Tuesday, August 10, 2021

a busy summer part 2: the top secret mission

We rolled into the hotel parking lot in Summerville, SC a bit closer to 5:30 pm than I had hoped.  Violet and I were set to perform a few songs during the Rad Dad Concert at Public Works Art Center that started at 6:00 pm.  We checked in, threw our stuff down, changed clothes and ran back to the car.  We were on time for parking, but by the time we walked into the gallery, we were a good 5 minutes late.  (Sorry y’all.)  The concert had just started so it was all fine.  Our cool friend Dan Riley was in charge and he kept things very informal and comfortable.  When he asked us if we were ready, it took us a few minutes to get things organized but that kept us from getting too nervous.  It was odd to not be in our living room with our music laid out on a table in front of us.  Violet had to hold the music because I don’t always remember the chord progressions.  I really had to concentrate because her hand was shaking, it was dark, and my eyes are old.  We rocked the first two songs but I kept screwing up the third song, “Betty”.  We never figured out what was wrong, but we both agreed the chords sounded terrible so it was definitely something I was doing.  We did one more song on ukulele and then we were done.  The pressure was off and that was one more thing I could take out of my mind.  One more compartment I could close.  We were so pumped to get to hear Dan play with both of his kids.  That was definitely the highlight of the night.  It was also very cool to be playing in the gallery filled with my artwork.

After the concert ended we started taking down my exhibit.  We stashed the drawings and sculptures out of the gallery so Dan could start painting over the mural.  One coat had the entire wall drawing invisible and gone forever.  We grabbed some really good burgers at the burger joint across the street and then got Crumbl cookies on the way back to the hotel.  Everyone except Blue was asleep by 11:00 pm.

We had planned to hang out in Charleston on Saturday before starting our secret art mission at 5:00 pm.  We got up, I ran, and we all headed to breakfast at The Vicious Biscuit.  It was so good.  At breakfast we decided to change our plans and shift it to doing back to school shopping for the kids.  We spent most of the day at the outlets and while I walked around with everyone, my mind had shifted to the mural I was about to start.  I didn’t know what I was going to draw, but I had some ideas on how to use the very vertical space.  I was also trying to problem solve how I was going to plan and execute the entire mural from the top down.  This is not how I usually work.  I like to move around the composition as it evolves.  All this was playing in my head as I “shopped”.  

After shopping we headed back to the hotel.  Actually on the way we had to make a very important stop for Blue.  This summer he fell in love with Cane’s chicken and the closest one is in Summerville.  He was happy we had to make so many trips to the area this summer and this was the reason he was glad to be town again.  After Cane’s, we made a quick stop at the hotel.  G and the kids were heading back to the dogs at home and Katherine and I were preparing to be up very late doing the mural.  We found a food truck near the hotel and got some really good food from Page’s Okra Grill to fuel our night.  We all loaded up G’s car with as many drawings and sculptures as possible and wished them a safe trip.  Then Katherine and I went inside to prepare.  Our friend Dan set up the scaffolding for us as soon as the building closed officially at 5:00 pm.  The idea was that the scaffolding was going to block access to the bottom floor of the Art Center so we only had from 5:00 pm Saturday until 8:00 am Monday to complete the whole thing.  Not a lot of people had been told about the event so we totally ran with the whole “secret mission” thing.  Muraling is still associated with graffiti so the idea of coming in under the cover of darkness and working all night seemed to fit.

We got started very quickly with the first image.  I didn’t want to waste any time.  There are a couple of things about me that played into my approach to the mural.  First, I have no interest in staying up all night.  Ever.  I love my sleep.  Snacks and naps, remember that.  Second, I like to get stuff done.  I’m all for goofing off and having fun, but work comes first.  I needed to get this mural finished by the deadline and I wanted to do it without missing any sleep.  Keep in mind we had limited sleep during the previous week and we were pretty exhausted.  So I lit into the mural as quickly as possible and my mind started clicking, putting things together fast.  A lot of people asked me if I knew what I was going to do before I started.  The short answer to that question is no.  But that answer is deceptive because it seems to give people the idea that I just waltzed into the situation unprepared.  While I did not sit and plan the exact things I wanted to use on the walls of this particular space, I’ve spent years developing a lexicon of images with distinct meanings.  With each new drawing, I use my cast of characters to tell a specific story.  I have years of sketchbooks teeming with images I’ve saved for just such an occasion.  So I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I did come in with my mural box filled with black, red, yellow, and blue markers and about 5 years’ worth of sketchbooks.  I had ideas, just not detailed ideas.  I knew I wanted to use bold black outlines and add some pops of color.  I knew I wanted to use some images of creatures from the land, sea, and air.  I knew I wanted to create a very positive message based on helping others.  I also knew I wanted to make it personal in some way.

When I did the gallery mural for my show, I asked a few of the artists in the adjoining studios if they had any requests.  I did my best to work those requests into my narrative.  I had an idea to do something similar this time.  I had the privilege of getting to know Jana, the Executive Director, Emily, the Assistant Director, and Jana’s husband Dan during my exhibit.  Two of Jana’s kids performed at the Rad Dad concert and I also got to talk to them a little.  The kids had a couple of requests for the stairwell mural and Emily had a tiny one too.  Those were little sparks that started to build and grow as I started drawing.  

That first night, I was at the top of the scaffolding, sometimes standing on tip toes.  Katherine kept having to hand or toss things up to me.  I’d finish an image and scour a sketchbook for the next idea.  Then I’d ask for another.  I knew what I was looking for, but I was never sure which sketchbook it lived in.  Image after image, the mural started to develop slowly and the space started to fill from the top down.  By 2:30 am I had drawn enough that I felt comfortable stopping for the night.  

Sunday was going to be a long day and it started with an early run.  I think the alarm went off at 7:00 am.  Katherine met me outside for a 5K and then we grabbed Waffle House to go and ate breakfast in the parking lot of the Arts Center.  We started working a little after 10:00 am and only took a short break to walk next door for take-out.  We started adding color and I immediately loved what it added to the mural.  As time went on, we were able to start lowering the scaffolding, eventually removing it completely.  The mural was engulfing us now and it was easier to see what needed to be added as we neared the bottom.  We had a few visitors but mostly we were able to work without stopping.  By Sunday evening, I wasn’t worried about finishing on time.  We worked until midnight and tried to get some food on the way out.  That was a bit of a mess actually.  We had encountered all sorts of food related issues over the last week and this one would be no different.  We found a Cookout that was still open and it was on the way to the hotel.  On the way we found the 4 lane road completely blocked by police and we had to navigate around that in the dark.  We pulled into the parking lot and I got confused by the two lanes of drive-through traffic.  After ordering, I apparently managed to pull up to the wrong window and I was handed two small bags that were clearly not what we ordered.  I reiterated my order and the lady got a bit sassy with me about what I ordered and what I DIDN’T order.  I was hungry so I repeated my order again.  She said “OK” and went away.  When she came back, she handed me the same two bags but also handed me a milkshake.  I was confused but I had a shake so I moved on.  Pulling into the hotel parking lot we realized we had a completely different order and I had been eating someone else’s stray hushpuppies on the drive.  We briefly considered going to another restaurant nearby but soon decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  We were exhausted and sleep was more important than food. 

On Monday I ran alone along the exercise path I found near the hotel.  I was able to think about the mural and toss around ideas for the few small open areas left to fill in.  At this point we mostly had touch up work to do and then we’d be finished.  We checked out of our rooms that were so kindly provided by Cambria Hotels and stopped at Coastal Coffee Roasters on the way to the Arts Center.  I found this place when I was doing the gallery mural and loved their coffee.  We were not disappointed this time either.  We took the time to leave a butt drawing on one of the tables outside and then drove over to do the finishing touches.  While we technically needed to be finished by 8:00 am Monday, we had completely dismantled the scaffolding on Sunday, so the stairwell was open to traffic.

We ninja-ed in through the back door to keep with the whole top secret thing and got right to work.  We still had a drive ahead of us and I knew it would still take a while to get all the details right.  We had discussed some things we wanted to do so we quietly started our tasks.  While I was crouched down on the stairs, Jana (the Executive Director) walked up and quietly sat at the top of the stairs.  She had been in earlier that morning to see the mural and had noticed a particular personal touch inspired by her children.  She mentioned it calmly and I smiled.  I could see that it had affected her and I knew it would affect her family each time they came in.  That moment was worth the entire weekend of work.  

Katherine and I finished up and started packing.  Of course I could have stayed another couple of days adding things and touching up stuff, but I usually have no problem calling something finished.  It was time for the next adventure and we needed to not outstay our welcome.  My cool refurbished mural box was loaded to the top and we loaded up the last pieces of art that were too big to fit in G’s car.  I think we grabbed a taco somewhere before finishing the drive in a flash-floody rainstorm.  The day before, the upstairs air conditioner at home decided to clunk out.  This meant that after G made spaghetti and Violet and I watched a funny Netflix special by Tig Notaro, we’d all be camping out downstairs to avoid the sweltering head upstairs.  More adventure awaited the following day and we needed our rest.  

...stay tuned for "part 3: the concert"...

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