Now that the TMC artists have a couple weeks of work under their belts, we asked them for an update on the experience of pursuing public art. Here are a few of their thoughts and impressions on the effect their ArtWorks’ project is having on themselves and the world around them. Their responses make it evident that each project creates a unique experience. TMC artist locations are: Karen (Cress) is an apprentice helping create the Interior Mural at the Justice Center, downtown Cincinnati, Chris (Beiting) is part of the Cincinnati Sound mural featuring James Brown at Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, and Jacob (Condon) is an apprentice working on the Ezzard Charles mural at the corner of Republic and W. Liberty Streets.
What was your impression on the first day?
Karen Cress (KC): Some people who walked through the doors the first day came with bad attitudes, one woman was screaming at a police officer and was arrested on the spot. Some were just rushing to fulfill a day’s task, and there were a few that just walked by without much notice. You could feel the stress and irritation from the officers dealing with rude people and the aggravation from many guests having to take off their belts or earrings because they were setting off the metal detector. I saw a lot my first day and not much about it was pretty.
Chris Beiting (CB): Day one was a healthy mix of excitement and nerves. I certainly had some apprehension having had limited teaching experience prior to ArtWorks, but that was to be expected. Once introductions were made and we began to discuss our course of action, the excitement took hold and it hasn’t left me since!
Jacob Condon (JC): My first day of work started out with a cop knocking on my car window because he thought I looked liked a suspicious character while I was waiting around in my car for work to start. So my first impression of my work site was that it might be a bit sketchier then I am used to. After my run in with the law though, the first day of all of us working on the wall was actually pretty nice. We started out with some quick introductions and training on how to properly walk along the scaffolds without falling off. The only work we did was starting to paint the wall white. It was not complicated at all, and I just enjoyed the fact that I was actually getting paid to do something cool like this.
Your observations about the first week?
KC: By the end of the first week I could already begin to see a shift in people’s attitudes as they walked in. It’s really awesome knowing that my team is putting something on the wall powerful enough to change the feeling of a whole room with just a few marks!
CB: The sun is much hotter the closer you are to it, and five stories of scaffolding can be a little unnerving at first. Also, this area had produced some vibrant and inspiring young talent. It’s been a pleasure working with my team thus far.
JC: The first week of work was pretty nice. We just applied gesso (a white paint mixture used to prepare the surface) to the wall for the first two days, and had a little show and tell of each other’s portfolios so we could get an idea about what art we all liked to create. Work was canceled on Wednesday due to rain, but Thursday and Friday we finished up applying the gesso and started plotting out the grid on the wall. Even though the work was not too interesting no one really seemed to lose interest. I think most of us enjoyed this easy start to the mural because it allowed us to focus more on getting to know each other and getting into the grove of our regular workday.
What do you think of the design elements of your project?
KC: The piece is very detailed with classical elements, muted colors begin on the left of the mural and gradually become more colorful and vibrant as you move towards the right and there’s some geometry woven into it as well.
CB: Jenny Ustick, our project manager/lead artist is extremely talented, so on the first day of orientation when we saw this glorious, ultra-colorful mural she had planned of “Soul Brother #1” James Brown, it was hard not to want to bust a move.
JC: I really like how the lead designer has laid out this project. The artist has represented Ezzard Charles in a very graphic style, which makes it much easier for us to work. All we have to do is pay attention to the shapes in the mural and use the grid to accurately lay them out. After that it pretty much becomes a color by number we can all work on together in order to bring this piece to life.
Is the work harder than you thought, about right, or not as challenging as you would like?
KC: From the way it sounds, my project is slightly more challenging than some of the other murals only because of the fact that our mural is so detailed and when we follow our paper grid (1” on paper is 1’ on the wall), every 1/16” on the paper makes ¾” on the wall and it makes a huge difference. I like the tedious work though because I like to be very detailed in my own art too so it doesn’t bother me. I would say the work is just right.
CB: I expected this experience to be challenging, and there have been moments more difficult than others, but nothing has been too overwhelming just yet. I’m excited to be caught up in the process, and hope to grow from this experience.
JC: So far the work is just about right where I expected it to be. When you need to paint a mural this big, it should be expected that you have to do a lot of prep work, like painting the wall white and laying out the grids, so the actual painting of the picture can go as smoothly as possible. I am just excited to actually start drawing on to the grid so we can see this mural really start to pop.
What have you found to be most challenging so far?
KC: I think the most challenging is just getting ready for the presentation that each ArtWorks group has to do. It’s not a big deal but we each have to speak about great things in little time without reading from a script. So just getting everyone prepared and not letting the nerves of presenting frazzle you is the biggest thing, I’d say. Aside from that the sketching and the measuring hasn’t been too rough.
CB: The building is five stories tall, so in order to render the mural onto the wall we’ve made a grid of 5’ x 5’ squares to break down the image. The most challenging task I’ve encountered thus far is making sure everyone is lined-up and in synch with everyone else. But the apprentices on my team are outstanding and so far we’ve been doing just fine.
JC: Honestly the most challenging thing so far is to keep my head low when walking around on the scaffold. Our hard hats add about 3” to our height and since I am already tall that is making me bang my head on almost every low bar I pass by while painting. It is hard to get into the flow of things when low bars knocking your helmet off your head keep interrupting you.
How many people are working on your project? Tell us a little about co-workers.
KC: There are 12 of us including the teaching assistants working on the mural. The group is nice and we all work very well together. I couldn’t have asked for a better project manager than Tina Westerkamp. A light just shines through that woman and her energy is so pure, she really brings good spirit to work with her everyday and I enjoy that.
CB: The teaching staff includes myself, Derek Toebbe, and Jenny Ustick, and we have 12 apprentices under us. Jenny and Derek are very kind, knowledgeable, and passionate. I’ve learned a lot from them in the short time we’ve been working together. The apprentices on our team are all pretty motivated, and are hard workers. I wake up everyday excited to go to work, which is totally exciting.
JC: We have 12 apprentices, two teaching artists, and one lead artist working on this mural. The first couple days were pretty quiet all around because no one really knew much about each other. As the week progressed though, we all have started to open up a lot just by cooperating to lay down a straight grid and by having random conversations while working on the wall. We have a pretty diverse age range on this mural as well. I think, including me, we have around four college kids, three just about to enter college, and five others who are at various points in their high school careers.
What reactions is the mural you are working on getting from people as it progresses? Does the mural draw attention?
KC: The mural is getting a great deal of attention, people within the Justice Center are always coming up and asking about the mural or just sitting back watching us work. It’s really amazing because when we first got to the site it wasn’t a place you would want to dwell in but with just a few days of working we could already see and feel a difference in the building. The people smile now and watch and converse with each other about this thing ArtWorks is putting on the wall for them. It’s incredible to literally make a difference with art and to actually see it happen.
CB: Everyday we have a handful of curious passersby who want to know what we are up to, and the feedback has always been very positive. I think the people of Cincinnati have really dug-in to what ArtWorks has been accomplishing in the city. People seem to be excited to know it’s about James Brown as well. Can you blame them?
JC: During this first week the mural has drawn a lot of people in, just because they are curious about what we are doing. Since it is mainly a white wall (at the moment) people ask what we are planning to do, and ask questions about who Ezzard Charles was, but as we progress further and start sketching out the mural, we are getting a lot of compliments from passersby once they get close enough to see the sketching we are doing.
Is there a specific process being followed as you work?
KC: Yes, we had to apply two coats of gesso and grid the wall with 3’ x 3’ squares. After gridding the wall we drew in the underlying geometric lines then followed with the curvy and other detail lines in vine charcoal. After it’s all drawn out on the wall we’ll paint everything with monochromatic raw umber tones and then add color on top as glaze.
CB: Everyday has been different, but so far we have been busy in teams making the grid, and drawing the graphic. Now we’re starting to trace over parts of the drawing with paint. I believe by next week we will begin to add color, and we are all excited for that!
JC: So far the process is: put the base gesso layer down, lay out the grid, and then use the grid to sketch out the shapes in chalk and go over them in paint when we are done. Once that is finished, we will be filling in our painted shapes with the appropriate shades like a giant color-by-number painting.
Any other impressions you would like to share?
KC: I love seeing the tiny faces stare in awe with their mothers and others smiling as they walk by us working. They didn’t do that before, and now we’re giving them a reason to by providing something beautiful for them. It’s just really neat being a part of something so miraculous for this place, I’m really proud of my team.
CB: It has been totally empowering to see how much art and the process of making art can affect so many people. To be a part of something that so many people are excited for and engaged in is such an absolute blessing.
JC: Before ArtWorks, most of my other jobs have been working in restaurants and the main feelings my coworkers had about work was that it was not an experience they enjoyed. Most of them would talk about all the things they would rather be doing than being at work. ArtWorks is the first place I’ve worked where everyone really seems to be enjoying themselves while working. So far I haven’t heard anyone complain or wish they were somewhere else, and working alongside that kind of mindset makes me enjoy it that much more.
For Part 1 of the TMC Artists Connect to ArtWorks story click here.
For Part 3 of the TMC Artists Connect to ArtWorks story click here.
See more about all 10 mural projects happening this summer covered by WKRC Local 12