Creating a Community Mural - David Genszler Orchestrates Symphonies of Vivid Acrylic Color
Last year, a committee of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Cable, Wisconsin, decided to liven up their basement. This large, plain room and the hallways that adjoin three church school rooms would be used by youth for recreation. One committee member, Mimi Crandall, had seen a silhouette mural by artist David Genszler of Ashland, Wisconsin and recommended he be contacted to lead a mural project.
I seconded the recommendation, vouching for the artist as I had known him for many years.
Genszler presented a slide show of his community art to the congregation. Many of his mural projects were community-oriented and funded with matching grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board.
The Key: Group Participation
"People involved in the painting process feel an ownership to the mural and are proud of their work," says Genszler. "Kids enjoy bringing their parents to show them what they've painted."
In Solon Springs, Wisconsin, he started a mural project by painting two large sunfish on a school wall. That was all the encouragement needed to reel numerous students and staff into participating in the project. They applied handprints to his outlines, creating a scale-like texture on the fish. He then used 45 middle school and high school students to create another mural composed of their silhouettes. Genszler told of one project in which he was astounded to find his own gray-haired mother working side by side, chatting like old friends, with a purplespiked- hair teenager. "These projects bring together people of all ages and backgrounds," he said.
His talk convinced the UCC Church members to create a community mural project of their own. They decided on a large silhouette project. The first step was to hire a professional painter to prime the concrete and sheetrock walls with interior acrylic latex eggshell enamel paint.
Preparation: One Hundred People!
To begin the mural design, two photographers, one of whom was my husband Kelly Randolph, used digital cameras to capture images of one hundred church visitors and members.
People were posed one or two at a time against a white paper backdrop. The most unique pose was that of Pastor Lynn Larson who reclined on a bench with arms extended, pretending to fly.
Then using the computer program PhotoShop, the images were transformed into contour drawings of overlapping lines. Since the design was to cover six sections of walls, several sheets of contour figures were needed. Genszler took the computer drawings to a local print shop and the line images were enlarged onto several sheets of clear acetate.
In the church basement, Genszler placed the acetate sheets one at a time in an overhead projector and traced the projected contour lines onto the wall. "Sometimes in order to improve the composition I flipped over the transparency to change direction of a figure," he said.
However, there is a simpler method. On one school mural project, Genszler had individuals stand in the light of a slide projector and traced the shadows they cast onto the wall. You can use a Tracer Projector made by Artograph rather than an overhead or slide projector.
While sketching the line drawing on the church mural, Genszler placed bits of blue masking tape on the wall as reminders of the negative spaces to be left white and unpainted. These shapes became an important part of the design, included spaces between hands on hips, my spouse's crutches from a broken ankle, and the gaps formed when people had their hands on their heads.
Genszler used 4 oz. jars of Daniel Smith and Golden brand paints, and pint-size jars of the more frequently used colors, including yellows, blues, reds and several pints of zinc white. Daniel Smith's Iridescent, Pearlescent and Interference paints added a spark to the basic colors.
Now it was time to get the community involved. After protecting the basement floor with large sheets of cardboard, participants lined up at the paint-mixing table. Genszler mixed colors in small plastic containers collected for this project. Using a large rustproof mixing knife he added a little bit of matte medium to make the paints more fluid. "This makes a nice consistency, especially for inexperienced painters," explained Genszler. He especially liked the texture of Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Coral and Quinacridone Rose when mixed with a little matte medium.
Handing out cups of bright colors, he directed each person to a specific shape to paint, then ran back to the table to mix another color. "My overall favorite blend is Alizarin Crimson mixed with Pearlescent Shimmer," said Genszler.
He recommended having a large assortment of new Daniel Smith Bronze flat or bright brushes for a mural project. He prefers #8 brushes for the average or novice painter.
In order to prevent paint from drying on the brushes, Genszler kept a large bucket of water on the table to soak the brushes when not in use. It's a good idea to assign one willing person to frequently wash paint knives and brushes with soap and to refill the water bucket once in a while.
How do You Direct a Mural Project with Painters of Various Levels of Experience?
Genszler says, "I give the more experienced people more responsibility, letting them paint right up to the edges of the contour shapes. However, I'll ask inexperienced artists and very young children to paint in the middle of a shape away from the edges."
The mural began to take shape as the painters applied the first strokes of color to the wall. While listening to lively music the artists brushed on maroon, gold, turquoise blends, orange tints and other colors, brightening the once-drab room. A youth group met a couple of times to work on the mural and go out for pizza. People ages 5 to 80 would work on the mural after church services whenever Genszler was in town to mix paints and lead the project.
After numerous sessions, all the shapes of the silhouette design on the six walls were painted and completed.
The Next Step was to Outline Each Shape of Color with a Thick Metallic Siver Marker.
What an effect! The contrast of silver lines against dazzling colors made the shapes stand out like stained glass.
"Using the marker makes the mural coherent as a unit, separating color and allowing colors to pop out more," said Genszler.
He then touched up the wall wherever he saw paint splattered. After checking over the entire design he repainted a few areas. When the paint dried, he applied gloss medium as a final varnish to the entire mural. "For this step I used a flat Chinese Hake brush, 4-5/8 inches wide. This brush has soft bristles which leave no streaks and is fairly inexpensive," said Genszler.
Since there are no windows with direct sunlight shining on the mural, the gloss medium was a sufficient finish. However, for an acrylic mural in a sunlit room, the walls would need further protection. First, a barrier coat of Soft Gel diluted with 10% water should be applied followed by Poly Varnish UVLS Gloss.
To bring out the true colors of the mural and lighten up the church basement, the fluorescent ceiling lights were replaced with full spectrum fluorescent tubes. Once described as "dark and spooky," the basement now glowed with glossy, playful patterns of color.
A Dedication Ceremony was Held to Celebrate Completion of the Mural.
Genszler encouraged those in attendance to dab their handprints on posts in the mural room and to sign their names with the metallic marker. He recommends using a hand cream such as Daniel Smith Cactus Brand Protective Cream before brushing acrylic paint onto your hand. This helps prevent paint from penetrating into your skin.
Inspired by Genszler's design, I later designed murals in three of the church's other schoolrooms. Using a similar style, I overlapped shapes of pairs of animals for a Noah's Ark mural, painted fish, dolphins, a whale and other sea life in another room and a rainforest design in the third room. Children and adults painted the shapes made by the overlapping designs. I outlined the shapes with a gold marker. It was fun to work with groups of all ages and to see their pride in helping to create lasting works of art. I can see why Genszler loves to orchestrate projects!
"I like to work with lots of people and to see them get excited while working. These large projects help to build community," said Genszler.
The overlapping contour images of people were created on paper using digital photos and Photoshop 5.5 computer program. It was then transferred and enlarged to a clear acetate sheet at a print shop.
After inserting the acetate sheets in an overhead projector and drawing overlapping contour lines on the walls, Genszler (in red suspenders) mixed acrylic colors in plastic cups. he directed individuals of all ages to paint specific shapes made from the overlappy contour lines.
Everyone took pride in brightening the once-drab room by appliying fluid Daniel Smith and Golden paints to the walls. David Genszler (in red suspenders) and other mural artists applied acrylic paints using flat and bright brushes.
The completed mural of life-size overlapping silhouettes appears as dazzling as stained glass. An outline of silver metallic marker allows the bold color shapes to "pop out". Handprints on posts in the room gave the participants a further sense of ownership in the mural project.