The Evolution of a Mural Part 3

If you’ve made it this far, you probably just want to see the finished KouWork conference room mural already. I’ve been talking so much story that the details are getting lost in “too much english,” as our cousin always says. So without further ado, here she is:

Final panorama of KouWork conference room mural. (Click to enlarge.)

One of the toughest parts of traveling is not being able to share our journey with friends and family back home. Whenever we come back to Hawaii, though, it’s as if we’re “welcomed home” by new acquaintances, friends of friends, and extended family.

A special thank you to KouWork for hosting the most memorable of parties to officially unveil the mural and for trusting in my art and allowing me the freedom to express myself beyond the limitations of words.

A big mahalo to everyone who has supported me along the way towards such a pivotal keyframe in my art career. Carmela, for someone who “isn’t an artist,” your advice has grown to be infinitely helpful throughout all stages of my art. To everyone who blessed me with a lei, you’ve made a secret dream come true—I’ve always wanted to have a grip stacked around my neck like that!

I love you all! Thank you for making this night so special—I will remember it for the rest of my life 🙂


The following is a collection of photos from the mural unveiling party on March 23, 2018. Thank you to everyone who so kindly shared their photos with me.


The Evolution of a Mural Part 2

Full disclosure: I haven’t done a mural in over 10 years. The last one I did was in Astoria, Queens with Tyler and it was a real simple concept influenced by Lee Bontecou (Tyler’s idea.) It was graphic, minimal and clean—nothing too complicated. Unfortunately, the bar closed down soon after so it didn’t get much shine.

This new mural was much more of a production. It had “only” 10 colors and stretched across 2 walls of the conference room. Some basics even eluded me at the time. I wasn’t sure which paint to use, what brushes I needed, or how to properly prepare the space.

Dimensions of wall on the right.
Dimensions of wall on the left.

The biggest problem was: how could I transfer this image to the wall accurately and efficiently without just printing it and slapping it on like wallpaper (Yes, we even considered this!)?

If only I could see how other artists do it, maybe talk to professional muralists one-on-one about tips or just watch the process right before my eyes.

Luckily for me, I had all of that in the form of Pow Wow Hawaii. Artists locally and internationally are invited to bless the walls of Kaka’ako with new murals each year. Granted, almost all of them used spray cans, but there was still plenty for me to absorb. And for everything else, google, am I right? Besides, being around all these professionals also amped me up to get started on my walls!

Some art supplies from City Mill.

I read up on the best ways to secure the edges with blue tape and craft paper. *Note: remember to run a spatula along the edge of the tape to seal it and prevent paint from leaking underneath.

I borrowed drop cloth and a ladder from the guys at Redmont.

Luke and Lauren brought me to City Mill so that we could pick up the right paint.

Lining up the final color palette using Benjamin Moore’s Regal Select eggshell indoor house paint.

The first order of business was to get the sketch up onto the walls. Freehand was out of the question and gridding would have taken forever. The art itself was forgiving due to it’s organic characteristics, but the logo left very little room for error.

Luke’s setup for projecting the the left wall with “Kou.” Wood and sheets of paper were used to fine tune the angle when the built-in keystone software was not enough.

Since the dimensions of the room were not large enough to use the projector that we had, the whole process needed to be executed in piecemeal. Bounding boxes for the type were measured out so that the projected image could perfectly fit into sections. Luke handled it the first day and then I eventually learned to do it by myself. Later, Jasper informed us that there are some new, albeit expensive projectors with a short “throw” for situations like this.

Projecting a portion of the KouWork logo.
Just to be safe, I drew both sides of each stroke. This saved me in the end because I decided to leave all the lines white anyway.

We thought it would be amazing to time lapse the whole project with a DSLR, while simultaneously live casting it on Facebook. Unfortunately, the batteries didn’t last long enough to produce anything good. #UserError. And the Facebook live was just not that exciting considering how slow the process was.

Fortunately I took a few time lapses of work in progress. Here is one during the sketch phase using a projector:

Additionally, there were plenty of mental obstacles to deal with along the way. Every color I chose felt “too dark” and pictures did not reproduce well. From the very first color, I started to doubt myself. There seemed to be about a 30% increase in value, which was probably due to the current lighting situation in the office.

First color swatch: “Dusty Mauve.”

The colors perfectly matched the swatches in the Benjamin Moore booklet, but ambient lighting definitely affected the colors a bit. Why had I not considered that!? Should I abort mission and revisit the palette? Buy a huge bucket of white and lighten the tones towards a pastel color scheme to brighten the room?

“Dusty Mauve” looking brown in photographs.

I mulled it over and concluded that this was most probably a result of the overwhelming white dominating the wall. As much as you tried to tell your brain to disregard it, it needed adjacent colors to quiet the contrasts. Besides, the iPhone camera could not properly balance the white in the frame so everything was just looking brown. I was convinced it was all an illusion.

After some of the most restless sleep in weeks (I had nightmares about color swatches within an hour of passing out!), I decided to forge ahead with my original plan continuing with the lightest colors. In this way, the image could emerge from the wall as values increased. I’d also have the ability to lighten darker tones if they began to react unexpectedly with the rest of the palette.

Panorama after the first color, “Dusty Mauve.”

After putting on the next few colors, my theories seemed to be verified. Seeing the colors next to each other created a completely different effect. No more “brown!”

Panorama after adding 3 more colors: “Gossamer Blue” / “Hazy Skies” / “Florida Keys Blue”
Adding two more colors: “Philipsburg Blue” / “Caribbean Teal”

This continued on for the next 4 colors or so, until I reached the dark navy. When I put it on the wall, something in me just sank and I felt like I had royally f*d up. Up until then, every color just perfectly complemented each other. In fact, it was a bit difficult to decide which was our favorite color/color combination because it was working out so well. But this particular navy blue didn’t match the family of values already painted. Maybe it was because I skipped 2 darker values in the sequence. Or maybe I just needed to see it scattered throughout the mural, not isolated to one side.

“North Sea” needed multiple layers to really create that dark depth. You can see four different instances of it’s opacity in this detail. With 4-5 layers, it created a nice velvety look.

Again, I pushed forward and trusted in my preparations and prior calculations. Thankfully! As I added the last few colors, it just started to create that depth I was looking for.

I was really afraid that this color, “North Sea”, didn’t fit with the rest of the palette..until I added enough layers to make it opaque.

Although the colors in combination worked as planned, I was still worried about the lines and logo getting lost if black was painted at the end. The shade of black was too similar to the navy blue and the overall average values on the wall would have been too heavy and ominous.

Cropped detail of 2 the remaining two colors: “Venezuelan Sea” / “Pacific Ocean Blue”

Also, the ambient dim lighting pushed the shades into a darker key than I desired. This was the only premonition that stuck with me throughout the process and consequently, I resolved to trust it. Rather than risking ruining the mural by adding the black, I decided to leave the white areas alone. Fortunately, there was some extra white paint left over for me to address a few touchups, smudges, drips and overpainting.

The last alteration involved changing the logo to my own personal one, instead of “No Wrong Turns.” As fitting as the brand was in this journey, I didn’t want the mural to be confused for a joint effort with Carmela.


I definitely learned a lot from this project:

-Try to trust in your groundwork. Those decisions were not whimsical or ill advised. That being said, if the feelings continue to nag you, then by all means, go with your gut feeling.

-Delegate! See if you can get help from friends on more trivial tasks like filling shapes. With more hands on deck, I could have easily cut the time in half at least. This was also a detail I seemed to neglect when observing PW artists execution times—nearly all of them had help in some way.

-Price it by square footage, not by hourly. An hourly rate can be a bit deceiving. Not only may you get the estimates wrong, as I grossly did in this case, but you also won’t penalize yourself for “working too quickly.” It’s a great way to prevent scope creep on both parties.

-Tier your price points based on complexity and painting conditions. Make sure to increase the rate if weather or wall surface will affect the workflow. You can always tailor the image complexity to the sketches as well.

-Learn to make the tools work for you. As my photoshop teacher at Parsons always said, “If it’s taking too long, you’re doing it wrong.” Filbert brushes were amazing for fills. Stiff, indoor house paint brushes with a slanted tip were great for applying much thicker layers of paint compared to art brushes, which fell apart too quickly. Special thanks to Jeff for all his advice along the way.

-Use premium eggshell indoor house paint instead of artists acrylics to save money. In this case, they came out to about $16/quart with the premium bases, which dry quicker. They also have different “base” levels to choose from before adding the dyes. I’m not sure if this is strictly proprietary to Benjamin Moore, but I’d be surprised if it was drastically different across other brands. If you can, try to stick to bases 1 through 3. Bases 4 and 5 have so much dye in it that it actually applies much thinner. It seems counterintuitive because you would think that darker colors are more opaque, but they’re not—especially when the wall starts off as white.

-Try to use small sections of dark eggshell paint sparingly in your design. They are very deep when applied to the wall and can have a nice velvety look to it if it is applied evenly, but it can definitely overwhelm the mood of the room if overdone.

-If you can, be mindful of the stroke direction and complexity you have in different parts of the composition. This is not a deal breaker but definitely something I noticed after a while. Since I had plenty of detail throughout the whole mural, I was forced into side planks and other awkward positions for extended periods of time. Overdoing detail by the edges isn’t as easy to render as isolated linework in the center of the wall at normal standing height. It just may take longer than you expected.

-“Spending a little extra time in the beginning can save a lot of time in the end.” Lauren said this to Eames after he asked why I was taking so long to tape the edges. It seems like a no-brainer but this is such a great point in general. All that hard work researching and preparing the wall really paid off—many were surprised to find out it was my first mural considering my meticulousness.

-Have your concept explanation down pat. I felt like such a hack when people asked about the meaning and I fumbled with my words.

-Try and have some stickers/promotional cards printed for distribution so that people have a way of following your work.

-Don’t be afraid to talk to professionals and mentors! Don’t try and be a hero and figure it all out by yourself if others can help you save time by sharing their experiences.

Stay tuned for final mural panorama and photos from the mural unveiling party.

*A special thank you goes out to Lauren, who did an awesome job snapping photos. Without her, there would be a lot of missing pieces in the work in progress storyline.

The Evolution of a Mural Part 1

A strange phenomenon developed around my art ever since I graduated in 2004. I never felt like I had anything to “say.” For whatever reason, I started to put this unnecessary pressure on myself to be profoundly meaningful or political, at the very least ground breaking. It is somewhat similar to the intimidation stemming from the preciousness of a blank canvas or a new sketchbook. I wanted my art to be conceptually and technically sound in order to resonate beyond pretty colors and shapes. But if this was the cause for stifled creativity, then what was the point, right?

I needed to just get started. No rules, topic be damned…anything.

Everywhere I look, all I see is mash-ups. From people to music, religions and cultures, the lines are blurring all the time. And I love it! But some of those topics can get touchy for some so let’s stick to something everyone can relate to: food. Fusion restaurants, doughnut croissants, taco burritos, and ramen burgers. Whether you like it or not, the trend is only going up and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This is also super apparent in music. I’ve always loved the idea of sampling, layering, patterns and movement because there is a direct correlation between music and my art.

DJ Neil Armstrong is one of my all-time favorite DJs for his effortless weaving of soundbites from comedy hours to movies, original samples and new tunes. Anything is fair game so long as it made for a good mix.

One of my favorite mixes ever!

What does this all have to do with my art?

How could I seamlessly marry all my different interests and have them coexist in my very own visual mix?

At the beginning of this year, I decided to make a game for myself utilizing artificial encumbrances to my advantage. Each week, I would review my photos and use them as reference in creating a unique drawing. The goal was to have 52 illustrations by the end of the year akin to a visual diary. My art would stay current to our present location and activities, and my photos would be saved from hard drive purgatory.

I originally started to sketch in my black book with a pencil, but quickly realized that the iPad would be more flexible. Each individual drawing could be added to my archive for future use in new compositions.

Santiago preliminary sketch.

The result was a bit reminiscent of a surreal coloring book. And this format allowed for fresh, new content each week with the ability to backtrack once I was all caught up—whenever that would be.

Refined Santiago sketch completed on the iPad with ProCreate app.

One of the elements I ended up drawing in my very first compositions in Chile was french fries, but used out of context simply as a texture. And that really got me thinking. Although it would be more ideal to draw from life, I already had a growing pile of photos from all of our travels. Plus, those would be unique to our own perspective, which would inherently keep all aspects of the process my own. Maybe I could sample shapes out of context the way Neil did with his mixes. The abstractions are infinite and the combinations are endless. It was up to me to orchestrate a new visual song with a nod to our journeys.

In parallel to this inner strife (which has really been going on since junior year college), I was asked if I would be interested in creating a mural for our favorite co-working space in Honolulu! Sounds like a perfect opportunity to put this new practice to use in an actual commissioned piece!

KouWork Exterior.

Going through my Hawaiian travel photos brought back some amazing memories from otherworldly hikes to gluttonous plate lunches. Actually, there were tons of food pics so I naturally started to latch onto that topic. I combed through the pictures whilst salivating uncontrollably. Rendering a still life felt a bit tired and stale. Instead, I sampled select details, building it slowly until the drawing grew to fill the frame. The goal was to react to the art, freestyle a narrative and get lost in the process.

Certain moments worked out really well, but as with some improvisations, it’s not always one hundred. The drawings were fine, but the composition, not so much. Plus, I had run out of places to draw but had plenty of photos left to sift through.

This is why I love the iPad and ProCreate. With the ability to resize, reposition and rearrange each element placed on separate layers, I was able to fully redesign the piece with infinite flexibility. The elements were constant but could be edited and reedited into completely different remixes.

Early sketch for KouWork’s conference room mural.

Almost unexpectedly, there developed a debilitating bi-product of impermanence throughout the workflow. With so many options, it was easy to second guess every step of the process. I needed to quash my deliberation, trust in my decisions and respond to what the art wanted to do.

After getting the illustration to about 80% completion, it was time to start testing value and color. I definitely wanted to:

  • Have an area with subtle elements. I am always fascinated with how masters would include detailed foreground figures in shadow off to the edge of the frame, without neglecting any of the faint contrasts.
  • Explore depth through playful undulation in the third dimension, with a foreground, middle ground and background.
  • Give the feeling of space and vastness beyond the drawing. I’ve always loved how Inka Essenhigh achieved this in some of her earlier resin paintings a few decades ago.
  • Use a palette evocative of a quintessential Hawaiian beach: turquoise for white sand shallow shores, darker blues for deeper waters, greens for seaweed, a sort of beige to represent sand, and some warmth for the coral.

The final step was to create some photoshop mockups and hone in on the right crop.

Early work in progress mocked up in the space.

Luke and Lauren also requested to have “KouWork” included so long as it didn’t ruin the art; if it didn’t work, then I was told not to force it. With so much space in the z-axis, there was room to have their logo interweave with my drawing. I worked out a solution, ran it by L&L and they loved it even more than the drawing alone. Let’s get this thing started!

Work in progress test with KouWork logo.

The last virtual hurdle presented itself once it came time to choose the color swatches from Benjamin Moore’s sample books. There was an option to print the file and have them color match exactly. But, I wanted to tweak some things like the contrast, saturation and mood. The mockup felt a bit psychedelic and some of the color contrasts were slightly overdone. I quieted the value of the highlights and added saturation to make it more vibrant.

I learned so much about how a piece evolves from concept to reality. In the next post, learn more about the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced and how it all went down.

If you’re in Hawaii, come see the finished product over at KouWork. We will be having a pau hana from 5-7pm.

Otherwise, you can follow me on Instagram.