quote: I couldn't stand it when people called me 'el pintor' -the painter.
                    for that matter, I still can't stand getting paint on my hands. -John on being an artist






"It's up to us" mural
Location: At the intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street in Cleveland, Ohio USA


John Rivera-Resto, December 2019.

Painting this mural project was a huge and very difficult task. It took over two years to complete amid a sea of problems and controversy, funding shortages, bureaucratic ineptitude, a harsh working environment, and great physical discomfort. This is the story of the creation of this mural, named by Scene Magazine: Cleveland's Public Art of the Year 2015, by Freshwater Cleveland: one of the 12 most instagrammable spots in Cleveland, a Cleveland landmark by Cleveland.com, and the artist who was honored by the Cleveland City Council with a Neighborhood Improvement Award.


Painters and aspiring muralists may consider this narrative a master-class in mural painting. Every step of the way was documented with photographs. Civic leaders, organizations and potential patrons wanting this type of art, may consider the narrative a road-map for the planning, funding and execution of a large scale public art project. Art lovers and critics may consider how their warm romantic notions of creating art are cold-showered by the harsh reality of the many twists, turns and the behind-the-scene drama that occurred on a daily basis.


But I believe all will be entertained by the narrative. It's a good story filled with a myriad of characters: a visionary public servant, a group of young, idealistic, and motivated students; a neighborhood wearing of public stereotypical perceptions, individuals wanting to inject their political views into the graphic, apathetic public servants, vocal residents who both praise and malign the story being told, and a very reluctant artist dealing with the issues while cursing every step of the way.


In the end, it's my story; I'm the story teller. So I'm ultimately responsible for all its shortcomings. My memories are colored by my own biases and moods. But time has made me wiser. Since the beginning of the project, I had seven years to ponder its outcome and reach some conclusions. So while not taking the edge off some observations (that's just not my style), I will try to dealt more on the motivations, intentions, and expectations of the participants; not just the outcome. Enjoy.


A final word, you can dispense the reading by simply following the sequence of photographs. They are in chronological order and the captions below each image will give you enough information to follow the painting's progression. But if you seek knowledge about the finer details of the craft, as well as a deeper understanding of what really goes on behind the scenes, that is to say -"to see things like a muralist and not a spectator", do the reading too.



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Muralist John Rivera-Resto -Muralmaster's "Dictator-in-Chief", at the It's up to us mural site, at the corner of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street, in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. -July 19, 2012.





The News Summary

Weeks before the anticipated completion of the mural, on a very cold and windy autumn day, Channel 5 News 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 before diving into the reading below. Just click on the video play button below to link you to video page. In addition, I also included the video of the extended interview on the same page. After seeing the videos, now with a good idea of what to expect, please comeback to enjoy the reading.



multimedia journalist brian archer


Just the facts

Work on the It's up to us mural project began in March 2012, and location work in July 2012. Completion was projected by the end of fall that same year. But painting was postponed due to unusual bad weather and crew scheduling problems until it was resumed in July 2013. Man-made delays and the early arrival of winter weather in the fall of 2013 again postponed the completion of the mural until June of 2014. A detailed account of the project's progression is given in the photographic record below.



computer rendering of the it's up to us mural design

The visionary public servant who started it all. Christopher "Chris" Luciani at a Ronald McDonald House event, September 2012.

This public arts project began as a collaboration between 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), and muralist John Rivera-Resto. 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. However, for 2012, a new approach was adopted for the program.



computer rendering of the it's up to us mural design
Computer rendering of the design for the It's up to us mural, on Cleveland's west side, May 2012.

Wanting to emulate some of the magnificent public murals done in other cities, Chris and John decided to "raise the bar" -way high, and produce murals of professional quality and content instead of work limited by high school-age student's artistic abilities. To accomplish this goal, a two-phase approach was adopted. For the initial phase, trained student's would complete the "under-paint" stages of the mural, and for the second phase, the artist and professional assistants would do all the finishing touches.



computer rendering of the world of sweat and steel mural design
Computer rendering of the design for A world of sweat and steel mural, on Cleveland's east side, May 2012.

To prepare the students, John designed and conducted a training curriculum in mural painting. Two groups of fifteen individually selected students from the Cleveland Public School System, ages ranging from fourteen to eighteen, trained for three months prior to the commencement of site work to prepare them for their role. Two mural designs, both created by John, one for Cleveland's east side and one for the west side, were to be painted simultaneously with the assistance of the new apprentices and a few adult supervisors from the city's Cultural Arts Department.



computer rendering of the world of sweat and steel mural design

Chris Luciani with students at the west side class, located in Cleveland's Cudell Recreation Center.

Funding for the project was primarily provide from outside sources. Chris applied to several grant programs and did all the leg work. He also allocated space at one of the city's recreational centers to host classes for the westside group, and made arrangements with the Cleveland Boys & Girls Club to provided space for the second group -the eastside group. Additional funding for the students was provided by a Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U), a nonprofit workforce development organization based in Cleveland, Ohio that serves teens and young adults ages 14-24 living in economically distressed areas.



computer rendering of the world of sweat and steel mural design

John Rivera-Resto setting up the day's Powerpoint presentation for the west side class.

In the end, as working arrangements fell apart and the timeline had to be extended, John broke his relationship with the city and completed the mural using the resources of his own company, Muralmaster, as well as funding raised by the local community. The mural on Cleveland's eastside, titled "A world of sweat and steel", was abandoned only weeks from completion (read about in the Murals page), and the westside mural, titled "It's up to us", was completed in June 21st, 2014. These are the bare facts, and now to John's personal recollections of the project.



The Beginning of a Friendship

The hot summer of 2001 found me perspiring profusely atop a scaffold painting a ceiling mural at the Gordon Square Theater. One morning, before leaving home to work on the project, I got a call from Christopher Luciani. Chris told me he worked for "the city" and had created a program called "Mural my Neighborhood" which employed teenage students during the summer school break. He had heard about me and wanted to know if I was working on a mural project where he could bring the kids on a field trip. I told him he I was working at the Gordon and we set a day for a visit for the following week.



john rivera-resto painting the gordon square theater ceiling mural

In 2001, John was painting the ceiling of the Gordon Square Theater lobby when Chris brought his students from the Mural My Neighborhood Program for a site visit. After the presentation, Chris confided in John his dream of producing professional quality murals and a promise to meet again if he could work out the financing for such a project. It took him 10 years to do so.

I prepared a PowerPoint presentation with a collection of some of my mural works and a few personal photos I felt the kids would find interesting. I know from experience that people are interested in how artists work and make a living as much as they are in seeing their work, if not more. Chris brought about 20 kids with him and we had a good time during their visit. Seeing a mural painting in progress is a fascinating thing to see. The fact that I had started my career when I was not much older than they were generated a lot of questions and really peaked their curiosity. If I did it they could do it too!



john rivera-resto painting the gordon square theater ceiling mural

The skills to create traditional "high-end" murals require years of practice and training. Very few schools are dedicated to teaching this ancient art so muralists tend to be self-educated in the craft or former apprentices of professional muralists.

At the end of the presentation Chris and I had a chance to talk aside for a few minutes about his big dream of creating great mural works around the city. He asked me what would it take for me to get involved in such a venture but I replied that what he was envisioning was professional work that required trained artists, adequate funding, and strong backing at the top to cut through the reams of red tape that you invariably encounter doing public art.



John-Rivera-Resto-at-the-completion-of-the-Gordon-Square-Theatre-mural,-2004

By the time I completed the ceiling mural at the Gordon Square Theater in Cleveland, my hair had grown back to its full length. This photograph was taken at the site a year after the Mural My Neighborhood group site visit, which was followed by the tragic events of September 11, 2001 two months after. There was a sense of pessimism in the air that also affected me. I lost all interest in painting.

As Chris mentally digested this, I further added that you could not do "high-end murals" with teenagers. It took years of practice to develop the necessary painting skills. But instead of dampening his visionary spirit, he seem invigorated by the challenge. He then retorted: -"If I can get the funding and work out the details, would you be interested?" I stared at him for a few seconds. Then with a slow thoughtful nod I replied: -"I might, we would talk about it then." He smiled from ear to ear, we shook hands, the deal was sealed, and I went up the scaffold to continue painting, perhaps a little sad for Chris knowing how slim his chances were. But call back he did -and it only took him ten years.



Mural my Neighborhood Program

It's November of 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. Winter is about to set in and I couldn't wait till the first week of December to visit my parents on the island of Puerto Rico. This was my yearly pilgrimage to the land of my family and my wife Nancy loved it even more than I. This was our escape from the cold and gray Cleveland weather to the warm and radiant colors of the tropics. We had just celebrated our second wedding anniversary and life was good. It had been a productive year for me with several interesting projects under my belt (see the Artworks by Year page), so until our departure date, I was in a blissful state playing video games, sitting back and enjoying a long rest. That's when Chris called me to schedule a meeting.



the cudell fine arts and recreational center

Our initial meeting took place at the Cudell Fine Arts and Recreational Center located on Cleveland's west side. Cudell grabbed national headlines as the site of the Tamir Rice tragic shooting on November 22, 2014.

Chris' office was located in the Cudell Recreation and Fine Arts Center on Cleveland's westside. Note: This meeting took place a few years before the Cudell Center grabbed national headlines. On 22 November 2014, the 12-year old African-American Tamir Rice was shot by 26-year-old police officer Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland, Ohio, on the playground of the Cudell Recreational and Fine Arts Center. At his office, Chris showed me photos of murals created under the Mural my Neighborhood Program. Taking into account that they had been done by teenagers with little or no art training, I thought they were pretty good. If you keep things simple and basically followed a "coloring book" approach, with the right instructional guidance, you can end up with good looking art works, especially noticeable in drab urban areas. But the mural's subject limitations were also what you would expect of teenagers with little or no art training.



mural-my-neighborhood-program,-cleveland,-ohio--mural-sample-1

Mural My Neighborhood Program. Mural created by students at the Cudell Recreational Center, Cleveland, Ohio USA, 2006.

Murals, especially those that follow the narrative tradition perfected by the Italian Renaissance masters, tell stories and have deeper meanings that captivate viewers in an engaging manner. They are beautifully rendered and also serve a decorative function. But the focus of these works is not their artistic value, but rather the subject matter of the narrative they illustrate. Imagery in fact takes a back seat to story telling. This level of cognitive and emotional engagement is what makes them memorable. These murals were created to communicate first but also to delight the eye in the process. That's what great muralists did and this is the kind of art I like to do.



mural-my-neighborhood-program,-cleveland,-ohio--mural-sample-2

Mural My Neighborhood Program. Another example of a mural created by students, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

After telling me more about the Mural my Neiborhood highlights, Chris opened his desk drawer and pulled out a few color copies of murals done in other cities in the United States. As he showed them to me he talked about what he particularly enjoyed from each mural. I listened with interest while pondering where the conversation was heading though I could make a good guess. It was obvious he wanted to take the Mural my Neiborhood a step further, but I knew this was not going to happen without a new approach for the program.



common-threads-mural,-city-of-philaderphia,-google-image

Common Threads, by Meg Saligman. Broad & Spring Garden Streets, Philadelphia, USA. Eight storeys' high, Common Threads features characters based on antique figurines owned by the artist's grandmother, with students from two area high schools mirroring their poses. The iconic mural, which was created in 1998-99, reflects the common threads that link us across cultures and across time. Google Maps Image.

Public murals done in other cities, especially many prominent ones done in Philadelphia or Los Angeles, were run through local government programs or business support, and had been done by experienced professional artists, not by inexperienced amateurs. But I have discovered that many people believe that a child whose work is prominently displayed on the kitchen's refrigerator make them instant Michelangelos. They are clueless of what it takes to do a large scale painting, the cost, the discipline, the hard work and the dangers of working high above the ground.



Gateway-to-the-San-Gabriel-Valley-by-Art-Mortimer-(2011)

Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley by Art Mortimer, 2011. 569 E. Mission Road, Alhambra, California, USA. Art Mortimer is a prolific artist from Long Beach, California, considered one of the originators of the mural movement in Los Angeles.

I listened patiently until Chris finally made his proposal: he wanted me to be in charge of the projects for 2012. He wanted to replicate what other cities had done. His idea was to do two memorable murals for the season, one on Cleveland's east side and one on the west side part of town. In preparation he had already secured a couple of grants to cover expenses and artist's fee. He would also use other resources available to him through the city's recreation department, such as classroom space, some art supplies as well as adult supervisors already employed by the rec centers. The students would be paid through another non-profit youth employment program called Youth Opportunities Unlimited.



parent's meeting at the cudell fine arts center

The student's parents were invited to a meeting at Cudell to discuss the program. Sixteen students were enrolled for the west side group and we wanted the parents to know what we intended to do. This was important because all the students were teenagers, the youngest being thirteen years old. The response was very positive and I got to know some of them well during the course of the project.

All this sounded good -in theory, but the monies from the grants amounted to less then what it would take to paint even one mural. At this stage there was not even an idea of what the murals would look like, or walls to paint them on, so there was no way to accurately make a cost estimate. But based on what had been done before, I was pretty sure the numbers wouldn't add up. For the kind of murals that had been done before, the resources sounded lavish by comparison, but for the type of murals we were envisioning, it was woefully inadequate.



east side mural class

The "east side" class learning how to do a "grid" drawing. The students were taught the skills needed to do the first half of the painting process: equipment and material setup and handling, safety, wall preparation, design transfer, and the application of base colors.

But what made me even more hesitant was the idea of working with teenagers. I had done that before (see "Mural History of the Puerto Rican People" in 'the Murals' page) and understood clearly the limitations of such an arrangement on a high end project. First, when you work with teenagers you do not paint, you supervise -all the time. You have to instruct them on everything and make sure they follow through. It takes ten times more time to explain things to someone and guide them through the process (and make corrections) than simply taking up a brush and doing it yourself.



mural painting class curriculum

In addition to drawing and painting exercises, the students were taught basic art theory (color, perspective, optics) and given a historical background on mural painting.

Secondly, maintaining good discipline is a problem. For me a job is a deadline to be met and the finished product has to look great. For youngsters, painting a mural it's a fun summer "arts and crafts" group project with emphasis on having fun, which leads to not being able to accomplish much. And in the age of cell phones, you are lucky if you get five minutes of work before they are texting for ten. Thirdly, even if they had any experiences painting canvases, this is basically useless when painting on a large scale. Bottom line, teenagers are not trained or experienced painters so their usefulness is very limited to me. To put it in even blunter terms: a group of teenagers on a professional mural site is a hindrance.



Gateway-to-the-San-Gabriel-Valley-by-Art-Mortimer-(2011)

Before the design was conceived, Chris had been searching for a wall. When you mention teenagers and painting, property owners think graffiti. So it took a while to find the right wall and negotiate with the owner to allow the use of wall.

You probably think I'm a pessimist at best or a heartless bastard at worse, denying young minds the opportunity to develop and nurture their innate god-given artistic talent. That I should have more faith in the youth of tomorrow and that I may learn a thing or two from the experience, like having more empathy for the potential geniuses of the future (because one never knows), and so forth. I heard all that rot from well-meaning people who have not a clue about mural painting. So I will put you in my position by explaining things in a way you can easily understand: Imagine you have to undergo brain surgery. Now, would you let a group of teenagers assist the surgeon operating on your brain just because they know how to apply band aids? I rest my case.



Gateway-to-the-San-Gabriel-Valley-by-Art-Mortimer-(2011)

Chris secured a wall at a prime location on the corner of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street on Cleveland's west side. It was almost 2000 square foot -18 feet high -a street block. The wall was a recent brick facade construction that joined several buildings that served as doctor's offices into one single complex. But it was not perfect. I had two working entrances going through them.

I explained my reasoning to Chris and made a few suggestions on how to tweak on the program's achievement to streamline some areas on the painting process. My intention was to wish him luck and move on. I told him he could call me at anytime for consultation on any other issue. But Chris would not be dissuade that easily. He lean back on his chair, took a few seconds to organize his thoughts, and then said: -"What can we do to make this work?" Now, that was the challenge... and that's how he got me. He threw down the gauntlet and I could not resist solving the puzzle. In short, painting another mural was not the attraction; finding a way to get it done in spectacular fashion with what we had was what attracted me.



power washing the wall)

On July 19, 2012 -one month behind schedule, location work began. The first order of business, scrub and power wash the wall. Because it paralleled a busy street, the wall was dirty with oily soot and grime. It had to be hand-scrubbed with strong detergent and throughly rinsed.

I was hooked, but I did not dive into a full commitment just there and then. I responded: -"Give me a week and I'll get back to you. I need to think this through." This was good enough for Chris. He let loose one of his hackle laughts, we shook hands, I was on my way. From the moment I left Chris' office I was turning things in my head. But no matter how I turned it, I always reached the same conclusion: I could not paint a mural using teenagers in the way it had been done before. Maybe some other artist could, but not me. Nor for that matter did I welcome the misery. The Mural my Neighborhood Mural Program would be fine without me.



A New Model for Mural Painting

Same as any complex task, painting murals requires careful planning and preparation. It is a progression of steps where each step builds upon the previous one until one reaches the end. These steps are not something that begin when you paint a mural. They were in fact started thousands of years before at the dawn of civilization and we muralists have been climbing them ever since. This is so because mural painting is a derivative process, which builds upon the advancements, methods and techniques of previous painters who labored on the caves of Altamira, the streets of Babylon, the tombs of Egypt, the great temples of Greece and Rome, to the magnificent palaces of the Italian Renaissance. There is nothing in mural painting today that has not been done before. What we do today is to simply tell the same stories in a different way.



sample clay brick textures

Bricks surfaces vary greatly from smooth to rough to pitted. A smooth surface would had been ideal to paint the mural, but the brick used to build the wall was the pitted kind. This presented a major problem, which was, pitted brick eats brush bristles like sandpaper. Also, it takes more paint to achieve an uniform surface on this type of brick.

Each generation of mural painters create stories according to the perspective of their time. This keeps the telling fresh, alive and relevant to new audiences. But mural painting methods and techniques have hardly change at all. The process for planing and executing a mural is still the same as the first ones done in antiquity. First, you visualize your mural design by creating a rendering called "a cartoon". This is your blueprint for the finished mural. Then you find a suitable location for the mural and erect ladders or scaffolds to reach the entire wall.



page under construction graphic

Materials and equipment were kept in a storage pod. Water buckets were filled every morning at a sink in the employee lounge inside the building since there was no other suitable tap to attach a hose. The average water consumption was five buckets a day.

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power washing the wall)

Chip brushes or "China brushes" have natural China bristles (hog hairs from China), with wood handles set in epoxy. They are not meant for painting, but for dusting, cleaning, or for applying stains, solvents or glues. But they can also be an inexpensive and expendable solution to the application of primers and base underpaint.

Next, the wall is washed to remove impurities and loose material, and a coating of a primer color is applied to seal the surface and make it uniform. Once the wall has been prepared -"prep", the cartoon is transferred to scale on the wall through one of various methods. Finally, the designed is painted by first blocking large areas of color and then detailing them with different brush sizes. Lastly, a clear protective finished may be applied to extend the life of the mural.



priming the brick wall

July 19, 2012. Students begin priming the brick wall.

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july 19, 2012, priming the brick wall

Primer was applied using heavy rollers and brushes. A team of students worked the ground level, and two other teams work the middle and top of the wall from a scaffold. Another team kept them supplied and helped move the scaffold along.

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students painting from the scaffold

Teenagers had fun working in small groups. Some got creative. Others liked waving at every passing car who never fail to beep the horns. As time went by, the beeping got out of hand as drivers expected to be acknowledge with a thumbs up or they would get mad. So John assigned a student to smile and wave back and give them the thumbs up.

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youth supervisor richard owens

Looking down from atop a scaffold can be unnerving to some with fear of heights. Richard "Ric" Owens, youth supervisor and John's right-hand-man made sure all safety rules were followed. He also kept eyes on everyone and everything on the busy street.

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page under construction graphic

Chamar Bright, 15, and Joshua "Josh" Serrano, 17, enjoyed working on the top level. Only those comfortable operating at the top were allowed to do so. Not everyone could. As an additional safety measure, cell phones were prohibited on the scaffold.

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page under construction graphic

Work progressed in slow methodical fashion. Virgin brick absorbs a lot of paint and the heat dries up the outer bristles of a brush. This makes brush work harder so the bristles have to be rinsed clean every 15 minutes. Notice student with sun hat waving at traffic.

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wall priming in progress

July 20, 2012. Priming continues. Water-base paints and primers (also known 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.

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wall priming completed

Wall priming was completed on the second day of work. This was the easiest part of the project but an important one. It allowed the students the opportunity to put into practice what they had trained for and also help make adjustments to the daily work process.

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the tubular scaffold

Three levels of tower scaffolding were assembled and taken apart for storage each day. The planks were 9-feet long. Doing this task was the equivalent of lifting weights twice daily, every day of work. At the end of the day, muscle-sore and tired, everyone dreaded taking the cumbersome construct apart.

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thalia fomby

Thalia Fomby, 15.

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yanna-morgan

Yanna Morgan, 16.

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jacob-buntyn

Jacob Buntyn, 15.

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amanda-maldonado

Amanda Maldonado, 16.

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joshua-serrano

Joshua Serrano, 17.

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thalia-fomby-and-shamyra-johnson

Thalia and Shamyra "Peaches" Johnson, 15.

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gabriel-pichardo

Gabriel Pichardo, 14.

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Margaux May, 14.

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Chamar Bright, 15.

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victoria velez

Victoria Velez, 17.

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ric-owens,-victoria-velez,-amanda-maldonado

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.

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john-rivera-resto,-53,-8-3-12

John Rivera-Resto, "Dictator-in-Chief", 53. When working with young apprentices on a large project, I don't paint; I supervise and instruct. It is not until much later, when all the underpainting is done, that I have the luxury of being able to concentrate on taking over the brush. Painting a traditional mural great concentration and attention to detail -you have no time for distractions. The finished product has to be identical or better than the original design rendering.

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gridded design

The next stage after "prepping" is transferring the design to the wall. The scaled design corresponds exactly to the wall dimensions. The gridded rendering becomes "the bible" of the project until all the elements in the mural are drawn exactly to scale on the wall. Not all elements of the design are drawn at once. They are added in layers after large sections of the wall are painted in uniform colors.

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measurements-diagram

Measurements diagram made from the gridded design rendering. This was then reproduced to scale on the wall by the apprentices.

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transfering the design to the wall

Carpenter and water levels were used to assure the perfect alignment of all vertical and horizontal lines. Shapes were drawn with rulers and chalk. Large areas were then contoured with masking tape for painting.

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color chart for mural design

Paints were supplied by the Sherwin Williams Company. I pre-selected exterior grade colors with a flat finish. Since exterior paints tend to have a limited color range, I mix and combine them with Artist Acrylics to achieve the desire color saturation needed in the final detailing. Once completed, the mural would be coated with 'Liquitex Gloss finish', a water-base synthetic varnish that provides resistance againts humidity, the heat, and ultraviolet light. The 100% acrylic polymer varnish is flexible and non-yellowing when dry, non toxic and it greatly increases depth and color intensity. The end result is a more color-stable and durable mural.

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blocking sections of the mural

The second phase of the project was marking large shapes for coloring -a process we call "blocking". Our measurement rulers consisted of blue painters tape with marks every twelve inches. The tape was attached along the entire length of the wall. Another tape provided vertical measurements. The combination of the vertical and horizontal tape rulers provided us with the coordinates need to reconstruct the drawings from the gridded design and for the latter placement of paper layouts. The main advantage of using tape rulers is that you can remove sections to paint over an area and then place it back.

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gabriel pichardo color blocking

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

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blocking-stores-1"

August 3, 2012. After drawing each of the six building facades, we proceeded to paint them in their corresponding base colors. Other large area shapes in the design, such as awnings, store signs, and window openings, were also marked and blocked during this stage.

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blocking-stores-3,

In spite of it's simplicity, 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 straight and leveled. The successful placement of subsequent layers and elements depends on the perfection of this stage.

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blocking-progression

August 4 work progression. Some colors required two coats to achieve proper coverage.

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mural-progression,-8-16-12

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 the second group of apprentices. See "A world of sweat and steel" in the Murals page for pictures and commentary on this mural project.

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mural-progression,-8-18-12

August 16. Heavy rains during working days further delayed work progress.

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mural-progression,-8-23-12

August 18. Completion of the project's first phase: blocking the buildings. This was the end of the Neighborhood Mural Program student involvement. A few of the students returned 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 dedicated my full-time effort to the mural being painted on the city's east side. But the public thought this was the finished mural -and they were happy with it!

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mural reflection on storefront windows across the street

An unexpected discovery was seeing how good the wall looked in the storefront glass reflection across the street.

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beginning to add building details

The next step was to add layers of architectural detail one building at a time. The wall's bricks were incorporated as far as posible into the painting.

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painted cornice detail

Detail of the painted cornice on building 1. A cornice is the horizontal decorative molding that crowns a building, the top or a door or a window. Painting was generally done top to bottom to avoid paint drips falling of finished areas. Due to strongs winds, paint splatter is an inconvenience of outdoor painting.

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distressing brickwork

The bricks were painted with slight tonal variations that added richness to the architecture. The design called for each building to have its own personality and to represent the pulse of the community across a timeline. Paints used on successive layers were mixed from the base colors on design palette and packed in sealed plastic containers.

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building 1 facade detail

After the bricks were painted in tonal variations, they were further "distressed" -made to look weathered and aged, using thin washes of paint. Chip brushes proved to be ideal for this job. The brick surface "shaved" the brush bristles away quickly. But we had bought these brushes by the dozen for less than a dollar each. They really helped us stay within budget all the way to the end of the project.

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painting lower storefront panels on building 1

While the brick on building 1 was being painted and distressed, apprentice Amanda Maldonado worked on the storefront panels. She volunteered her time after school and demonstrated great skill and patience for painting outlines. Panels of dense foam were used to sit or kneel on while working on near the ground sections.

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brickwork and panels detail

Detail of brickwork and storefront panels. Later on, I decided to redo the panels with another design that added a richer layer to the painted narrative. This was one of those rare instances when I make changes to a design.

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painting window corbels

Corbels (brackets to carry weight) being painted to "support" the heavy window sills. Eventhough these are painted architectural elements, we treat them as the real thing. In fact, all our architectural references came from existing buildings in the area.

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finished corbel detail

Detail of a finished corbel. The painting of many elements had to be simplified so that they would give an illusion of reality without having to paint much detail. This was necessary because the brick lines destroyed the illusion when the scale of the details was too small.

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building 1 detailing progression

Building 1 is looking fantastic. The shadows cast by street light poles add another level of realism.

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real cast street shadows on the wall add realism

September 14, 2012. Work on building 1 continued and was finished the next day. At this point this worksite was closed. The storage pod was emptied and the supplies were taken to the east side mural location. Then the rented pod and scaffold were returned.

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ric owens and tatoo artist craig wilson

Since the student apprentices have left and returned to school, a few volunteers came in to fill the gaps. One of them was Craig Wilson, a tatoo artist with a permanent smile and a sunny disposition. Ric Owens was the only paid assistant during the entire project on both mural locations and he proved to be invaluable. Chris Luciani would also show up at the end of the day to help up disassemble the heavy scaffold, a taxing job for only two people.

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painting on brick technique

The process for painting images on a brick wall: 1- The wall surface is washed with non-wax detergent and rinsed clean. Loose material is removed, missing mortar and holes are patched as needed.


painting on brick technique

2- The wall is sealed and made uniform with a coating of primer. This reduces porosity and makes paint adhere better to the surface. Next, one or two coats of monochromatic paint (under-paint) is applied as needed. This paint layer will serve as a base base for later layers.


painting on brick technique

3- A line drawing of an image is rendered on sturdy paper, such as "butcher paper" or kraft paper. In mural painting this is called "a cartoon". A series of cartoons are linked to create a composition. Illustration, drawing, layout, or design are terms sometimes used instead of cartoon.


painting on brick technique

4- Chalk is rub on the back of the cartoon. The color of the chalk should contrast from the base color. The cartoon is placed on the wall and secured with masking tape. Additional pieces of tape are place parallel to the outer edges of the paper.


painting on brick technique

5- "Registers" are added. A register consists of a continues line made with a permanent marker that crosses the cartoon to the parallel tape pieces along the edge of the paper. At circle or any simple marking is added at each ends of the line for easy identification.


painting on brick technique

6- The outer contour of the image (shown in red) is traced over with a hard pencil. This is done to transfer the shape of the image to the wall. A hard pencil is used to be able to trace hard enough so that a chalk marking (from the chalk residue rubbed on the back of the cartoon) leaves a tracing on the wall.


painting on brick technique

7- The cartoon is removed but the "register tapes" stay on the wall. Depending on the size or shape of the cartoon, any number of registers can be added during the previous step. A chalk tracing of the image shape will be clearly visible on the wall.


painting on brick technique

8- A mortar mix (made of water, sand and Portland cement or lime) is applied to the brick lines within the image contour to "level" or even out the painting surface. Brick lines create a channel that, when accentuated by sunlight, distort and "overpower" small scale images painted on a wall. A solution is to fill the channels with mortar to create a more even surface. The filler is blended smooth into the brick lines once the image area is leveled.


painting on brick technique

9- Once the filler mortar dries, the area can be smooth further by rubbing it with a straight edge such as a metal spatula. The image shape is painted with the appropriate monochrome color paint. This base coat serves as "under-paint" for the image to be painted.


painting on brick technique

10- A second coat of paint can be added to achieve a desired color opacity. The areas around the shape are then retouched with the wall's base color.


painting on brick technique

11- The cartoon is repositioned on the wall making sure the registers align perfectly. Then the rest of the image is traced with a hard pencil.


painting on brick technique

12- The cartoon is removed, leaving a chalk tracing of the image over the colored shape. Depending on the kind of image being created, painting can be done over the chalk drawing. But for the most part, the drawing is "inked", that is, make permanent by redrawing the chalk-lines with fluid paint that has been thinned with water. This will make the drawing permanent an impervious to bad weather (a rain shower, for example, will erase the chalk).


painting on brick technique

13- The image is then painted in monochromatic colors (solid base colors) as required, taking care to stay within the contours of the drawing. Note that the register tapes also remain on the wall. Invariably, it may become necessary to reposition the cartoon to trace a detail that may have been lost in the painting.


painting on brick technique

14- After the base colors have dried, other paint layers are applied rendering flat shapes into light and shadow forms. The paint thin mixes are generally a darker and a lighter mix of the base colors, accomplished by adding a dark color and a white color to the base.


painting on brick technique

15- The image is completed by adding cast shadows and reflected highlights. A clear non-yellowing synthetic varnish is applied to protect the thin paint layers on the painting. Several coatings of the varnish may be applied to achieve the desired surface protection. A satin finish (less gloss) tends to work best on the finished art.


figure cartoon rolled up and ready for use

On our final day on location for 2012, I did a figure painting test on the wall. I could get away with painting simple architectural details on brick, but painting figures and face details over the brick lines would have been a taxing waste of time. So I brought along a cartoon of "the lonely girl" figure which I had drawn and rolled up the night before.

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figure contour

On location we traced the contour of the figure on its corresponding window space on building one.

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floor leveler mix

We prepared two mortar mixes to try on the wall. One was a basic mortar mix and the other was one was a latex emulsion formula.

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adding filler mix to brickwork mortal lines

Mortar was applied to the brick lines with a spatula and allowed to dry.

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brick lines in figure contour area filled up

At this point we discovered that the bricks were too uneven to provide a flat surface. Some stuck out the wall more than others so we decided to add more filler in an attempt to better level the surface.

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dried filler repainted with base color

After the filler dried, Ric applied a coating of the base color.

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retouching base colors around window area

Other areas were painted accordingly. Notice the register tape in this image.

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tracing figure outline with thin paint

The cartoon was repositioned and the drawing was traced and inked. Then the cartoon of the cat was traced in position.

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cartoon of cat

Notice the guidelines set 12 inches (30.5cm) apart on the cat's cartoon. They corresponded to the gridlines on the design. This allowed for the perfect placement of images on the wall. Each cartoon was mark with the corresponding coordinates on the grid.

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blocking figure with base colors

With a reference image of the figure taped to the wall, I proceeded to quickly paint the image. The brick surface was warm, paint was thin and it dried fast.

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detail of cat being blocked

The cat image was painted in the same manner. Notice the pitted texture of the brick.

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blocking of figure completed

After an hour of work, I stopped the test. It had been very useful. We discovered that regular mortar worked best since the one with the latex additive, while it stuck well to the wall, made painting more difficult since it demanded a more opaque paint. Also, the filler from both mixes shrank when it dried so the brick lines were still noticeable. And lastly, in spite of the heavy primer and the base coating of paint, the wall was still very absorbent. So blending colors was going to be very difficult.

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girl with phone figure completed a year later

September 2013 -a year later. The image of the lonely girl and her cat were finished after finding solutions to the problems with the brick and the mortar.

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The beginning of every project begins with a list of the needed supplies, materials, and equipment. Working on location demands preparation and organization. You want the convenience of having everything at hand when you needed.

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Another storage pod was secured for the second season on the project -summer and fall of 2013. All our supplies and equipment were stored here. The storage pod was placed at an alley next to the building. Equipment that I felt was too expensive to risk the chance of being stolen from the pod, stayed secured in my van. During working hours, the alley was closed to regular traffic with safety cones but our personal vehicles were parked within.

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I kept on my person all the items I could not risk leaving behind: the keys to my van and the pod, my wallet and watch, and my cell phone. These I would tie atop the scaffold when painting, and around my neck at any other time. Other indispensable gear were a sun hat, sunshades with UV filter, and ear muffler to block the infernal street noise.

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I decided to begin with building 6, the one nearest to the mayor intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street. This corner was a dangerous spot because of the heavy traffic and the way some drivers ignored every traffic law while turning the corner. So I wanted to get it done fast during the best weather. In addition, it would give the public something positive to look at.

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I would spend my days painting the mural, and my evenings at my shop drawing cartoons of every image element and figure on the design. By the end of the project, I had done over 200. The process begins by squaring the paper to 12 inches (30.5cm), marking the squares with the corresponding number coordinates on the design, and them drawing the images guided by the position of the squares. For large size cartoons, paper sheets are joined with masking tape. Once done, you roll up the cartoon, write an identification inscription on it, and continue the process night after night.

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July 31, 2013. The first figure done on the mural was the "father and son painting over graffiti". Chalk was rubbed on the back of the paper, then the cartoon was secured to the wall making sure that the grid coordinates on the cartoon matched the ones on the wall. Register tapes were added and then the contours were traced.

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On this same day, the contours of all the figures groups on bulding 6 were traced and inked. This was a priority so that the time consuming concrete rendering over brick lines could be done and allowed to cure while I worked on the first figures.

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Once the concrete dried, the shapes within the contours were treated with two coatings of concrete mix to cover the worse of the brick lines. When the mix dried, one or two coats of primer gray tinted primer were applied. After the primer had cured, the cartoon was re-attached to the wall making sure the registers matched, and the entire drawing was traced. Then the chalk drawing was inked with fluid paint. After the ink dried, a moist cloth was used to clean up the chalk residue.

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The background was painted first, taking care to brush along the figure's contour lines and not across them. Maintaining a precise drawing is key to this style of painting.

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The figures were painted in the traditional monochromatic manner: starting with a base color and then adding layers for lights and shadows. Brick and concrete retain the heat of the sun. With temperatures in the 80s and 90s, they got oven hot. This make color blending very difficult as paint dries fast and, because of the porosity of the surface, absortion was uneven and some blended areas look blotchy. So the key to painting under these conditions was to apply the paint in a more impressionistic and stylized style. Since the paint dries very fast, you keep your mixes as fluid as possible and work fast, but painting highlights with a more opaque mix.

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Having a limited paint palette helped with overall color consistency on the entire mural. Notice how sunlight sharply highlights the brick lines. This was a distraction, especially on bright sunny days. So covering the lines with concrete over the image areas helped the finished image stand out from the rest of the wall. Also, painting in a simple style with bold strokes, accentuated the images and minimizes the overpowering effect of the brick lines.

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Painting the floor area completed this scene. To add to the three-dimensional quality of the figures, that is, to make them appear as if they were really standing on the side walk, all the buildings were painted at a 90-percent scale, allowing for a section of sidewalk to be painted across the bottom of the composition. When seen from a distances, the painted sidewalk blended optically with the real sidewalk and this effect made it appear as if the figures were actually standing on the actual sidewalk and several inches away from the wall.

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While I worked on the paintings, Ric did all the cartoon contour layouts and concrete work. This tedious work that requires precision and consistency.

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The second grouping of figures is ready for painting. Notice the blue register tapes on the wall. For large size cartoons we placed a larger number of registers. The concrete residue over the surrounding background is wiped clean with a moist cloth or a sponge. This does not eliminate it all since the brick absorbs part of the cement. So the cleaning is just to remove loose residue which is mostly powder. But since the background color is only "under-paint" that will be painted over again, the residue stain is not a problem.

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Close-up detail of the wall. Notice the rough texture of the painting surface. While the concrete mix fills the worse of the brick lines, because of shrinkage as the concrete dries, they still remain visible. In addition, baked bricks are never perfect and it's impossible to perfectly align bricks when building a wall, so some stood out from the wall making the surface unlevel. Therefore, a second coating of concrete was then applied on the worse areas but this was kept to a minimum, because to make the surface perfectly smooth, the concrete layer would have to be at lease 1/4" (0.66cm) thick. But since I wanted the painting surface to be as level as posible, we opted for simply "dulling" the depth of the brick lines so they would be less visible.

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We use inexpensive color chalk sticks, also known as sidewalk chalk, to rub on the back of the cartoon paper to make our transfers. The advantage of using chalk over graphite or carbon transfer sheets is that the chalk leaves no oily residue. For transferring small or intricate detail images (or on other surfaces such as glass), we use "Saral Wax Free Transfer Paper", which also leaves no residue and its easy to erase.

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Detail of chalk transfer. The cartoon is never entirely removed until we make sure the entirety of the image has been traced.

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August 1, 2013. Amanda would stop after school to work on the mural. She proved herself worthy of becoming lead apprentice during this project and in time earn my complete trust to work as my Personal Assistant in Muralmaster, contributing to just about every large project to date. I even sometimes introduce her as "daughter number 2". In addition to Amanda, six other apprentices -Joshua Serrano, Victoria Velez, Chamar Bright, Gabriel Pichardo, Ric Owens and Craig "Awesome" Wilson, have worked for me on other projects. Also in time, Amanda and Josh's fiances -Lauren Morales and Britany Rodriguez, joined our happy troupe.

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While I worked inking this group of figures, Ric and Amanda worked on the next set. Notice the tape registers still in place in case we needed to retrace any part of the cartoon.

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After inking the figures, the background color was reworked. A reference black and white image was always taped on the wall for easy viewing.

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August 1, 2013. Work progression to the next group of figures. The process keeps repeating in methodical manner. At this point, I work on painting the images, Ric does the concrete rendering and priming, Amanda does the tracings and base colors, and other occasional volunteers assist in the process.

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August 2, 2013. "Elderly couple" inked and ready for painting.

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August 4, 2013. Our working setup consisted of a portable table to place materials and supplies, a dense foam pad for kneeling or seating on the hot concrete sidewalk, and a work bench that served as a seat or as a one-step to reach higher sections. Because of the heat, paint mixes in sealed plastic cups are kept inside storage bins with a lids until needed. Brushes were kept in another bin, and water for cleaning in blue utility pails. Drawing supplies and copies of reference images were kept in the orange bucket. My ever present coffee thermos completed the ensemble. We have to be organized and methodical because anything not secured would be blown away by sudden wind gusts. Another reason to be tidy was safety and security as pedestrians continually walked by.

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August 5, 2013. While I continued painting the second group of figures, work progressed steadily on the remaining figures on building 6.

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Ric was very proud of his work completing the groundwork of the lower figures on building 6. By now he had become the project's "concrete expert".

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August 6, 2013. The "food drive" group was the centerpiece of the second grouping of figures on building 6.

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August 6, 2013. Detail of under-paint flesh color on "the sweeper" figure. For the most part, under-paint is opaque paint but still thin enough to allow the inked lines to show through. Therefore, you can cover a lot of ground at this stage without having to worry about loosing the drawing. Since the lines are still visible, it is relatively easy to go over any desired area and redefine again.

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August 4, 2013. Immediately after completing the first group, I started working on the second. The figure of the police officer was the first one I tackled by applying a base coat of flesh-color under-paint. While doing research, I came across an image of actor Orlando Bloom (of Lord of the Rings fame) in the role of a policeman. Since it matched perfectly what I had in mind, I though: -"Why not?" And that's how his image ended up being the model for the painting.

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Over the base colors on the face and hair, I proceeded to model it beginning with highlights.

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police officer's face completed

After the highlights, I blended in the shadows and accentuated the lines. For this mural, I had decided to use a simpler style of painting, more lineal than painterly -more Botticelli than da Vinci, which would be easier to teach to apprentices. The student apprentices never got to this stage, but in the end, I completely adopted it because it allowed me to paint fast and because it proved extremely difficult to do proper tonal blendings on the hot and porous wall.

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color washing police officer's uniform

After finishing the face, I proceeded to wash a layer fluid color over the uniform. This served as my base color.

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detail of shirt being painted

Same as before, I modeled the uniform in monochromatic colors (blue base, light blue and dark blue). Then I accentuated the darks to bring up the constrast.

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painting figure group on building 6

August 5, 2013. The following day I continued painting the rest of the group.

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detail of cleveland browns football with dog emblem

When creating the design, I made sure the ball was prominently displayed. It represents Cleveland's mayor religion: football -that's "American football" to the rest of the world. And, every fan knows that the dog symbol on the ball represents the Cleveland Browns.

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ric owens applying concrete to brick wall

Ric had begun working the concrete rendering on the top figure groups on August 2, immediately after completing the lower ones. By the 6th of the month, the four groups had been finished and primed. Amanda had assisted him with the cartoon layouts. By now she was our "tracing expert". For this season we acquired a scaffold with 6-foot platforms instead of the 9-foot ones of the year before. With less hands on the job, lighter platforms were easier to handle.

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detail of scaffold on sloping sidewalk

Leveling the scaffold for stability on a sloped sidewalk -as seen on this photograph, was extremely important. To be able to do so, each leg was equiped with wheel jacks that allowed for individual adjustments. So our first order of business was to level the base section on the day's working spot before adding other sections to work on.

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detail of scaffold solid stem socket jack and wheel

A tubular scaffold 24" (61cm) solid stem socket jack and wheel. They are heavy but indispensable for working on uneven ground.

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top windows being prepped for painting

August 5, 2013. Detail of top group figures on building 6. The brickwork on this section of the wall took time because it was more uneven.

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building 6 in progress

August 6, 2013. We were doing good time and I was very keen on keeping up a tight schedule with the goal of finishing the mural by the end of fall.

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sealer between wall and sidewalk crevice

Weeds will grow anywhere, including the crevices between the brick wall and the sidewalk. We cleared them out when we prepped the wall, but it was a matter of time before they would showed up again. Like in many other public art projects I have been involved with, there had been no talk of maintenance at all during our planning stage. This is the reason why many pieces of public art are covered in weeds and why many other mediocre projects get funded: they require no maintenance, and consequently, no mounting expenses. So we took matters into our own hands and filled the entire crevice with a sealer (that would eventually be painted over).

Lettering is trace in the same manner as the figures. The letters were then painted with two coats of color mostly by Amanda, and then I "cut" them clean by outlining the surrounding background.



detail of uneven brick surface

Lettering is traced in the same manner as the figures. The letters were then painted by Amanda with two coats of color (needed to achieve full opacity with light color paints), and then I "cut" them clean by outlining the surrounding background. Then assistants filled in the remaining negative areas in the background. By using this method, less skilled painters can work fast without having to worry about "messing up".

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detail of 24-hour sign

It was far easier to paint letters and graphics the way I described it in the previous caption -negative lettering, then hand-painting them over a dark background -positive lettering. Notice that for these graphics, we didn't filled in the brick joints since they were simple and large enough not to be visually overpowered by the brick lines.

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Amanda painting poster

August 10, 2013. Amanda painted the food drive poster in solid paint colors.

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painting the food drive poster

Having assistants do monochrome painting or base-color under-painting, meant that I could dedicate my time to paint modelling in other areas. Having student apprentices do the work up to this stage had been my intention all along.

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detail of boy with football

August 11, 2013. I continued modelling the other figures on the second grouping. On an average day I would move from one spot to the next and back.

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detail of children

This mural was a first in many ways. It portrayed a very dignified elderly European couple showing empathy for the needy, African immigrants contributing to the community, an inspirational "traditionally built" lady, Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian and Middle Eastern children, a white police office in a loving and positive role, a single mother happily dancing with her daughter, a caring housewife cleaning windows, a grandfather helping his grandson with his reading, and this was just on one building! And on the adjoining building it showed happy and productive citizens in wheel chairs, and the list goes on! They are the type of people you seldom see portrayed in public art.

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painting second grouping of figure on building 6

August 12, 2013. Second group of figures completed, except for a few details on the officer's uniform.

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painting the face of the elderly lady

The elderly European couple were next. How do you know this cool lady is European and not an American -though maybe she is a recent immigrant? I'll let you figure it out.

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painting the european elderly couple

Work progress as of August 13, 2013. By this point in the project, we were getting a lot of attention. At long last the public was getting a glimpse of what to expect.

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closeup of elderly couple

August 17, 2013. I based the image of this gentleman on Bill Schenk, an early acquaintance after my arrival to Cleveland in 1977. Bill was originally from Germany and had such a thick accent that he may be sound like Shakespeare! We shared a lot of laughs. Thank you Bill for your friendship.

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food drive poster

After Amanda painted the poster in solid colors, I did the black outlining. As a trained sign painter, it was relatively easy for me to freehand the outline.

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painting the traditionally built woman

Modelling the face of the "traditionally built" woman conducting the food drive. As I painted her smile, I kept thinking of my cousin "Cuca" in Puerto Rico -a life-long traditionally built woman who is one the kindest, happiest and most energetic woman I have ever known.

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cleveland officer's shirt patch

A police office and his partner stopped by for a look-see. He was happy to pose for a photo of his uniform. I desperately needed an image of the Cleveland Police patch.

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mural progression

August 20, 2013. Work progress up to this day. A second coating of "adjusted" colors was applied on the building. Only when you are on location can you tell if a color is what you expected it to be. It usually never is. Surface texture and sunlight will affect the hue -the color's appearance. This was expected. The top building cornice was also been painted and simplified from a more elaborate design. I discovered that the architectural details I had intended to add were lost within the bricklines and took time paint. So what to do? You simplify and magnify proportions.

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building 6 progression

August 21, 2013. After completing the traditionally built woman -and painting a donation check in her hand, I worked on the lady sweeping the sidewalk. Hint: she is a new immigrant resident and the owner of the coffee shop & art gallery. The couple painting over graffiti are her husband and young son.

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elderly couple

The elderly couple slowly heading to the food drive table. They carry a basket of food donations. It took longer to decided what to put inside the basket than it did painting it.

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european immigrants

The cast shadows from street lighting falling onto the mural added a surprising sense of realism to the scene.

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painting of top windows

August 22, 2013. After completing most of the figures at sidewalk level on building 6, I climbed the scaffold and began working the top windows. The happy single mom and daughter having an impromptu dance moment were painted first.

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window with dog

Just before finishing the day, a man drove by and stopped by the mural. He got out and pointed up with a happy grin. Then he told us that he had a dog identical to the one I painted on the window, and that he was telling everyone that "that" was his dog! I was happy to make his day. From that day on we referred to him as -"el chillo", Puerto Rican slang meaning: the lady's lover! We spend so much time with these fictional characters on the wall, that the lines between real and illusion were beginning to blur.

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beginning work on group of figures in building 5

Ric had already moved to building 5 while I was working the window figures on building 6.

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mayor grouping of figures primed and ready to go

August 23, 2013. The surface for the third mayor grouping of figures was primed and ready to go. Notice the brick surface and how uneven the brick are.

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painted sidewalk

August 25, 2013. The lettering on the barbershop window was done (that's the bottom of building 5), the sidewalk was painted on building 6, and I continued painting the top windows. With each day, the painted illusion continues to take life and you realize again how great murals can be.

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Nancy Lewis doing a tracing

August 25, 2013. On her day off, my lovely wife Nancy came to give us a helping hand. She helped with the tracings -and claimed she painted most of the mural! But since she is a chef -which makes me an artist that eats very well, I keep her around. And, she's very cute.

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tracing the barshop pole sign

Detail of Nancy tracing the cartoon of the barber's pole sign. We were constantly sharpening pencils, because to get a good tracing, you had to press hard.

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lady cleaning window

The windows were completed before the figures were painted. When working on repeated architectural elements, such as the windows, small diagrams were drawn on the project's daily log noting measurements and paint mixed used. Since more often than not elements were not painted in succession, but within a span of days or even weeks, log notes prove extremely valuable for continuity.

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spirit levels used as drawing and painting aids

A 48-inch (1.22 m) aluminum I-beam spirit/bubble level was used to mark and maintain parallel and perpendicular alignments. This operation was usually carried out by two people holding the level at each end on the irregular brick surface. A lightweight 'Johnson' 24-inch structo-cast (injection-molded structural-foam plastic) level, easily handled by one person, was used as an aid for painting lines. Sometimes levels were used in combination with a mahl stick.

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lady cleaning window

Over time, several viewers commented on how the image of the "lady cleaning window" made them feel... uneasy, since she risked falling down!

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last two windows to be painted on building 6

The final two windows on building 6 were completed.

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grandfather helping grandson with his reading

Detail of a "grandpa helping the grandson with his reading". I learned to read and write at age 5 thanks to my grandfather, Andrés Rivera-Rivera. He was also a math whiz and a voracious reader who was 6 months shy of 100 when he passed away.

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the cat and the canary window

August 26, 2013. The last window to be completed on building 6 -"the cat and the canary".

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the cat and the canary representing the next meal or artist's commission

The cat and the canary represent me. I'm the cat, the canary is my next commission. The cat could care less about what's happening below, his only focus is his next meal. It describes my motivation to paint to perfection. That's what I was thinking when painting this mural.

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detail of food drive group progression

August 28, 2013. Background detailing on food drive group continues.

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August 29, 2013. The dominoe playing group on building 5 was inked and readied for painting.

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detail of little girl holding donation can

August 30, 2013. The "little girl holding the donation can" was almost completed.

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final detailing of building 6

August 31, 2013. Final detailing of building 6.

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awning on building 6 being painted

September 2, 2013. The awning on building 6 being painted. Notice the uneveness of the brick wall.

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detail of finished awning

Detail of finished awning.

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sidewalk view of building 6

Sidewalk view of building 6. Notice that, even up-close, you still get the illusion of the figures standing on the sidewalk.

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September 2, 2013. Moving on to building 5.

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top windows on building 5 ready to be worked on

The top windows on building 5 were ready to be worked on.

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image of father and daughter ready for painting

Father and daughter. Fathers -single, divorced, or widowed; straight, gay, or bi; rich or poor; religious, spiritual or athiest, all over the globe, love their children as much as their female counterparts, and their children love them back! This is a fundamental truth that needs repeating. This was my way of shouting it.

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This was an important image to the mural -an elderly lady watering her plants. The argument made by this image would eventually contrast with another image to be painted on one of the top window of building 1.

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building 5 painting progression

September 3, 2013. Adding underpaint colors to top cornice, the window curtains, the ground level figures, and the barbershop sign pole.

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barbership sign completed

September 4, 2013. The barber shop sign was completed. Having a barbershop on the mural was planned from the very beginning. In my view, barbershops are the most democratic arenas in this nation. It is where neighbors from every area of the social-political-economic spectrum gather and share their thoughts and beliefs on any issue. And like it or not, they keep coming back for more.

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painting of father and daugher completed

The father and daughter image was completed by day's end, the lower part of the window would have to wait till the next day.

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completing the father and daughter window image

September 5, 2013. It's only 70°F (21°C) this Thursday, but the sun was relentless and the wall radiating heat felt like 90 degrees. I only needed the first section of the scaffold to reach the lower part of the window. For safety, a holding bar was added. Paint mixes are kept inside the plastic bin and placed in the shade provided by the upper platform. We actually used the scaffold just to shade us on many occasions.

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The production company filming Draft Day, an American sports drama starring Keving Costner, stopped by while I was painting utop the scaffold. They were filming additional material around town for a segment to be added to the DVD of the film. They asked if they could film my while painting and I said -"Sure; go'head". I've no idea is the few seconds ended on the DVD or the cutting floor. But, it made a boring day more interesting.

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painted section of mural with a protective coating of clear varnish

To protect the thin layers of paint applied during the modelling of figures, a protective coating of clear varnish was immediately after an image was completed. The fact that many pedestrians showed their admiration of the painting my runner their fingers over the painted surface, made this practice a must. Several more layers of the protective varnish were applied over the entire mural.

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Notice in this close-up detail of the photograph, how the varnish layer that was applied around the lower part of the window on the left, affected the vibrancy of the color of the wall. The varnish deepens the colors by making them appear more saturated. This was a factor considered in the planning and selection of the color palette. What's more, in addition to also increasing protection from the damashing effect of sunlight, the weather, and human touch, varnishing the entire mural provided an uniform sheen to the entire surface.

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barbershop-sign-completed

The barbershop sign was completed and varnished. The name is a take on Bob Dylan's iconic song, along with other snippets of the lyrics quoted throughout the mural.

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the barber's cat inked and ready for painting

The barber's cat was inked and readied for painting.

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joshua serrano blocking colors on food cans

Josh stopped after school to help out. His job for the day was to block colors on donated food items.

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food items being blocked

The small table is full of neighborhood donations: common food products from popular brands. Colors copies with images of these products were used as reference. After mixing paints to create the palatte, base colors were blocked. Since there is no lettering, color modeling or detailing, blocking is usually a fast process that resembles applying solid colors to a drawing on a coloring book.

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barbershop pole sign completed

September 6, 2013. The barbershop pole sign was completed.

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policeman shirt patch completed

The policeman's shield and shirt patch were also completed. The number on the shield is John's birthdate: November (11) seven (7).

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painting the elderly lady watering her plants

Painting progress on the second window of building 5.

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modelling the image of the elderly lady.

September 7, 2013. Paint modelling the image of "granny".

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barbershop door completed

September 9, 2013. The barbershop door was completed.

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granny window completed

September 10, 2013. The second window on building 5 was completed and a coat of varnish was applied.

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barber painting in progress

Paint modelling the barber was next.

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blocking dominoe group figures

September 26, 2013. After completing "the barber and client" and the 'open' neon sign on the barbershop window, we began blocking the foreground figures.

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detail of fireman's cap insignia

The insignia on the fireman's cap was also completed.

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painting the fireman and his wheelchair

September 27, 2013. The "retired fireman" was finished and then work progressed to his wheelchair.

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September 30, 2013. We started modelling the children behind the table.

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detail of wheelchair painting

October 1, 2013. After completing the little girl with a green sweater, modelling on the wheelchair continued. The practice was always to paint whatever was farther in the background first, and the any overlaping elements on the foreground last.

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painting progression of dominoe game group

The other figures in the group had been blocked in their appropriate colors.

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mural progress to date

View of work progress to date. This photograph belies the fact that this was a busy location with heavy pedestrian traffic at peak hours. Everyone seem to have a comment they wanted to share. Many were surprised when I replied in their native language, which was Spanish for most part, and in their regional slang (I'm also an actor). But the interruptions got in the way of the work. So I had Ric play the public relations man -and he took it to heart! He could have run for City Council and won! And, as he was shaking hands and posing for photos, I blocked it all out with the help of ear mufflers and painted on.

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boy with glasses completed

October 2, 2013. The "boy with glasses" was completed. I was not spending a lot of time on these images. My brushstroke was bold and sometimes impressionistic.

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Painting detail of "the little girl with a green sweater". Even though I was keeping my paint modelling simple, I did took care to achieve the desired facial expressions. After all, my goal was to tell a story and characterization was (and still is) my best tool for achieving it. There is a relationship and a connection between the characters in a group scene that needs to come through. Visually reading this threads is what makes the scene memorable and dynamic. This is where my theater background as an actor and director serves me well.

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The fedora hat of the "Puerto Rican veteran" was completed before finishing to the face.

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close up detail of the veteran's hat

There is another story contained within the hat. It's being told by the pins on it. This is how it reads: the gentleman wearing the hat is a veteran from the US Army. He served in the Korean War. He was badly wounded in action, which let to him being confined to a wheelchair. He has friends missing in action. And lastly, he is a "Puerto Rican" veteran because the blue shield pin with an ax is the emblem of the famed and highly decorated "all-Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment".

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painting food items progression

August 6, 2013. The food items were one of the few things I truly enjoyed painting. After Josh had blocked most of the base colors, I proceeded to paint each item without any further drawing. I simply looked at the reference photos, mixed colors on a small disposable wax paper palette, and painted each item in one long uninterrupted session.

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completing the food items

August 9, 2013. After a two-day break, I started where I left off, and completed the image. After an hour's rest, a coating of clear varnish was applied to seal and protect the thin paint layers.

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faces of puerto rican veteran and girl in pigtails were completed.

I completed modeling the faces of the Puerto Rican veteran and the girl in pigtails. I also started modeling the shirt.

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veteran's shirt completed

August 10, 2013. The veteran's shirt was completed, followed by the tabletop and dominoes.

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The elderly and children seem to have a connection of love, trust, respect and admiration that is selflessly given. I wanted to show this bond in a manner that did not shied away from showing the scars of life. So I searched for a way to visualize it in a scene that spoke volumes but did not preach. This was how the idea of showing people on wheelchairs began forming in my mind.

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I view people with disabilities as great role models for newer generations. They defy the odds every day. So I designed a scene around two elderly gentlemen from different backgrounds, who have greatly contributed to society, that have earned our respect and admiration, who are resilient, positive, intelligent, and enjoying life. That in spite of their circumstances, are not bitter or complaining, but happy, healthy, loving and productive. They continue playing the game of life because life goes on until it stops. There is no off ramp.

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August 11, 2013. It was important to show the children completely immersed in the game. They were not just playing, they were thinking. Notice how in the tableau the veteran makes his move. Judging by his expression, it's a good one! But the fireman just sits back, hands off, softly guiding the girl in the green sweater (possibly his granddaughter), on her counter move. There is a pause. It's an engaging moment.

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finishing detials on table legs

The table and the detailing of the girl's legs were completed, but the domino tiles were left blank. I was not interested in focusing on a particular play, but on the game itself. There is great symbolism in the scene. You may have heard the phrase -"falling like dominoes". It's about the repeated action of stumbling and falling. Like one's journey through life. So, I used the game as a metaphor to say that life's not fair. It has a darker side that plays no favorites.

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dominoes completed

Dominoes represent age, fear, misunderstandings, gambling, loss, destruction and also failures. It is life itself. You have to play the tiles as best you can. It's the hand you been given and it will take long term planning to reach your goals. But playing the game also helps develop critical thinking and improve your math skills, which, to paraphrase Galileo, it the language of the universe. But above all, the game teaches you to learn from your failures to improve the odds for success on the next turn.

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view of buildings 5 and 6 at dusk

At dusk, the mural seems surreally real.

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the barber's cat completed

Days later, the barber's cat was completed. What is he doing? Being the barber's cat, he is waiting for someone to open the door so he can go in.

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