One Last Commissioned Mural

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . .” –Romans 12:6

That curly ginger in the middle is me. She is waving not cooking. I was informed recently by a very kind friend that her hand looks like a wooden spoon. Dang it.

I used to paint. A lot. I used to have my own portrait, mural, and decorative painting business. Thinking about the verse above, I used to sign my name with a small cross in the front. This was to remind myself to give God glory first; it’s only by His grace we are capable of anything. It’s amazing to think about how our talents are just a fraction of our Creator’s. Whoa.

These are only pieces of a children’s dentist mural job I was commissioned for in 2007-2008. Welcome to Smile City. The dentists had me paint something on several walls in their office. It took me several months, even for simplified children’s paintings.

Well, they contacted me last fall and said they had expanded their office. Business is going well for them; which is great! The problem is, at this point, I have taught a few students, but otherwise I have turned down every art job offered me since 2010.

They wanted to know if I would update the walls in their new expansion. I said, “No.”- nicely. It was hard, but I declined (for whatever reason, I love these sunflowers).

But then they asked me again a few months later, saying they couldn’t find anyone else to do it. So I said, “Ok. But I can only commit to the waiting room and a few repairs, and then we’ll see.” They agreed, so I got the drawings and my supplies ready.

I know these drawings are very amateur, but at the time I started I had a million things going on and wasn’t going to invest my spare moments into making this sketch fabulous. In fact, as I remember, I think I started these in the car on a road trip. The dentists didn’t seem to mind, so we were all good.

I can’t remember exactly what the dimensions of this painting space are, but I would estimate around 8′ x 20′, including the adjoining wall. They told me what they wanted, and I tried to make it come to fruition. The drive-in movie theater is supposed to be centered around the TV as the movie screen. Pretty cute idea.


What happened to painting day 1? I think I hated it so much I didn’t even want to remember. I brought my friend April in to help me with the colors- she is a genius at mixing colors.

My problem areas are as follows: There is a red fire alarm at the top of the pink building that needs camouflaged. The TV, which I was told would be centered on the wall to the left, is grossly off centered to the right, squishing the scene into the corner. They also requested I switch the Hawks and Cyclones towers to make the Hawks the taller (their team). And having the Iowa State tower in there at all means that now I have to have a ton of red in the painting, throwing off the color scheme entirely. I can’t make it yellow because Hawks is yellow. I can’t make Hawks black because, well, yuck. Way too dark for a children’s painting (maybe Nightmare Before Christmas, but not Smile City). And also, now I have to move the sun, because I can’t put the yellow sun by the yellow tower.

Are you getting more of an idea of the thought process? So after Day 1, I had the college towers up and painted. I had to paint them first because they didn’t really go with the rest of the theme, and trying to add them in later wasn’t going to fit. I had to form Smile City around these towers so I could work out the kinks.

Right off the bat, I hated the red. HATED. So I tried adding some pink in with the yellow and white windows to soften it up. I think it helped a ton. And the windows that spell out Cyclones and Hawks I tried to make kind of subtle. Although I sent the pic to my friend, Kelsey, and she saw it right away. So maybe not as subtle as I thought.

There were a few buildings I didn’t like the color of. And the entire time, I am running back to look at the old paintings to make sure the style is still similar. April helped me fix the color pallet, and I am very grateful to her.


3rd day of painting went much better. I can finally stand to look Smile City which is great, but I spent this day painting fast. This work day happened soon after we made an offer on a house in Des Moines and sold our house in Slater after just a few days on the market. So suddenly we have a million projects to finish up at home, financial documents to get in order (not to mention taxes, barf), boxes to collect, and I have this mural commitment eating at me in the back of my mind. “I have got to get that done.”

So after a day of speed painting alone, I got the hedge line painted, the buildings outlined in black, more details in the windows, and the hot air balloons started. That helicopter is so adorable I want to eat him. He reminds me of a firefly. I don’t eat fireflies- just want to clarify. But later on, looking at this photo, I can see that my speediness translated as sloppiness. Many of my “straight” lines are not so straight. Dang it!


On my 4th day of actual painting, my husband and I have already moved into the Des Moines house. Nate made me promise I wouldn’t start on any house projects until at least two weeks to a month (all I heard was, “In two weeks I can bust a whole in this kitchen wall.”). He was pretty burnt out from all the projects we had to finish on the Slater house before moving out. And honestly, I was too. It was nice to just focus on unpacking and cooking up some real meals.

So on the first weekend in the new house, I took a Saturday morning to work on Smile City. I asked my friend Anna to help this time. At this point, April is working on selling her own house, so she’s got a million projects going on as well. Anna and I have painted together before, just for fun, so I knew she would do a good job.

I gave Anna the job of the hot air balloons on the ladder on the top right while I worked on the drive in movie theater on the left. When she finished with those, we switched places. She painted 3 more balloons on the top left of the drive-in and painted the cars while I worked on more details in the buildings. I added some foliage to the tops of some buildings, planters on the sides, and fixed some window issues. After 4.5 hours, I was hoping to have a little more done. But after 5 years of not painting, it’s easy to forget that the details end up taking the most time without a lot to show at first. But the wow-factor of the end product is all about the details.

Anna also helped me to recognize why some parts bothered me. I wasn’t sure about the lettering on the airplane banner; she pointed out that maybe the font wasn’t cohesive with the dentist’s logo. I’m sure she’s right, but at this point, I might not change it. I’ll have to see. I still have to paint the font above the drive-in screen, and this has already taken longer than planned.

So what is left? I still need to outline Anna’s balloons in black. I need to finish and outline the cars and several other things around the drive-in. I will add many more details into the city until it seems “finished”. I still have to fix a sign to include one more dentist they hired and repair parts of the old paintings that were damaged with the new addition before my commitment is fulfilled. At this time, there is no telling if I will be talked into doing more. They have been very generous with giving me plenty of time outside of my full-time job and home remodel. I’ve been going in about once a month.

I particularly love the blossoming cherry trees by the drive-in. I was inspired by all of these trees I had just ordered for my house from Arbor Day. Seriously good deal people; off subject, I know.  That info is in the FLOWER.ORDER post. But the pink foliage pops out nicely against all of the different greens on the background. Also a nice way to bring that color over- I just couldn’t bring myself to paint a pink car. Unfortunately there is no Mary Kay in Smile City.


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