I spent most of last week with my friend and mentor, he’s an artist who started off doing graffiti, eventually turned his life around and now creates screen printed and painted murals for police and law enforcement agencies, corporations and restaurants. We met on halloween last year, a night when I ended up in the emergency room with a deviated septum from a male friend who had been upset that I was talking to this boy artist. Turns out he was trying to hit on me, but I was solely focused on the artwork. I contacted him a couple of days later when he said he’d be painting downtown, showed up and grabbed a brush. When he saw I knew how to paint, he was impressed and told me to bring 4 drawings I wanted screen printed. This started a friendship and changed the course of my artwork. He was one of the first artists who complemented my work, taught me more, nurtured my abilities and has continued to support and help me through moments I’ve needed an extra eye or advice. He’s helped me slow down my process, making sure I don’t skip steps, thinking out my composition and color scheme.
When I went to Nepal, Ryan didn’t say much, but since I’ve returned, he confessed he wasn’t sure if he would see me again. I shared my hash and stories while he updated me to his life. He had a show in February, which has led to many projects, a new girl has popped up and he’s getting things together after a rough January. I spent a couple of days at his studio, burning a new screen, sketching and being his extra eye for a mural he was designing for a new restaurant/ bar in Desert Hot Springs. Although he probably doesn’t like me calling him a street artist, Ryan seems to be the quintessential artist of the street. His art takes the views from landscapes, sightseeing, road signs and other landmarks and blends them using layers, collage, screen print, painting and graffiti. When he mentioned that he was doing a mural and wanted to hire me as his assistant, I was over the moon. I’ve watched Ryan paint, even painting next to him at events, but never on the same piece. The fact that he wanted my brushstrokes on his wall showed me how far I’ve come as an artist.
Despite the mural being pushed, Ryan’s car dying and other delays causing us to leave later than anticipated, I was still on cloud nine as we drove out east to the desert. We decided to drive separately, he needed to get to a wedding up north and I was heading southwest to Boogaloo after the mural was complete. We arrived mid afternoon to check out the wall, but since his plan was to use a projector, we had to wait until after the sunset to start painting. We grabbed an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant nearby.
Once at the wall again, we measured, figured out placement and started painting with our backs to one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever witnessed. We started with the main lettering and layered as Ryan typically does with his paintings. It was windy, but we made it until almost 3am before retiring in our sleeping bags on the floor of his truck. After a long night of incessant Rooster crows and his dog, Momo scratching at the door, we blinked our eyes open to the heat of the day. We trekked over to look at the wall and used string to paint a couple of orange triangles. Once the sun became hotter than we could handle, we climbed into my car and drove a half hour to his mom’s house next to a huge green golf course. His mom has a new puppy, so we watched Momo and Rocky play for a bit while we smoked a joint and swam in the pool. I took a shower, ate some cheese and crackers and took a long nap.
Around dinnertime, we hopped back in the car and drove to the wall for our second night. Another amazing sunset greeted us as we turned the projector back on and traced the remaining shapes that make up landmarks of route 66 and I-10. I realized that Nepal had been like mural boot camp. The wall was tiled with 8 inch by 8 inch squares, we stood on a shorter retainer wall or ladder to reach the top, and the wind sometimes made our brushes land off to the side. Overall though, it was a great wall, the difficult part was getting between the tiles and not dropping brushes between the retainer wall and mural.
While painting, we got honks, people stopping for pictures and teenagers asking for cigarettes. That night, a group of people slinked through the empty lot, climbing over a wall at the far end. Most of the time we were left alone with Ryan’s radio blasting music. The town seems to be coming up, his being the 3rd big mural with many walls just waiting for color. The population was pleased with our work and we took contact information from a couple of businesses.
That night we slept at his friend’s house, ten minutes away. He woke me up around 10am and back to the wall we went with a pitstop at Starbucks for iced americanos. The rest of the day we painted, perfecting our lines from the dark night. Ryan focused on the background, the signs and lettering and I added dimension to the Cabezon Dinosaur, a cock and the pool scene on the right side. In many ways, Ryan and I work very well together, our strengths are different, as are our brushstrokes. Ryan tells me that I have a feminine eye and a softer stroke, while he is more graphic utilizing a masculine gritty street style. I’ve been assisting more lately, though I also have a handle on working alone. Assisting someone else, especially another artist can be hard, anticipating what they might need before they need it, making sure to not misplace tools or supplies, painting while using their eye and aesthetic, and most importantly, tempering any changes in mood.
Our last day, it was hot and we were both tired. We took a late break for lunch and drove to Rocco’s Pizzeria, ordering a pepperoni pizza. We each drank a few cups of water, watching Momo sniff around the eucalyptus tree, sharing a joint and enjoying the breeze and shade. I made friends with the cashier, Rosa as she refilled our cups. She was excited to check our wall when she got off and I even gave her a strawberry propaganda sticker, which she planned to give her granddaughter. I gave her props on the cheese on our pizza and we headed back for our last stretch of painting.
A few more people stopped by, a friend of Ryan’s came to deliver some money she owed him and the owner came just as we were about to wrap up. He was excited and very impressed that we created a statement mural in such a short period of time. Ryan plans to go back for a day and finish details and possibly add in a couple more elements, but overall it looks great. A welcoming place to sit and have dinner, a drink and a live music show in a small vacation town an hour and a half outside Los Angeles. They plan to also open a recording studio next door to attract more musicians. The owner assured us more work would be coming and Ryan was elated.
I drove out of the parking lot with cash in my pocket and drove back to Ryan’s friend’s house to shower and sleep. I slept so hard that night that I awoke with a line from my pillow over my eye, I took a picture and told everyone I’m now Scar from The Lion King. I was headed to Boogaloo, just a couple hours southwest of Palm Springs, however, I was called and asked to bring paintings and a few other things that were at home. I ended up spending the day in the car driving first to my apartment in LA, then down to Silverado for the festival.
A whirlwind of a mural and week, I had a blast painting. The process of painting on a wall seems easier to me, or at least more satisfying. It takes days to complete, but the larger scale and the amount of detail make for a faster turn around. There is more of a formula and thought going into what to place where and why, forcing me once again to think more through the piece. Working with another artist makes a world of difference too, Ryan went to the Art and Design school in Pasadena, he talks technically; warm and cool colors and composition make up. Ryan reels me back and forces me to remember the rules I was taught. He gets upset with me when I try to break the rules, but I always defer to him, sometimes going home to break the rules my own way.
As Ryan was handing me the money he owed me, he made a statement about how much I charge. He told me that I’m worth more than he was paying me and that I should be making more. This is a common statement from Ryan who tells me how talented I am. He’s right though, I shouldn’t be struggling as much to make rent, I stay busy and work harder than many around me. I’m practicing raising my rates, I’m practicing talking about money and rehearsing how to close deals. Another friend came by yesterday and told me that in order for me to have more money, I’m going to have to start talking about it and get used to talking in big numbers. My philosophy up to this point has always been as long as I can pay rent and eat it’s all good. This summer, things are changing and I feel the winds of change. I know I’m flowing in the right direction and I just have to be patient and ready when life speeds up.