Seward Mural; Sunday Madhouse

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Gail with color #6.  Photo by Ron Niebrugge
Doped up with Advil for back and neck pain, I was the first to arrive on Sunday morning. In the total quiet of the big terminal I was able to paint without interruption and a feeling of calm came over me. It was a Zen like experience. Unfortunately it turned out to be the calm before the storm. Unlike Saturday, people started showing up early and they were an entirely different kind of crew. They immediately grasped the enormity of the task, rolled up their sleeves and painted with confidence! It finally dawned on me that I had a crew of experienced artists! My heart sang.

Things began moving so fast that I had to put down my brushes, take out my color chart, my paint by number sketch, and my full color mock up and be available to answer questions. Intelligent questions. Intuitive questions. This line doesn’t continue in a natural pattern, can I adjust it? Yes, please do. The colors change abruptly in this area, could the numbers be wrong? Yes, they were. Something is missing here, can we see the drawing. Have at it! Can I add some detail to the center of the dogwood? Go for it! The mural began to take on a life of its own. I was literally running up and down the table rows answering questions.

Around noon others arrived, I had no idea if the new people were experienced and there was no time to explain the procedure. And thus began a madhouse. I became aware that previously painted areas were freshly painted again, but with a different color! Confused, I took a closer look and saw this happening in several places. The colors did not match my color mock up. I had to find out what was happening, and find a way to get it fixed fast!

I soon realized that without a briefing some newcomers thought they could paint any color wherever they wanted. I isolated the newbies and explained the color numbering system again. Then I realized that dripping paint had covered the numbers on the sides of the paint cans. Numbers were visible on top of the lids but without a number to match on the can, the wrong lids were placed on the wrong cans. This contributed to the confusion. Others didn’t know about the color chart, so to figure out the color number they just sampled the paint on an already painted area to see if it matched. Sample swatches of wrong colors were showing up everywhere. So much for our carefully thought out plans.

It was time to trouble shoot and improvise. As I explained the problems to a couple of experienced painters they immediately took corrective action, then I put the new comers on some carefully structured tasks. By mid afternoon everything was running smoothly again. The final pieces of the mural seemed to just fly into place, it was like watching a movie on fast forward. What a phenomenal experience. At the end of the day the mural was nearly finished!

As I finalized details, Jennifer approached me with a request. “Please, would you consider coming back tomorrow and doing a little pointillism?” “Please?” Thus began another restless night.

Gail Niebrugge, Alaska Artist

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