Painting the town

Master muralists show students
 how to turn alleys into art

In a sandy alleyway, an internationally known muralist, a dozen University of Florida art students, a few locals and one horticultural-science major grabbed brushes, rollers and cans of spray paint and began a transformation.

Over the next two days, the teaching wall at Leonardo's 706 restaurant near campus would flower with orange blossoms, and the students would learn the steps that come between a blank wall and a finished mural. 

The workshop kicked off a series of master classes presented by the 352walls/Gainesville Urban Art Initiative in collaboration with UF's School of Art + Art History.

Not all of the steps in creating a mural relate to painting, visiting artist Gaia explained. When the artwork you’re creating will become part of a community, that community has to be a part of it, he said.

"Reaching out to stakeholders to check your bias is important," Gaia said. “Everyone reads this stuff differently. You have to think of the audience, so that what you create is not an invasion, but a gift or a collaborative opportunity.”

At the first workshop in the series, Gaia described some techniques for large-scale painting: Ganging up extension poles to reach a four-story wall, using Photoshop to incorporate architectural details into the composition and how to lower the pressure of spraying paint to achieve a finer line.

He also shared how technology has changed the way murals are made, describing how he references a Photoshop image of his composition on his phone, zooming in on the area he's working on. 

"I have painted entire walls working from my iPhone."

When painting from your phone, use a waterproof case, he said. Murals can be messy.

Senior art major Terence Stevens hadn't painted a mural before, but after attending Gaia's workshop as part of a drawing class, he returned for the second session the next day. That's when Stevens found himself on top of a hydraulic lift working on the top of the two-story mural. 

"Learning to use spray paint and house paint to make a masterpiece was interesting," he said. "It gives me a little bit more confidence to try large-scale drawings or paintings." 

After Gaia's visit, which also included a community discussion and a talk about the evolution of street art, the students got to work with master muralist David Zayas, an art professor at the Metropolitan University in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The workshop series concluded with a master class by Brian Adam Douglas, a.k.a Elbow Toe, on Nov. 18. The Brooklyn-based artist pastes drawings and collages on walls around the world and also installed a piece in Gainesville – as Zayas did during his visit.

Unlike Zayas' mural, the orange blossoms on the teaching wall won't last – the next class will cover them up with a new painting. The space, however, is getting some permanent improvements. With the addition of paving stones, lights, fencing and a stage, the property owners are turning it into a new venue for Gainesville's arts scene.  

Photos: Lyon Duong, UF Photography/Text: Alisson Clark, UF News