If you haven’t heard, we’re opening an extra-special new store in Austin, and we can’t waaaait (July 31st people, save the date). To help spread our excitement, we tapped local artist Emily Eisenhart to paint a supersized mural in front of our future new digs. She’s inspired by natural landscapes like the beaches of Washington and Southwestern deserts—so her style is right up our alley. Read on to learn more about Emily and find out what it was like to work on such a big project.
First things first, when did you start getting into large-scale murals?
I painted my first mural in 2013 on a total whim. I’d never painted anything wider than a 36-inch canvas. My friends were opening an arts warehouse in San Francisco, where I lived at the time, and wanted my artwork in the space. I showed up, found the tallest wall I could find and said, “That’s the one.” It took me an entire week to paint, and it was remarkable to see my tiny drawings become 18 feet tall.
So what’s the planning process like for tackling one of these things?
Every mural begins as a blank page in a sketchbook. I typically start by visiting the location and observing the wall at several times throughout the day—if it’s an outdoor mural I look at it morning, noon and night, paying attention to the way light plays off the surface. If it’s a restaurant or retail establishment, I’ll look at the foot traffic.
During the site visit, I snap a few photos to use as a backdrop for artwork. Then I sit down and draw. I always begin with pen and paper and I’ve more recently started drawing with my iPad Pro. It allows me to overlay sketches on photos of the space, quickly creating many iterations of the artwork. I’m constantly experimenting with different colors and shapes, channeling inspiration from the place, conversations with the client or from any mood boards I’ve created. Even with technology playing a role, my process is hands-on and often messy. I cut paint chips up into mural motifs, rearranging them into scenes. I draw every day. I push myself to create without prompts or rules and make time to experiment and try new things.
Once the mural is planned, how long does it take from start to finish? Can you give us a quick overview of the steps involved?
It depends. Some murals are started and finished within a week and others take a few weeks to execute. The brunt of the work is on the front end, dreaming up the design and preparing the space. Painting the wall, while physically demanding, is almost the easiest part. By that point, I know what I’m doing.
I set up my work area with drop cloths, paint, brushes, rollers, ladders and other tools, then I draw or project the artwork on the wall, loosely tracing around the shapes. Next, I color block, assigning pigments to the shapes that build an underlying guide for the mural. There’s nothing more exhilarating than the first stroke on a blank wall. After that, the rest flows.
Did you have any inspirations in mind while you worked on our Austin store?
South Congress Avenue is a focal point of a vibrant, eclectic city, so I chose a bright, inviting color palette to celebrate the new store. I filled the wall with shapes and patterns that reflect Austin’s sunny disposition and weather. I also gave a special nod to locals—if you’re an Austinite you’re very familiar with blooming century plants!
Do you work alone or with a team? (And what’s it like either way?)
Sometimes I paint alone and other times I hire an assistant or a small team. Painting is always more fun with friends, it’s also more efficient. Murals, especially 43-foot-wide ones like the South Congress store barricade, are huge undertakings and it’s helpful to have not only an extra set of hands but camaraderie. A partner also acts as a sounding board if I need to make decisions about composition or color, or if I just need to take a breather.
How have the reactions to the mural been so far?
So encouraging and full of joy! Locals and tourists have been admiring the wall and sharing kind words. They cheered me on when I was painting (especially on those 100-degree days) and thanked me for making their city more beautiful. I felt proud to live in Austin.
It’s incredible to see people interacting with my work, interpreting it and making it their own. The biggest compliment of all was from a woman who said she changed her commute to work just so she can walk along the “feel-good wall.”
Austinites, go check out that feel-good wall while you can and make sure to stop by our new SoCo store once it’s open on July 31st. We’ll be hosting fun panels, workshops and pop-ups all week long—you won’t wanna miss ’em.