By Mentor Artist Tracy Eastman
Short Elementary School’s 2nd and 5th grade “Green Team” were delighted to paint a large mural to brighten up their newly planted garden in the front of the school. Julie Ryan, the 2nd-grade teacher and leader of Green Team, and I decided the most fitting subject matter for the garden mural would be California native flowers, as that was what her students were currently studying. There was, however, a challenge with how and where to display a mural in their garden area. The portable building where the mural was to be painted was said to be transported to another school in the next couple years. For this reason, we opted for a portable mural that would be painted on two recycled vinyl banners. This would allow the 18-foot-long mural to be rolled up and transported to any new location.
The students started out by looking at pictures of murals done by other artists, and by studying the names and distinctive characteristics of each native flower we were to include. They then practiced painting a flower or their own preferred subject on mini canvas sheets, allowing them to explore painting on the canvas-like texture of the banners. First, students painted the entire primed surface with a bright blue color, serving as an underpainting. I then sketched a scene of native flowers and rolling hillsides for the students to follow painting. They began by painting the background of the sky above the hillsides and then continued to add specs of color at the tops of the hills. the specs of color grew larger and larger into the foreground to show all the details of the distinctive flowers up close. This created an illusion of depth and space, making it appear that the large flowers we see at the bottom of the image recede into the distance on the hillside toward the top of the image.
The students did a marvelous job mixing various hues and applying the paint in layers to create a very bright and vivid mural. There were printed pictures of the specific flowers and their leaves set beside the students for them to refer to while they painted. The students greatly learned about the difference between Art that is created through free expression and Art that is focused on creating specifically recognizable subjects. Over the course of ten-45 minute student classes and many additional hours I devoted to planning and touch-ups, a beautiful and colorful mural was born. The once beige and bare wall in the garden at the front of the school now gleams with a vibrancy that is a breath of fresh air. All of the plants in the garden continue to grow large and healthy around the radiant mural of our state’s flowers, beautifully brightening up the community. Walk by and take a look!