Jobs with Insufficient Access to the Wall

On various jobs over the years, I’ve had to improvise when there wasn’t sufficient access to the mural surface. One that stands out in my mind was a midwestern zoo job featuring an artificial mangrove swamp.

The theme company I was subcontracting for had to install the mangrove plants before I could get the background painted. This meant painting the scene through the tangle of mangrove branches, where there was often insufficient space to get in a hand with a brush, let alone a spray gun. To aggravate matters, the back side of the artificial branches often contained rusty, razor-like barbs from steel mesh poking through the epoxy putty.

I solved the problem by cutting the bottoms out of tall plastic cups and wearing the cups like armor secured to my forearms with duct tape. The end result was acceptable but nothing like I envisioned if I had been allowed adequate access to the wall.

What Not To Do at the Zoo

Some of my earliest memories are of the Audubon Park Zoo in New Orleans. My family lived in my Grandfather’s big house within hearing distance of it. As a toddler I knew when it was noon because the lions would start calling for lunch. I still love the quaint WPA zoo buildings with animals carved into the brick, the formal fountains and statuary. But in retrospect I realized that the zoo in the early 50s was actually an animal prison with iron bars whose tops curved down into spikes aimed at the animals. The inmates lived out their life sentences in small cells. Given the spirit-crushing boredom, I can’t help sympathizing with an inmate taking the opportunity to fling something at the gawking bipeds outside. Continue reading

Erie Zoo Kiboka Tree House TV Studio

Continue reading

Hidden Features, or The Art of Camouflage

I was into camo long before it became fashionable. I’ve been a collector of all sorts of camo from all sorts of countries. Understanding the principles of camouflage (counter shading, breaking up the outline and mimicking the background), learned in the Marines, has been of surprising utility in my mural career. Often I’m presented with a wall that is less than ideal for creating an illusion. The perfect wall for a muralist is utterly simple: flat, white, curved corners, no obstructions, no angles, no electrical features. Most zoo buildings are existing structures that must be retrofitted to create a believable natural environment. Consequently, the muralist winds up with unwanted architectural features such as soffits, columns, pipes, walk doors, jogs in the wall, windows and skylights. My job is to make them go away. Continue reading