Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Transform a courtyard and be ASKED to graffiti!? Yes please!

Finished courtyard project: design, mural, shed refurb & labor.

I'm an old bird.
Maybe I should be calling it, GREYffiti.

That's what crossed my mind when I was recently asked to transform a Brighton courtyard one sunny morning over breakfast at Laportes in Lewes. 

First view from downstairs lounge.
"You know my downstairs courtyard?  I've been thinking about sprucing it up, maybe getting rid of the shed and having some painting done – something fun. What I really want is graffiti. Have you done that kind of thing before?"

"Nothing I'll admit to! What kind of graffiti do you like?"

"I'm thinking about a Brighton scene. This may sound funny, but I really like the portable toilets they've painted on the beach. Not necessarily the style, but the idea of a beach scene."

Well, that was all our table needed. The conversation very quickly turned to the obvious Brighton beach chairs, pebbles, East and West Piers and beach huts . . . . BEACH HUTS?

"Hey, is your shed in good condition?"

Shed before (needed new roofing)
"Not bad. It's a little worn down. I was thinking it could just be taken out to make room for something else. Why?"
"Well what if we kept it and used it as part of the beach scene? Make it a feature and paint it like a Brighton beach hut! We could even use pebbles."

I love brainstorming. It always helps when you know someone fairly well, but you can never be sure exactly what they're seeing in their mind's eye. My years as a graphic designer taught me to ask questions – what colors do you like? What are you interested in? What kinds of music, art, people, animals, cities, movies, tv shows do you like? What are your favorite activities? What message are you trying to get across? Political views? What style speaks to you – clean and tidy or chaotic and crazy? 

There really isn't a wrong question when trying to narrow down the starting place for a commissioned piece of art, much less a 12 x 6 foot spray-painted mural on someone's freshly painted white wall! 

Ad for sideboard and inspiration for shed.
Thankfully these days we have PhotoShop. I took a few well-thought-out photos so I could give my client a fairly realistic idea of how the finished project would look, starting with the shed. He'd mentioned stripes over breakfast, then remembered a piece of furniture he had his eye on and emailed it over. 

"Do you think you could match this kind of look for the shed?"

Shed "sketch" in PhotoShop
That was really helpful. Not only did it give me more insight into the look and feel he wanted, the design was inspiring. The next day I emailed over the initial digital "sketches" complete with pebbles, the mural components and a basic idea of what the shed would look like.

First draft of design (created in PhotoShop).

I always hold my breath at this stage. It is the moment of truth to see if I'm anywhere near the right mark. And I was for the most part. All of the design elements were a hit, but we needed to discuss the colors. No problem! 

My client wanted warmer colors (purples and reds) for those cold, grey winters in the South of England, and now planned to install outside lighting to highlight the courtyard. We would revisit the treatment of the floor tiles once everything was installed and painted. 

Within a few hours, I had adjusted the mural design (removed the beach chair, shifted the West Pier to the left and Miles away from the shed by a foot), and was ready to schedule my first work date. There was the small matter of all of that soil in the planter which I ended up digging out, bagging up and re-distributing in the upstairs garden. Yes, we one-grrl-band artists have to be ready to get stuck in and wear a few different hats – gardener, carpenter, painter. It keeps us honest.
Finished shed.
Then came the fun – painting the shed. I spent the first part of my second day fitting new felting (sanded tar paper) on the roof and refitting the loose boards, then gave the shed a coat of Weathershield water-based white paint. It was really warm all week, so it dried almost immediately. I plugged my trusty hand sander in and started distressing the paint. I treated the doors like an abstract painting – working layers up, scrubbing bits out, scraping, sanding and doing it all over again until I achieved exactly what I wanted. Then I added pencil scratches, writing, designs and shading and varnished everything.

Wednesday I shopped for spray paints and other fun supplies at Seawhite of Brighton in Partridge Green. (Hands down my favorite art supply store in the world. Oi vey, and the prices!) 

Close up of West Pier stencil.
Thursday I worked on drawing and cutting the enormous stencil of Miles Davis and the slightly smaller West Pier. I can't remember how many X-acto blades I dulled, but suffice to say, by Friday I couldn't wait to get spraying.

First version with arched background and blocked Miles stencil.

Finished the first day of painting with changes to come.
So I finished painting for the week and left it for my client to come home the following Monday. I made the decision at the time to arch the background rather than taking it all the way from the right corner. When I left, I wasn't completely happy with how it flowed. My client agreed, and although he was very pleased with Miles, the Pier and colors, asked if I could rework the background – getting it closer to the original design.

Meanwhile I ordered 10, 25kg bags of beach pebbles and two 4 x 8 foot sheets of 2 inch thick styrofoam sheets to cut and fit into the bottom of the planter as fill under the pebbles. The order would take a few days to arrive, so I planned my attack on the rework of the mural.

By Saturday, I was ready to go and really took my time making a seamless transition to the background. Miles was cut off at the shoulder in the original painting, so I referred back to the photo I used to draw the stencil and brush painted the shoulder and back, keeping the effect I originally achieved with spray paint. I added some highlights to the pier as well, brush painting some lines and reflection from the water.

Finished mural, shed and beach pebbles. We left the floor tiles as is.

The added day gave me time to smooth out my first attempt at spray painting the sky and sea, and I was much happier with the final outcome. It always pays to take your time, step back and walk away for a little while. Fresh eyes are good.

The result: a very happy client and a garden party two weeks later with Miles serenading from the courtyard. Cool, man.

Example of outdoor, weatherized garden art on an upcylced door.
If you're looking for something different and want to transform your outside space, pub garden, porch, building or anything else, contact me! (info at cookiechang dot com) I'm open to discussing anything from a little piece of outdoor garden art to a whole space makeover – any style. View my etsy shop for other indoor art as well.

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