The Safari Mural Experience

Back in 2010, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime at my hometown church in Yukon, OK. I look back on it with incredible fondness and wish I could do it all over again. It still touches me today. I want to share it in hopes it inspires you, so please know that I’m not bragging or showing off. I could not, in a million years, have done this on my own. If you don’t believe in God, or consider yourself “religious”, this story may not mean anything to you. But I do ask you read it through.

I wrote this story a year or so after the 4,500 sq. ft. (yes… it’s that big) mural was completed. For the most part, it was just my mother and I that worked on the whole thing. We did have help with special equipment and blocking in large areas with paint, but the rest of it was up to us. It took roughly 4 months to complete.

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The entrance.

I’ve had a pretty average life, although it wasn’t without its high points and its low points. A few months before the mural project was even introduced to me I was having a very trying time in my life. I was dealing with some drama that, unfortunately, was not new to me. I didn’t really have many close friends at the time so I was feeling kind of lonely and disconnected. At the time, I was taking Graphic Design at Canadian Valley as well as some classes at Redlands Community College. I was coping well, but it still hurt.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to write my life story, but this event did impact the mural in a way. I wanted to begin with it because it played an important part in the beginning, even though later it had nothing to do with it. I had an acquaintance in my Graphic Design class who invited me to go to the gun range. My parents and I liked to go there once in awhile to practice and we hadn’t been in awhile. I wanted to go even though I barely knew him, even though I was afraid things would be awkward, just so I could possibly make a new friend. Long story short, our mothers went with us and we went to Subway afterwards.Which is where I ran into Amy, the children’s ministry director. She stopped and talked with me then and there at the restaurant about painting a mural in the children’s wing. Ironically, I haven’t really had much contact with my friend since then. I’m sure if I had turned him down, I still would have been sought out eventually by Amy since we had mutual acquaintances (who all knew that I had a reputation as an artist). But, knowing God, why not make it obvious?
The rough drafts didn’t take long. I found some pictures of some unique plants and animals and sketched out my idea onto long strips of paper. The strips had the measurements of the walls, so it was like a tiny scale model. Amy was so excited when she saw my sketches for the mural. It was exactly what she had in mind. It was like this was meant to be.
There was a challenge though, how could a 19 year old asthmatic with severe allergies and a 62 year old woman with Meniere’s do this? To be honest I wasn’t even thinking of this at the time. The project really didn’t seem intimidating to me at first. I simply had a painting to do. No problem. I painted every day in my art classes at Redlands. I don’t know if this was cockiness or just ignorance, but I had no idea what lay ahead.
It took awhile for us to actually begin and our first trip to Lowe’s was surprising. Not only did we have a lot of supplies to get, but we went over budget. Luckily, there was a sale that very day so we weren’t too horribly in the hole. The first thing we had to do was to set up our supplies and begin the tedious task of rolling large areas. I’m glad my mom was there to help; organizing all of the supplies was very overwhelming to me. It had been years since I painted a wall. I remember I had to take a nap that very first day because I got fatigued so easily. We eventually finished the undercoat and even had some help from a few of my friends.
The first major problem we had was getting the proper equipment. We had all the paint and supplies we needed but it took several weeks for us to obtain a scissor lift and have the animal heads removed from the walls. This wasn’t a huge set back, but we would have been much further along if it had been done sooner. Nonetheless, it got done.
The very first animal that was painted was the little dik-dik on the second panel. It’s a funny creature that looks like a tiny deer. We had seen some in Disney’s Madagascar 2 and thought they were absolutely adorable so I just had to paint one. It took me nearly 2 hours to paint that one little guy. It frustrated me greatly because some of the colors weren’t blending properly, but I was able to pull it off. Eventually, I would be able to paint some of the larger animals within that same time frame, or even faster. My speed and skill greatly increased over the next several months.

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Painting the little dik-dik.

The first panel (what we call the “Giraffe Wall”) was, and still is, my favorite. The giraffe was incredibly meticulous and took several days to complete. His face alone took as long as the little dik-dik. His body, however, was actually fairly easy once I had a system going. Most of it was simple. All I had to do was add spots and then some shading here and there, the base coat took care of most of it. I was also thankful for the additional paint for the acacia tree, which we didn’t have at first. But it was the perfect thing to add highlights (the original light green wasn’t cutting it) and it was a discounted reject color at Lowe’s! This panel probably took the longest, especially since we ran into another problem.

I want to take the time to explain something first. Most people won’t know this since this isn’t common knowledge unless you’re an artist or you’ve taken art classes. When you paint, mixing the proper colors is extremely important. In order to portray something, you must have the right matching colors, but it’s a lot more complicated than mixing red and yellow to make orange. First of all, you must have ‘pure’ colors—meaning it’s the color it says it is, i.e. red is red and green is green and doesn’t have another color contaminating it—then you have to take into account what the final product is going to be. Does this color need to be warmer or cooler? Darker or lighter? If you don’t mix the right combination, or have a contaminated color, it won’t come out looking like it should. Anyway, the brown I had chosen did not work with the yellow we had when we started on the savannah grass. It was a mucky brown color, which had appeared warm in tone to me at first, but I could clearly see after using the orangey-yellow that it was not. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t always know just by looking at it. Eventually, it became so problematic that I had to go get a different brown and, if I remember correctly, a different yellow as well. They proved useful later on, but they weren’t right for the grass.

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The completed giraffe wall.

Incidentally, because of the multicolored layers of grass on that wall, that is the best looking savannah grass in the whole room. I’m reminded what the bible says about being made new and how God can create beauty out of something so ruined. Which is exactly what He did.
Often times when I paint, or especially when I draw, I can ‘see’ what it is that I need to do. Kind of like a map. A lot of it is the knowledge and training I’ve had over the years, but sometimes it seems like it’s something more. Just because you know where that line goes or what color goes there doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out like it’s supposed to. Let me tell you, this happened quite frequently while working on the mural. There were even times when I didn’t know what I was doing so I’d just put a dab of color here, or put another shadow or line over there, and it would come out looking great!
I’m still amazed at the work my mom did on the rocks with the waterfall. I was stressing over it since it was a somewhat large area and I still had many detailed animals to paint. I was relieved and very grateful when she decided to take on the rocks. But after awhile they really needed some more detail to be complete and I wasn’t looking forward to it. She had the color and texture down, but it just looked like a grey blob. I told her what needed to be done and tried to explain it to the best of my abilities, but I can’t exactly explain what’s in my head. So, we prayed over it and she worked on it one day while I was at school. I recall getting a picture message of these breath-taking rocks and thinking, No way! You did that? Not that my mom isn’t creative. I even remember her being able to paint exceptionally well many years ago. But she had no proper training for it and certainly hadn’t done something like it in years. It was truly amazing. Especially after she described what had happened and how she had done it. Not only was it something I was very familiar with, but it was extremely gracious of God to relieve me of that duty.

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Low quality photo. But mom’s rocks look amazing still.

Not all of our experiences were laboring or negative (and not just positive either), we had many humorous situations as well. During the summer months we had many visits from all kinds of critters. One of the creepier experiences was the time my mom and I killed an extremely large spider. I cannot express how large this thing was.

Seriously.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a tarantula, but it was still pretty large and hairy. My mom came out of the classroom we stored our paint supplies in wide-eyed and nervous, “Hayley, I just saw something really big crawl behind one of the cans, can you come in here?” I was reluctant thinking it really wasn’t that big or it was something harmless like a cricket. When we searched around in the room and moved a few cans a monster scurries out from behind one of them. It was enormous, brown, with tiny little fangs and beady eyes. It probably drooled too. After we both were able to calm down a bit, we grabbed a newspaper and wrapped it around our rubber hammer (that we used to seal the paint cans). I moved the cans out of the way while my mom took a couple of good swings. I swear that thing took several minutes to die. In hindsight, we should have just hired it and given it a paint brush. Needless to say, I did draw a comic about it.

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Attack of the 50 ft. spider.

My second favorite story was the time a cricket scared me. Ironically, I scared it too, simultaneously. We both jumped back in fear and the little thing rolled around on the floor trying to get away. I’ve never met a bug that was as surprised as I was.
I also dropped my phone in the paint, which wasn’t funny at the time, but it is now. That scissor lift was also a pain at first before I got the hang of it. I’d tear up the floor tiles and my mom would follow behind and put them back in place as I moved the lift. We were so worried we’d ruin the floor. Luckily, the tiles cooperated and we were able to replace them without any problem.

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Poorly photographed comic.

We also have many painful experiences as well. One that sticks out to me (which is also quite gory) was the time I smashed my thumb with our rubber mallet. It’s not as simple as it sounds either. I have never fainted before, but I can tell you I almost did. Blood doesn’t really make me squeamish, but bruises do. It was at the end of the day when my mom and I were cleaning up (she was out of the room at the time). I was hammering down the lid to one of the paint cans and accidentally pinched the skin on the underside of my thumb between the hammer and the paint can lid. I gritted my teeth and danced around for a few minutes but the pain only got worse. I noticed after running it under cold water that, what was to be a horrible blood blister, had in fact burst and blood was now dripping seemingly everywhere. It freaked me out so much I had to go lay down because I was getting tunnel vision. You would’ve thought I had been mauled by a bear. Probably the worst injury I received while working on the mural.

Through all of the blood, tears, sweat, and laughter, receiving recognition that one Sunday morning from the congregation was one of the best moments of my life. It had always been a dream of mine to receive recognition like that. Not for fame, but because it made me feel like I meant   something and that my gift meant something. All of our hard work had been worth it.243_EastPanel7
You want to know a secret? All of those butterflies painted on almost every wall actually symbolize something; it’s kind of my personal signature. It’s derived from this: 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” For me, it doesn’t necessarily apply to becoming a born again believer, since I have been one for years, but that life is a growing and changing process. Especially as a believer. Passing through hardships is God’s way of making us stronger. So, in essence, you start out as a caterpillar and eventually will turn into a magnificent butterfly. My mom and I certainly learned a lot, so you could say we were caterpillars at the beginning. We learned so much, not only about ourselves and each other but also had the constant affirmation of our faith. Nothing is too big for God, don’t forget that.

 

If you would like to see a video slide show of the process you can check it out here.

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