernalia in the entire site! Fortunately, I couple of police officers stopped by the site and one of them was kind enough to pose for this shot of his sleeve patch. I have to congratulate him for being a brave soul -his girlfriend is an artist!

August 18nth. The cornice on building 6 is completed. This was the third and final attempt at dealing with a cornice design. The initial one was more detailed but got confused with the brickwork. So I kept simplifying to strike the correct balance. The initial red underpaint on the top brick has been replaced by the adjusted shade. Once completed, we proceeded to work on the windows.

Detail of Food Drive lady completed. She holds a donation check in her hand. The gallery patron looking out the window will be faded later on to achieve a more realistic look. The little girl's head is also finished and the sweeping lady is still being worked on. I tend to move from one figure to the next if I'm using the same color. This saves time.

Detail of elderly couple completed. This may sound silly, but it takes longer to decide what to put inside the basket than to paint it.

August 21rst. Mural progression.

"Dancing mother and daughter" completed. The dog also looks happy. A neighbor drove by with an identical dog looking out from his car window. He has told everyone to come by to check out his dog on the mural!

Detail of a happy home.

August 22nd. Rendering the barbershop group in building 5.

Barbershop group primed.

My charming wife, Nancy Anne Lewis-Rivera, stopped by to give a hand. She is a business lady and a Chef. But what many people do not know is that she is also a very accomplished display artist.

Tracing the barber's pole cartoon to the wall.

August 25. Continuing work on windows in building 6. The sign on the barbershop window is completed. The sidewalk color has been extended into the mural giving the figures a 3-dimensional look. I'm very pleased with the result. It took 4 mixing trials to get it right.

August 29. Top windows completed. Painting window shades at different levels makes the scene more interesting and dynamic.

Detail of the cat concentrating on his next meal. The cat represents me. While painting, I'm only concern with my next paycheck to pay the rent. My mind works very different than most people. I could care less about the world below me until my initial needs are met. In fact, I'm very cat-like in my personal inclinations. For the most part, I just mind my own business.

August 30th. After completing hightlights on the sweeping lady, I moved on to the little girl with the donation can.

Little girl completed. Later on I will add lettering to the can.

August 30th. Inking of the barbershop group completed.

August 30th. It had been a long day but the light was still good and I couldn't resist working the ninth hour and doing this hat. Like everything I do, there is a lot of meaning to this. This hat is worn by a proud veteran. He fought in the Korean War (see the batch) and he was wounded in action (see the Purple Heart bar). He served in the United States Army (notice the pin). He was part of the famed and highly decorated 65th Infantry Regiment (see the regiment's insignia shield). And he has friends missing in action (he wears a pin with the MIA symbol).

The fact that he served his country with distinction and is on a wheelchair does not diminish his dignity and pride, his love for his country, and his ability to live a full productive and happy life. I have family who have served in all US wars and many friends who still do so.

September 2013

              As work progressed on the wall, so did public interest. The local papels began to take notice as well as some bloggers. People were now stopping to say hi and take pictures. The pictures started to circulate, the mural became a topic of conversation in the community. They were very curious about the project. We always took time to speak with everyone -young, old, black, white, hispanic, asian, middle eastern, doctors, nurses, drug dealers, the homeless, the handicap, school teachers, students, suburbanites, addicts, drunks, city workers, bus drivers, construction workers, you name it, everyone had something to say. I mostly depended on Ric to be the PR guy. He was great at it. I think he could have run for councilman and won. A gentleman from the muslim community stop by to thank me for including a muslim kid in the painting. A lady from the asian community also voiced her delight by the inclusion of an asian girl. Others began to point out the inclusion of people in wheelchairs, a traditionally built woman, and elderly folks as well. They were all happy to see images of people that represented them or someone they knew.

              Text to be added later

Painting of the store awning in progress. Shadows to the middle cornice are also being added.

Store awning section completed.

Detail of the awning. The bricks are more noticeable when the sun hits the wall at a sharp angle.

Father and daugher.

Grandma watering flowers.

Top windows on building 5 inked and ready for painting.

Detail of mural progression.

Building 5 progression.

Barbershop sign base coat.

Scaffolding setup; painting window.

It is sunny and the wall is extremely hot. So am I.

Father and daughter completed.

Barbershop cat.

Sign completed.

Josh beginning to block base colors on the food items.

Starting the application of a "finish varnish." Notice the difference on the red brick (upper left) as the gloss varnish is being applied. The color becomes more rich and saturated. I decided to apply the varnish as soon as a section was completed to protect the wall surface from people touching the painting. The varnish would also set in place the thin and delicate layers of paint I have to use during modeling.

Food items are painted in base-colors. Details will be added freehand on subsequent layers.

Barbershop wall post in progress.

Working on grandma's window.

The Cleveland Police patch and the badge are painted. The number on the badge stands for 11-7, my birthday.

Barbershop sign completed. Clear glaze is applied on finished areas.

Gradma detail.

Barbershop door completed.

Detail of barber in progress.

Grandma finished. She represents a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. From her window she has seen it all, the good and the bad. But she still makes sure to care for her plants. She may not have the power to change all that needs fixing around her. But she has the power to make her window look beautiful. It's a small thing that we all can do beautify a neighborhood and brighten our days.

An avoidable crisis

              At the middle of September I had a big problem on my hands. Ric had not been paid in a month. He worked 6 days a week for long hours, got a stipend that was far less than minimum wage, and they could not pay him on time. I was livid. Every call we made was answered with the same excused: -"We sent the paperwork to the accountant, who only works on Thursdays." So Ric waited, and waited, then called again, and was played the same record. When Chris was in charge, we never had this issue. To resolve a problems he didn't make phone calls, he made house calls. And, he would personally deliver checks on time. When we needed materials, they would be there the next day. He wanted the murals finished and he knew how important time was. We needed to squeeze every hour of good weather that we could because you never knew when the weather was going to turn.

              But after Chris left for Palo Alto, we lost his driving force. We could gauge the level of interest of others by the number of visits to the mural site: none while I was there -seven days a week. To solve the problem I called for a meeting at the work site with Chris' replacement and her boss. This took a while since everyone seemed to be super busy. On the day of the scheduled meeting, September 27, no one showed up. By this point Ric had quit. Without him I could not continue because I could not do the scaffolding on my own. I didn't fault him; I would have done the same. So in the meantime, I was doing another job and took time out for this meeting.

              Later in the day I got an emailed appology -not an early phone call- to tell me that they couldn't make the meeting. I counted to 100 and then scheduled another meeting for the following week in October. When we finally met, I explained the problem and was assured me they would take care of Ric. This never happened. Having lost more time from my work timeline, I new that I might not be able to finish the job that year. So I made the following proposal: Take the remainder of the money that will be owed to me, and use it to pay for a couple of full time assistants and for acquiring another scafolding. This would allow more people to work simultaneously in two parts of the mural. I felt this was a win-win situation. I was told they would get back to me.

              In the end, Ric's check never came in the mail. So he took the iniciative and called the funding agency (the project was being funded by a grant). He talked directly to the director and picked up his check the next day. He called me, we talked, he was angry, I would be too. I asked him to come back, that I would pay him myself if this happened again. He did. Why couldn't these people do in over one month what Ric did with a phone call? Again, I have no answer. Words come to mind, but I'll keep them to myself. How would you feel? Because of this debacle, we lost another two weeks of excellent weather. This added to almost five valuable weeks -and a lot of agravation, wasted because of bureaucratic apathy.

Retired firefighter in progress. Cap completed.

Color wash being applied to figures.

Firefighter face and shirt completed.

Wheelchair in progress.

October 2013


Grand daughter being painted.

Lower part of wheelchair being painted.

Grand daugher completed.

Firefighter and grand daughter after a coat of clear finish.

Color blocking other figures.

Boy with glasses completed.

Old veteran's face completed. Modeling girls head.

Food items being painted.

I love doing detail work. I have reference pictures of each individual item. Then I freehand them one by one without any pre-drawing. It's a lot of fun. The small lettering is nothing more than a scribble, but these products so popular and well known, that our brains make it seem like legible words.

Girls face and hair completed. Clear glaze make the color and details on boths heads stand out.

Shirt detailed. Moving on to the tabletop.

Detail of painting progression.

Girl's top completed.

Amanda rubbing chalk to the back of paper sign.

Once in position, the outline is traced with a hard pencil. When the papel layout is remove, a chalk drawing is left on the surface.

Josh, looking like a matinée idol, tracing sign letters.

Amanda fills in the letters with green paint.

I'm outlining the letters. Lettering is an applied art that requires a lot of practice. With practice you become better and faster.

All in all, I hate doing lettering. It really takes a lot of patience to do.

Sign progression.

Ric had become a concrete expert.

Richard Owens filling appying a coat of smooth concrete to a window.

The first coat of concrete filled the mortal lines. The second -and third layer, would smooth the the section of bricks.

Detail of sign in progress and windows with concrete rendering.

While the assistants work on other sections, I concentrate on painting the section below the table.

Modelling completed.

October 16, mural progression. Buildings 5 and 6 completed. At this point we had a crisis. For two weeks the work stopped.

Nancy stopped by to inspect and give us a helping hand.

The designated area for Dr. Blank's sign was rendered in.

I marked areas that needed to be rendered in concrete. I decided to add mailboxed to the design on the walls next to the entrances. It seem like the right touch.

This October was colder, windier, and wetter than the previous year. So we tried to do as much as possible in between showers.

Amanda works fast trying to complete the priming of the upper windows before it rains.

Primer on the top windows dries in time before the rain hits.

We could not complete priming of bottom figures in time. The work was washed away by the rain.

Political poster is drawn and the letters are painted.

Poster progression.

Our drawing tracings are suffering from frozen fingers. Notice the uneven lines.

Figures on storefront of building one inked and ready for painting.

White background on Dr. Blank's sign receives two coats of paint.

Sign tracing completed. Amanda has the patience of biblical Job. It takes time to trace the lettering, especially when the weather is cold.

Signs are traced and penciled in on door sections.

Mailboxes are penciled in after rendering and priming.

The cold wind is hauling so we experimented by covering a section of scaffolding with a tarp. It helped but the wind was constantly changind directions, making us feel pretty miserable.

We work on blocking colors. Progress was slow.

A heat lamp helps to warm our hands.

Even at noon lighting was not the best, but shielded from the worse of the wind, underpainting could be done. I was comitted to finishing the mural by the end of November but the weather was against us.

Dealer underpainting detail.

Underpainting on dealer and addict completed.

The entrances offered protection from the wind so we concentrated on those areas.

We continued blocking color around the figures and letting Dr. Blank's sign.

Lettering is a bitch!

The rest of the figures on building 2 were traced in for cement rendering.

First layer of cement.

Rendering completed by the end of the day.

Runaway drawing tranfered and inked.

Homeless man and lettering transfered and inked.

70's politcal sign being color blocked. All political posters were identical, except for the coat's lapel and man's sideburns in this one. The point being made is that, no matter the time, some things never change much -like politicians.

Figures on top windows traced and inked.

Base coating being applied to lettering.

A powerful message to be read in a mirror.

At this stage I'm counting the days and cursing the weather forecast. Strong winds is making us feel like temperatures are in the 30s.

Entrance enclosure wall painted and ready for aging effect.

Shreds of political poster being color blocked.

Detail of political poster after color blocking.

View of work in progress.

The graffito on the left is my signature. Only my daughter Selina can reproduce it (she falsified many excuses for school).

Color blocking door lottery sign.

Detail of poster blocking.

Detail of runaway blocking.

The end of a day's work.

No one looks forward to breaking down the scaffolding. We are tire, cold, hungry and miserable.

Continuing work on top windows of the first building.

Dead plants window completed. This is a contrasting image to grandma's window on building 5. The dead plans are an allegory for the home. The glare of the empty tv screen in the background is life passing you by.

Working stiff window completed. He works two jobs, he comes home too tire to deal with family drama. Life is hard and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. So he medicates with cheap beer and flips channels. Tomorow, more of the same.

The label on the beer bottle reads -'juice'. This is what happens when you are tired of painting and burned out. You can't think straight.

Lonely boy window completed. Isolation, disconnection... we are becoming a voyourist society. Lethargy and apathy is viral in so many problem neighborhoods.

Texting girl window completed. Everyone is at the tip of her thumb, but she is the lonelies of all. Even the cat looks sad.

Second level of building 1 completed. Together these windows tell a powerful story that many passerby can relate to. It is a story repeated in many urban homes.

Store lighting seen through window panes painted and completed.

Detail of anarchist and elitist ready for color blocking.

Work progression, October 29.

October 29. The mural was tagged during the night. The graffiti was done by a young person who had just moved into the neigborhood. He will not be doing again. I will erase it later.

One of the many lovely views of the Cleveland skyline seen from the parking lot of my apartment building. More than ever, I wish I had my life back. This is a mayor reason to finish the mural as soon as possible.

November 2013

              Text to be added later

              Text to be added later

A very cold November morning. Ric is blocking the storefront window sections on building 2.

Ric is a morning person; I'm not. His great sense of humor and optimism has cheered me out greatly during some trying days on the job. I have always surrounded myself with talented and dedicated people who amuse me and make me laugh. This makes the work environment seem less like work and more like hanging out with your friends.

The one change I made in the mural was on building two. Instead of broken glass on the store windows, plywood seem upon reflection the natural thing to do. There are many storefronts covered with plywood in poor Cleveland neighborhoods. This is a sign of the times. As neighborhoods revitalised, plywood goes away.

Detail of plywood painting in progress.

Signs being blocked with opaque color.

70's poster being blocked.

Detail of painting progression on building 2.

Detail of mural progression, buildings 1 and 2.

Painting window shade detail.

Children being painted.

Detail of lettering.

Sign completed. You see it all the time. Every three months another business moves in to fail in short order. Only the signs remain.

Awning on building one completed. The address on the awning is the actual street address for the building.

Dr. Blank's sign, completed.

November 7, celebrating my 55th birthday after a long day of painting.

11-11-13 Detail, mural progression, night view

11-11-13 Detail, mural progression, night view

11-11-13 Detail, mural progression, evening view

Glass and aluminum door to Dr. Blanks office completed. You can do miracles with paint. We applied 4 coats of clear finish to protect the art for as long as possible.

This sign makes a statement. Inside the Ohio map reads: "What dreams are made of." Winning the lottery is the hope of the working poor -a fool's dream but still a dream.

Door detail.

The mail boxes where not in my original design. But they added a lot or realism to the artwork. Many are fooled by them.

Painting progression, building 1.

Painting small glass sections and wood framing under the awning.

Blocking American flag on the second door. Mail boxes have been inked on the right side wall and on the left the base color for a plywood panel has been painted. I decided to use this space to add the credits for the mural instead of waiting for someone to add a plaque.

Tracing the moon and hand. The large paper layouts were done on my shop's floor the night before. Because of their large scale, no concrete rendeing was done to this section. I would paint them in detail directly on the brick.

Amanda is a wonderful girl, full of cheer and kindness. The day is gloomy, humid, and very cold. I could barely stand straight because of the acute backpain from the night's work. But seeing her smile never failed to cheer me up.

Moon and hand inked in white paint.

Flag and door in progress.

Lettering completed. All the lettering on the mural come from the lyrics of this song by Bob Dylan. I feel it's message is a relevant today as it was back in the 60's.

Detail of arguing couple in progess.

The children of broken homes. While parents argue, children suffer. The little boy is crying and scared. His sister hides and shares her pain with you.

Detail of arguing couple. I wanted to represent the changing family demographics. This is an interratial couple, something we see more and more in our changing society. But divorce and the reasons that lead to it, are nothing new. The pain it causes and its lasting effects are the final result of the pressures suffered by desperate lives.

Painting progression of building 2.

Poster completed.

Detail of lettering.

My brother Ricky striking a commanding pose. I don't know what to think of the hat. Ricky was instrumental is providing me with studio space to do layouts and helping me out during the entire process. Whenever I needed a helping hand he was always there.

My charming wife Nancy ready to do some serious work early in the morning.

It looks like it's going to rain. We worked hard at securing the layouts into position and then tracing the drawings. The rolls of paper were joined into large sections with blue tape. Each section is then positioned in place, secured with strong "gorilla" tape, and the drawing traced to the wall. Before rolling the layout in the shop, I chalked the back of the layouts. We worked fast because the wind picked up (Murphy's Law). No sooner we had finished the tracing, gusts of strong wind ripped the paper off the wall.

Detail of inking. This was the last piece of the mural to be added.

Second recessed doorspace completed.

Second set of mailboxes completed.

Detail of finished door. The flag represents the fading american dream.

Clear plastic hand push plates were added to both doors.

Progression detail. Woodframes on lower sections are being painted.

Painting detail showing distressing on lower brick section.

11-20-13 Everyone thought I had gone crazy! To speed up the painting on that section, I glazed the section with a dark coating of finish and paint. I wanted to seal the brick pores even more and darken buildings 3 and 4 in one shot. Bystanders thought someone had burned the place -and they were mad! Fortunately, word kinda got around that this was an intentional part of the process.

We started to glaze color on the darken sections of building 4, but the freezing rain made it impossible to continue.

Detail of painting. Notice how the paint is being applied in a transparent manner to bring out some details of the building. Since the dark glaze I had applied made the wall surface somewhat "slippery", I was able to rapidly paint and blend color on large sections of wall.

11-25-13. This was the last painting we did for the year. When the paint froze in the cups we were holding, I told the crew to pack. We were done for the year. Winter had come earlier than the year before and bureaucratic apathy had robbed us 5 weeks of great weather. I never felt so low and angry during the entire project as I felt right there and then.

May 2014

              Text to be added later

              Text to be added later

The elitist and the anarchist. I added 'free donuts' to the sign when it occurred to me that the best attended meetings I' ve been to were those where donuts were served. The 'sale' sign is significant. What is for sale? Within the context of the tableau of a community meeting, every group has an agenda not in the best interest of the community or there is someone representing someone with an agenda. Truth, integrity, honesty -these are some of the things that sometimes are invariably bargained to the highest bidder or given away for the wrong reasons.

The elitist believes that their way of thinking is superior and they should decide for other people, while the anarchist is against the " establishment". Notice the T-shirt with the image of revolutionary "Che" Guevara. This is one of the most iconic images in the world. It has become a symbol of dissent for the underdog, of civil disobedience, or political awareness. When using people as representation of ideals or stereotypes, I cast the faces with the care one gives to actors in a play. What they were is just as important. The intention is that the viewer recognize them at a glance.

The discontent and the ultra-conservative completed. The lines on placard above them come from the lyrics in "The times they are a-changin." These two characters represent groups less likely to accept change.

My son Alex became my assistant during this period. At 6'4", he was handy to have around.

At some point, my legs were becoming as famous as the mural.

My ear mufflers and I had become inseparable. Because of the glare, most of the time I'm painting blind. I can't see what I'm doing. This meant that I had to go across the street everytime I needed to check things out.

For most of the day, the sun came at us at a sharp angle. This acentuated every brick line and every bump on the wall making it very difficult to appreciate the painting head on.

5-26-14. The "flowering beam" is finished.

The public finally got to see the title. By the comments we received, I felt gratified that people got it! Many confessed to being moved by the message. For me, this is how I judge myself as an artist. It means I was able to use the right imagery to sucessfully communicate with my audience.

Works on the arms progresses very fast.

5-30-14. The arms are completed. They represent racial diversity in a community working together to "raise the barn". In doing so they have trully become "the people". The dead wood has become alive; it's sprouting new leaves. This is also a sign of growth. The beam, the life burdens will all carry, become lighter by the inclusion of all. But the decision to join in has to be made as an individual. "It's up to us -the people" to make it work by taking action in the selfless act of cooperation and sacrifice. .

As soon as a section was completed, we applied a coating of protective finish. Being so close to completion, I didn't want to take any chances.

5-30-14. My son, John Alexander Rivera-Espendez.

5-31-14. Underpainting the little boy.

June 2014

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              Text to be added later

6-1-14. "I promise to" poster completed. Moving on to the lower panels. These were "distressed" by showing paint peeling and falling away.

Detail of building one progression.

The little boy after modeling coat. He wears a little league shirt. This represents an ideal -a better future. One that turns its back to what has been and looks up toward what could be.

6-3-14. Mural progression to date. An overcast day when the harsh sunlight is difused by a cloud covering, is ideal to appreciate the painting. Seen under this filtered light, the illusion looks real.

I named him Charlie. Life has dealt him a lemon and a hard piece of bread. I got to know four "Charlies" during the time it took to do the mural. They showed up mostly on weekends and stopped to see me paint. One of them was more cultured and erudite than most art critics I read about. While interning in Washington DC, I had done a study of the city's homeless, talking to many of them and listening to their stories. It breaks your heart seeing how people ignore them like pariahs. This is why I wrote the graffiti above him (mirror image)-"I'm a human being". Anyone who brings up a mirror to read the inscription will see their own image next to Charlie and hopefully notice him as a member of the community, worthy of our attention and care.

Mural progression. Hand and moon underpainting, distressing upper part of building 2.

I decided on making the deterioration of building 2 more dramatic. It represents the breakdown of a family and the scars needed to be prominent. Paint is peeling off the brick wall and the concrete window frame.

6-10-14. Mural progression. All surface textures on building 2 completed. Hand and moon are modeled.

Detail of hand and moon before adding highlights. Discotheque sign completed.

6-16-14. Hand and moon completed; couple arguing completed, highlights on boy's face completed.

Mural progression, west to east view.

Mural progression, east to west view.

6-18-14. Barbershop cat completed. He is waiting for someone to open the door.

16-18-14. Lettering on food drive sign completed.

It took me until the end of the project to come up with the right words to put on this sign.

6-18-14. I finally got around to painting the jeans on this girl.

6-18-14. Runaway girl in progress. I made sure her garments looked a size too big to emphasize her frailty and youth. She is almost a woman but still a child.

Detail. I wanted her to have the strong features of a Native American girl I once knew. This face shows beauty, inner strength and the courage you must have to run away from a home with a history of abuse.

6-19-14. Runaway girl completed. The torn poster behind her represents the system that failed her. This tableau needs no words.

6-19-14. The mural credits were painted into the mural. The dedication reads: "This mural is dedicated to Chris Luciani. His vision and tireless effort made this gift to the neighborhood a reality."

6-20-14. At intervals along the sidewalk we added the following inscription in English and Spanish: "Please do not touch the painting." Hopefully people will notice and pass the word around.

6-20-14. Late afternoon on Friday of that week, I went began painting the last two figures in the mural. I got a little bit of shade from that sun at that hour which made things cool enough to be able to blend colors. The finished them the next day.

6-21-14. It was a hot Saturday afternoon when I put my brush down for the last time. The dealer and addict were completed.

6-21-14 The mural is finished; I'm free at last.

"It's Up To Us" -completed mural, Saturday June 21, 2014

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