Blog #33 New Life in Urban Spaces

Creating new life in urban spaces

If you didn’t get the chance to see the Vancouver Mural Festival this summer, I implore you to download a VMF site map and to take yourself on a journey to any of the 11 mural neighborhoods right now; but make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to see these murals as there is a lot to take in.

The mission of VMF is ‘to create meaningful experiences that connect art and people’ and over the past 5 years this ‘grassroots festival’ has evolved into a first class public art event, noted for elevating underrepresented and marginalised groups whilst transforming neighborhoods and public spaces with large scale street art. In a time where cultural establishments are exploring new ways for the public to experience art, the festival continues to celebrate the cultural, historical and creative diversity of our city and our province, in a fun and playful way that is accessible to all.

In this blog post I explore the processes and planning that goes into designing murals with artist and muralist Jen Clark, who completed her stunning nature inspired Owl Mural for the Vancouver Mural Festival Headquarters for VMF 2021.

Blog #33 New Life in Urban Spaces

Based in Crescent Beach, South Surrey with studio space at 1000 Parker Street, Jen Clark finds inspiration for her nature-based work in life cycles, ecosystems, growth and evolution which is inextricably influenced by her insight into the human psyche, internal landscapes, geometry and symbolism, further evidenced in her abstract art. Her work can be found in an array of locations across the Lower Mainland, including Main Street, Vancouver, The Profile Coworking Club, Gastown, Port Coquitlam and the City of Surrey.

Jen’s involvement as a facilitator with the women’s group ‘Thrive’, The Eastside Culture Crawl through her Parker Street studio and membership with Z.inc Artist Collective meant there was plenty to chat about, but the conversation inevitably drifted towards the importance of communities for women, life in cities and transforming urban spaces.

Murals are painted in a variety of ways, she explains, following consultations and detailed designs. The Festival will clean and apply a base layer on a specified wall where gridding can then be applied over that first coat for accurate scale, prior to the start of painting. Some muralists will freehand, others transfer their image onto the wall and some project the image depending on the location. The planning and designing processes for Jen’s murals were initially developed using the iPad app, Procreate: an incredible programme for any artist to move things around, copy and paste photos, make symmetry, add colour and erase. Not only a great tool but also less wasteful.

For her 2020 bee mural, ‘Waggle Dance’, Jen had a busy street in front which meant projection was not possible and because of the symmetry of her design she was not able to free hand. Instead, she transferred her design using a technique devised by Australian global- mural artist Rone, applying random symbols about a foot apart. Precision at this stage was vital for overlaying the mural design on a transparent photo of the wall and where both symbols and images could be seen together. Then, mapping could commence referencing the symbols and the design up close. Symmetry and special shapes require a bespoke giant ruler for accuracy and the finished mural a varnish glaze for protection.

"It doesn't matter how long it takes; it’s how long you have to make it work."
Blog #33 New Life in Urban Spaces

The Owl Mural at the VMF Headquarters was a smaller indoor mural that required a different process. Jen created a very detailed central design on her iPad of owls within a circle which was projected onto carbon paper on the wall of her studio which she cut out to take to the mural site. This doesn’t happen every time, she notes. In order to eliminate time-waste, the carbon paper was the exact size for the mural so that Jen could transfer the black and white drawing onto the HQ wall before painting free hand.

When asked how long it takes to complete a mural, Jen laughed. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes; it’s how long you have to make it work”. And work it does. With the future of galleries in question, VMF is an affirming way to experience culture in the city. The time and great pleasure spent exploring and sharing these public displays have the added bonus that you can return anytime you like.