Amid all my other projects, I decided to create a houseplant-themed mural in my office to use up some leftover paint. I’ve been working on it, a few minutes here and an hour there, for about a week and a half. Here’s how it’s been going so far:
The big challenge of painting in the desert is that acrylic dries almost instantly, so you have to work really fast and do really small sections at a time to keep it from drying before you finish blending it. It doesn’t help that my office is hot in the afternoons, and most of the paint is several years old. The latex tends to get thick as it ages, which makes it dry out even faster. Still, it’s been a while since I painted a mural solely for my own enjoyment, and this is a pleasant way to use up some leftover paint I’ve had on hand for upwards of 10 years.
Here is some of the stuff I’ve been doing in my free time since I finished the draft of the novel last weekend:
In February, I pulled up our stained, worn-out wall-to-wall carpet to find a beautiful hardwood floor hiding underneath. Instead of spending the better end of $5 a square foot on cork-look luxury vinyl tile, I spent less than $100 on sandpaper and Danish oil.
Before I could start working on the floor, I came down with bronchitis. Then the pandemic hit, and I had to figure out how to teach, put out a paper, and coordinate the production of a yearbook, all remotely, while writing the first draft of my latest novel.
I finally got a hand free Monday to start working on the living-room floor. At my dad’s recommendation, I sanded it by hand and gave it a couple of coats of Danish oil. It was time-consuming, physically demanding work, but I think it turned out well. We used part of the money we saved on the floor to buy a new wood-slice coffee table with hairpin legs. *Swoon*
To keep my neck and shoulders from completely seizing up on me while I was sanding and oiling the floor, I stopped every hour or so to stretch and spend a few minutes working on the new mural I just sort of randomly decided I needed in my office. I’m designing it on the fly, but I think it will look pretty cool when I’m done with it.
I’ve always sort of wondered what I could accomplish if I had a big enough block of time on my hands with relatively few distractions, and the pandemic has pretty well answered that question. I have several other projects brewing. We’ll see how many of them I finish before the world reopens.
I forgot to do this earlier, but here’s the updated classroom reveal, featuring my tissue-paper truffula forest and IKEA leaf canopy, along with a few flourishes I’m pretty sure weren’t there when I did the first reveal.
Drop your phone in a charging pocket and come in!
Grendel’s arm hangs above the door.
Piglet flies a kite.
The Lorax hides behind a truffula forest.
My desk showcases student work.
Piglet’s kite, the Lorax, and an old friend.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, post-metamorphosis.
Let the wild rumpus start!
Snape casts his patronus atop a hobbit-hole.
Snape’s doe, Boo’s tree, and the Cheshire cat.
My kids love that beanbag.
Love that IKEA leaf.
Twinkly display board.
Easter eggs for Whovians and Stephen King fans.
Word wall and mermaid pillows.
Jonathan and Charybdis.
The day’s Common Core objectives go in the pockets.
Sunflowers on the table, just because.
A few details:
The inflatable chair lasted about two weeks before it developed a leak. Disappointing, but I didn’t expect much for $5.
I can HIGHLY recommend the mermaid pillows, which have a soothing effect on kids and adults alike.
When we read <em>Beowulf</em>, my seniors thought it would be hilarious to have a plushie of Grendel’s arm hanging above our door like the entrance to Heorot, so of course I made them one.
The truffula trees were time-consuming but very easy; I’ll post a tutorial later if anybody wants one.
The bulletin board on the desk is made from old ceiling tiles.
The big leaf is a baby-bed canopy I picked up for $15 at IKEA. The balloon lamp is another IKEA find — $6, IIRC.
The lights on the “Pride and Joy” board are battery-powered fairy lights that came with little clothespins attached. I use them to display student work, school pictures, etc.
The shoe organizer is a cellphone parking lot. I stuck a power strip to the underside of the chalk tray next to it and plugged in chargers with extra-long cords to give kids an incentive to surrender their devices without a fuss.
The file pockets hold copies of the week’s Common Core objectives. I’ll share how I use them in a future post.
Not pictured: my beloved wax warmer, which makes my room smell like a cinnamon roll, thanks to dollar-store wax melts.
I wanted my room to feel like the children’s section at Barnes and Noble. It ended up being better. Elementary kids come in and hang out after school just because they like it. Colleagues wander in occasionally when they’re tense and need to unwind. Meetings are less stressful when I host them. I suspect part of the magic is that it allows people a safe space to be childLIKE, so they don’t feel the need to be childISH.
Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.
I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:
I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.
My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.
P.S.: In case you’re interested, here’s an update showing the finished room.
I’m sure by now we’re all familiar with the Axios story making the rounds in which an unnamed person who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was quoted as saying the erstwhile politician expects women working in the White House to “dress like women.”
As a journalist, I have some questions about the story itself (starting with the fact it’s poorly sourced and largely speculative, as Snopes was quick to point out), but I like the conversations it has inspired online about what it means to “dress like a woman.” I jumped in on the Twitter hashtag #DressLikeAWoman the other day, and several of my tweets were well-received, particularly by younger friends who undoubtedly benefit from seeing women in traditionally male-dominated professions or participating in traditionally male-dominated activities.
With that in mind, and thinking about how important it is for my nieces and other little girls in my life to grow up with such images in front of them, I decided I’d expand that collection of tweets into a blog post sharing what it means to “dress like a woman” in my world:
You get the idea. I could do this all day, but that’s probably enough to give you the upshot. Do what makes you happy. Help somebody if you can. And dress as you see fit for the occasion, whether that involves a ballcap, a bee suit, a pair of running shoes, a velvet skirt, or a pair of paint-spattered jeans with the knees blown out.
Do what you love. Be who you are. And never let somebody else’s limited notions about how women should look interfere with that.
I spent part of my weekend doing a mural project of a different sort.
A local church has elaborate airbrushed murals covering virtually every wall in its children’s wing. A recent construction project took out part of a mural in an entryway leading to a couple of classrooms, so they hired me to repair it.
It was more difficult than it looked, as I was not only using a different tool (paintbrush vs. airbrush) but was working on a different surface than the original artist and had to try to blend my efforts into what was already there.
After a couple of less-than-satisfying attempts to make my paintbrushes replicate the luminosity and softness of an airbrush, I decided it made more sense to match the previous artist’s work to mine rather than the other way around, so I used a brush to sharpen up some of the existing lines and then sort of feathered the new work into the old while trying to preserve the integrity of the original design as much as possible.
I forgot to take “before” pictures, but here’s what it looked like when I finished. You can see some of the original artist’s airbrush work at the corners and on some of the walls in the background.
It’s not the most exciting project I’ve ever done, but it was a good exercise, I learned a couple of things from it, and everybody who’s seen it seemed happy with it, so I’ll call that a win.
It also served as a good reminder of why I need to learn to use an airbrush at my earliest convenience. Ron ordered me one for Christmas, but it just came in a couple of days ago, so I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet. I have a feeling our basement walls are about to get really interesting.
This work in progress will probably remain in progress for the foreseeable future, as I have a small part of a very large mural project booked for next weekend, but I’m hoping by the end of winter, I’ll have my bathroom finished. The faux-stone look isn’t difficult, but it’s time-consuming, and I’m having to piecemeal it as time allows — an hour here and a half-hour there.
I’ll post occasional updates on my progress so you can see the technique. If you like it, feel free to try it on your own wall. It requires more patience than anything else. When it’s all done, I might put together a tutorial.
Longtime readers will recall my adventures in drywall repair last winter, necessitated by the slipshod home-improvement work done by the previous owner of this house.
The drywall in our bathroom was installed as poorly as the drywall in the rest of the house, and the paint job was even worse — drips and cracks and alligatored spots everywhere.
I could retape the joints, sand everything down, and repaint the walls in there with some textured finish that would conceal any flaws, but I’m not going to, for two reasons:
1. My projects earlier this year in the bedroom and office taught me that I haaaaaaaate working with drywall in tight spaces and rag-painting around obstacles.
2. I need a sample of trompe l’oeil mural work to show prospective clients, as most of my murals — with the exception of my faux-neon pieces — are done in a more cartoonish style.
With all that in mind, I decided to make the cracks in the bathroom wall look purposeful.
This is a work in progress, obviously, but here’s what I’m up to:
It’s not perfect, but neither is the wall. Intentional imperfections, rendered in careful detail, seem infinitely preferable to imperfections created as a result of someone’s sloppy attempts at home improvement, and hopefully the end result will be realistic enough to earn me another paying mural gig or two somewhere along the line.
I’m not at liberty to reveal the full scope of my latest project, but I have another mural in the works. I’ve started working on the canvas sketches for client approval. I will, of course, post pictures of the finished project when it’s completed, which I expect will be several weeks from now.
In the meantime, here are a couple of details:
The guy at the top is an Amazon parrot. He won’t appear in the finished project, as he’s being replaced with a more colorful species (likely a scarlet macaw), but I think he’s cute, anyhow.
I was so busy battling headaches when I got home from vacation this summer, I completely forgot to post my pictures from the trip — including the ones I took of the mural I traveled to Tucumcari to paint in one of the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel.
I’ll remedy that with some photos of the mural in progress on this Make-It Monday.
This was the most challenging mural I’ve painted up to this point. Portraits are always tricky, but in this case, I was painting a portrait of two old friends, one of whom was an artist whose work influenced my style.
The first old friend is the late Bob Waldmire, the artist behind the wheel of the VW Westfalia. The second old friend is the Westfalia herself. She had almost as much personality as Bob did, and I adored her for it.
My fondness for Bob and my respect for him and his work made it imperative that I get a good likeness, and it took either four or five tries (I eventually lost count) before I was finally satisfied with it.
Getting the Westfalia right was a matter of proportion and symmetry, which are difficult to render at that scale. Compounding the challenge was the fact I’d tried to set things up relative to the ground, which — as you can see — is gravel and not really level itself.
I wound up repainting several parts of the Westfalia, and they still didn’t end up perfectly symmetrical, although both Ron and Kevin, the Blue Swallow’s owner, were quick to note that old Volkswagens are rarely 100 percent symmetrical, either.
It has its flaws, but I think it looks like Bob, and I really like the way the headlights and reflectors on the Westfalia turned out.