Street Art Hawaii Kaimuki Beautification Project

On Saturday 22 and 23, a group of artists volunteered to beautify the traffic boxes in Kaimuki.  Though I was only able to participate for one day, I was able to finish a very large (6′ X 10′ in all) traffic box mural on the corner of Waialae Ave and 16th Street – right next to a bus stop. It was a great experience and the neighborhood was very supportive and appreciative!

The design process began with a sketch a couple of weeks prior.  It’s rough, but you can see I stuck fairly close to the plan, just adding a few more native and Polynesian-introduced plants when I found out that the extremely nice family living close to the box would know and enjoy having more plants on the traffic box.  It turned out the neighbor adjacent was an avid gardener and bird aficionado, and they will be looking at this box all the time, so I wanted to make a special adjustment as a thank you to them for their unusually kind hospitality.  They even brewed me a cup of tea using leaves from their own garden! 

If you look at the box in person, make sure to peek at the back.  I painted all the sides – the back was just as important as the front.  The back is inspired by the name of this neighborhood – Kaimuki.  Ka imu ki means “ti plant oven”.  It was an area famous for the many ti plant ovens on its hills.  The ti plant was a very important and useful plant to the Hawaiians.  It is still in heavy use today as the raw material for hula skirts, lei, and also as a leaf that can be used to cook. Hau, a plant used for medicine and for fiber for tough ropes is also on the back.  I painted a lot of taro on the front and sides which is a Hawaiian staple food that is often growing wild in wetland areas.  Finally, I painted pickleweed, pohuehue, a small fern that looks like a 4-leaf clover, and a wild pink hibiscus, all plants that preceded human settlement.

The finished piece was accomplished after a very touching Hawaiian blessing. I felt the power of the ceremony followed me throughout the day, inspiring an unusually productive painting pace.  I skipped lunch to race the sun, moving around the box as the shade moved.  I enjoyed talking to various visitors throughout the work day, especially meeting a lot of the neighbors.  This area really has strong community feeling.  Despite the major road, the neighbors know and care about one another.  Many have lived there a long time.  I was treated exceedingly kindly all day long – countless shakas, “mahalos!”, and nice comments from passing cars, and neighbors offering juice or chocolate milk, etc…  I cannot thank the community of Kaimuki enough for the aloha spirit they showed during this process.  It was very heart warming and made me really want to do this project justice!    

I am very grateful to Jennifer Noel (the organizer), Bill Brizee, and Tracy Brilhante for getting me involved with this project and helping to make it all work.  Thank you to the Kaimuki neighbors who were so supportive and grateful for the project.  They made all the artists feel like a million dollars!  Thank you to the following photographers who kindly posted photos of native birds and flowers online in creative commons like Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons to allow for accurate reference photos for this project:  Dan Clark, David Eickhoff, Forest and Kim Starr, John and Karen Hollingsworth, and Rick Obst.  Without the lovely photos I could not have made the various Hawaiian Moorhens and plants as believable. Mahalo nui loa to all.  I hope the traffic box will brighten the area and be something the neighbors enjoy seeing.

  

Project: Enchanted Forest Mural

The “Enchanted Forest” is a bedroom mural on all wall surfaces, and the ceiling as well, featuring glow-in-the-dark painted fireflies and a plethora of flowers. The setting is intended to feel like twilight in a magical forest garden with a limited, soothing palette.

Enchanted Forest: I designed the room with the position of the bed in mind. If you are sitting on the bed, or laying down looking toward your feet, this is the main wall. It’s also got the least furniture, so it contains the most detail. 

A progress photo showing my eventual containers of color. I mixed small batches of paint that I could use as a mixing shortcut and to keep my colors consistent from wall to wall. I wanted to create harmony by using a limited color palette especially since it's a bedroom mural.

A progress photo of the left lily pond showing my paint set-up.

Because there is a huge closet on one end of the room, windows opposite, and a door in a certain configuration, there is only one way that the furniture can be arranged in the room.  That made it really easy to plan the optimal vantage points, and to know where to lavish details that were not going to be obscured by furniture.

I never did share all my photos from the Enchanted Forest Mural before this, because it is being renovated and the moulding isn’t up and new windows are pending as well, but it’s time to share it anyway. I used a lot of tips and tricks for this mural that I learned from Mural Joe, one of my favorite teachers on YouTube.  I highly recommend his videos – they are wonderful!  Recently I posted on his channel to thank him for his help and he asked to see the mural.  Even though the photos show that the home was/is in renovation (there is a lack of moulding and lightswitch panels, etc…) you can see the painting well.  I will post again in a few months when all the finishing details are in place.

Enchanted Forest Mural: A palm painted over three surfaces to soften the corner

A palm painted over three surfaces to soften the corner

This photo tour will travel clockwise, through the room.  The prior three photos display the main wall – the wall with the lily pond and waterfall.  This is the wall seen when lying in bed.  It has less furniture than any other wall, so it needed the most lavish details.

The second wall spans the door and is mostly a narrow two-foot-wide panel because the entire rest of the wall is a big closet. These photos show the transition from the lily pond and waterfall wall to wall #2, the lilac and iris garden.

Clockwise: A detail of the right end of the lily wall wrapping around to the lilac garden – there is a closet next to the lilac garden.

Enchanted Forest Mural The wall with the massive tree and and a view over a misty cloud forest

The wall with the massive tree and and a view over a misty cloud forest

The third wall is the one behind the bed. Because of this, it has the most furniture obscuring it. I kept the bottom of the wall very simple, but I still made it beautiful because the furniture might change someday if it turns into an office.

The room also needs to have visual interest that extends onto the ceiling so that there is something to look at while lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I love to relax under a tree in the summer – I do not do that very often, but I wanted to give this room that illusion of looking up at the tree canopy when the viewer is lying in bed.  There is a beautiful fan that echoes the style of the room, so I didn’t want to compete with it. The tree ends before conflicting with the fan, but allows for a lot of detail on the sweet spot of the ceiling over the bed where the sleeper will end up staring a lot.

Detail of the right edge of the massive tree, looking off of a cliff over the forest canopy

Enchanted Forest Mural: The massive tree. When the bed is in place, the viewer is lying directly under the tree. The perspective is designed to make the tree look like it is disappearing up into the sky. It is surprisingly effective in person!

The massive tree. When the bed is in place, the viewer is directly under the tree. The perspective is designed to make the tree look like it is disappearing up into the sky. It is surprisingly effective in person!

An ancient path to a mysterious door in a tree. This part of the mural is between the two windows in the room.

Enchanted Forest Mural: An ancient path to a mysterious door in a tree

The final wall is a mysterious ancient path to an archway door.  The door is set into a tree that appears to be hundreds of years old.  Hopefully it prompts an imaginative journey – where does the door in the old tree lead? To the right of the path, the edge of the lily pond begins, and the mural has fully wrapped around the room.  On every wall, there are fireflies painted with the strongest glow-in-the-dark water-based pigment money can buy.  It is really cool to turn off the lights and see the fireflies glow green.

Enchanted Forest Mural: The massive tree and the ancient path. The old windows are in the process of being replaced.

This photo is from “in progress” when the  massive tree was 70% complete (no branches on the ceiling yet) and the ancient path walls complete.  I computer-generated “moulding” to mock up how it may look someday, but I like this photo because it shows the transition of the massive tree to the ancient path.  In a few months I should be able to post an update with all the finishing touches, but it will look a lot like this.

The base color for the room was a blue I mixed up from other paint cans I had around the house. We had moved a lot, and I read that as long as the paint is all the same base (you cannot mix latex and oil) and if it hasn’t mildewed, it’s ok to take old paint and mix it with other interior house paint to make a new color, keeping in mind that I always choose eggshell paints, the  resulting gloss was going to be what I wanted for durability vs. glare. I spent some time and testing mixing up a nice mid-tone blue with a touch of green and black to muddy it up a bit and keep it from overpowering the room. From an interior design standpoint, the colors of a room make a big impact on mood and the feeling of space – does the room look large and spacious or small, or cozy – exciting or soothing? That is what color can do for the interior. I wanted the blue to be soothing and mid-toned so the space would feel meditative and spacious. I knew the mural’s illusion of depth would help make the space feel larger if I did a good job on the perspective. I chose for all the lighting to come from the direction of the windows. Everything I painted, I made sure it had the same lighting direction – I often had to change it in my head from a reference photo with the wrong lighting – Joe’s videos were very helpful in this aspect as well – knowing how the light changes as it reflects and diffuses through foliage was really a huge help for me. I imagined the light coming from  the top center of the “window wall”.

The other trickiest bit that I knew the least about before starting this particular mural was the perspective. Unlike my prior murals which were much simpler, this one was quite a complex undertaking with a lot of imagination-fueled components. Thinking about perspective was really important to make it all feel like a real setting.  I needed a true understanding of how to place and convert each element to be the right size in the right place.  I averted a couple of total disasters using Joe’s trick of “halves and doubles”, plus estimates of how tall I thought each item would be and a little simple math in order to place some of the most intricate parts of the mural in the right places at the right sizes. With a little practice, I was able to make hundreds of elements come together into a plausible world. Thanks Joe for all the great instruction! I couldn’t have done this mural without your awesome videos!