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Finishing Up: The Marietta Mural

Thursday, August 26, 2021


I was very excited to paint my last creature in the tunnel, and to have that creature be a BIRD. It makes me smile to think of how I managed to work two birds and two mammals into an underwater mural that could reasonably be expected to consist entirely of fish and turtles, but hey. Biodiversity is the spice of life, and birds fly underwater, too!

I found some absolutely amazing photos online, taken by Alan Murphy in Texas. They are surpassingly beautiful, with crazy water swirls and bubbles and distortion. I would have loved to play more with those motifs, but I just didn't have time--we drew and painted the whole durn tunnel in four huge days, from the first projection to the final brushstroke (laid down, of course, by Perfectionist Me). 

But this photo was my inspiration.

Photo by Alan Murphy

I changed the head and gave it a tail...I'm not sure where the tail is on the reference photo. Lost in a swirl of bubbles! Throughout, I wanted to bring some action into the mural, and the sudden arrowing splash of a belted kingfisher seemed like the perfect vehicle.

Laying down base coats.

By end of day Thursday, August 12, I thought I was done with this bird. It looked pretty fly, I thought.

I asked Beth Nash to come over and give it some swirly bubbles, because I was too much of a perfectionist to just have fun with it. I was still fussing over feathers.


It's kind of a big deal for someone like me to turn over their painting to someone else and say, "Have at it!" but that was one of the big lessons of this project for me. More is better. Community is vital. There are much better painters out there than me. Like Beth Nash! Let go, give someone else a whack at it.

Here's organizer/visionary Bobby Rosenstock's Instapost about it. He's @justajar on IG.

We were elated that Thursday afternoon to have finished the tunnel in only four days. Liam and I just wandered around, taking photos and marveling that we had done it!

Liam says you have to rub the otter's belly for good luck. Which would be a bad idea if everybody did it.

One of the most frequently asked questions from the good people of Marietta who peeked in on us as we worked was, "How you gonna keep people from ruining it? Gonna put some kind of a coating on it?"

It was a fair question, and it was the first thing I wondered when I contemplated giving heart and time to such a big project. And I have to say, having nearly everyone who came by to look ask us the same question was disheartening. Especially after our first morning of drawing. After it was power-washed and spanking clean, Bobby and the Marietta Noon Rotary painted the tunnel an even aqua blue inside. And on the very first night the blue went on, the night before we all came in to start drawing on the walls, someone came through the tunnel with a brick, hurling it against the freshly painted walls, scarring and denting them. How's that for a kick-off on your first morning of mural painting ever? It made us sick, but we all gritted our teeth and pressed forward, hoping that the quality of our work would give even the brick-hurler pause before they destroyed it.

But just to be sure, there's VandlGuard on it. 

The mural survived the week between being painted and being protected, thank goodness! And during that week I looked at photos I'd taken of my work, thinking about what might still need to be done. Something about the kingfisher was buggin' me.  Finally it hit me: I'd forgotten to paint bars on its underwings, and upperwings, too! and it was too white! Aack!

So I went and got three jars of mural paint from Bobby (black, white, and background aqua); grabbed some brushes and supplies; and headed down there on a Friday afternoon to set things aright. Ahhh! All better. Now it looks right to me.

Finally, on this last painting, I had gotten the hang of working with acrylics on cement. I figured out how to thin the paint down and layer washes, sort of like I do in watercolor. I made a million little adjustments, tickled in all those intricate markings on the underwings and secondaries and tail, and brought a blue-gray wash down the near wing and over the flank. Yes, the eye looks weird. That's because when a kingfisher dives, it blinks back a translucent nictitating membrane over its eyes for protection. Sure, I could have made the eye shiny black, but it wouldn't have been right. I like the demonic look.

When I was finally done with the kingfisher, I did a little touch-up on the diving merganser.

Unless I pointed it out, you might not notice the person with upraised arms that I painted over, legacy of the old mural. 

And there's another one next to it. Looks like they were having trouble with the paint, and kept glopping it on. The result was some impasto people that made me think of the Pompeiian volcano, those haunting casts in the hot ash that caught people in their beds. You think about a lot of things while painting large birds.

You can see the Pompeiians, but barely. Most people won't even notice. It didn't bother me one bit. That was then, this is now.

Artist Bonie Bolen added a nice crayfish near my kingfisher. It was great to see her again--we knew each other years ago, since her legendary dad Cobbler John headed up the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society in Marietta. Those were the days!  And Leah Seaman painted those rocks in nothing flat. I definitely could not have done that. Follow her @artabella on Instagram. She just finished painting a Porto-Let and it is awesome!!

Though I wouldn't have wanted to paint the whole thing with the public walking right through, it was fine while I was finishing up the kingfisher. I got asked a ton of questions, but mostly people were just so happy to see the mural and tell me how much they liked it. That was Really Nice.

Watching people make a point of bringing their kids to see the mural was my favorite thing of all. Just knowing that it would be a destination for little kids warmed our hearts. And I got to paint with my kid. Nothing beats that.

His eel, my kingfisher, together forever. :) Or until the next flood, I suppose. That's OK. I'd paint it all over again in a heartbeat.

The Putnam Street Tunnel gone from a pedestrian and bicyclists' passage to a destination, and we are so proud to have made it fun and beautiful.

Thanks to Bobby Rosenstock for coming up with the idea, swinging the grant, and pushing it all through. And for bringing the music and Sara's baked goodies that kept us going. Whatta guy!!

Here, Bobby starts off by describing the art he made in school--always wanting to surround the viewer with art. I love this little impromptu video--it captures his unique way of looking at the world, his out-of the box thinking. And the fun of painting and dreaming together.

On Friday, September 3,  2021, there will be a little ceremony, a ribbon-cutting for the mural from 5-6 pm. Come on down and meet the artists, then enjoy Marietta's First Friday, strolling up and down our lovely downtown streets. 

I hope there will be huge puffy clouds like there were on this evening. The play of water light on the bridge's underside is breathtaking on such a day. 

Doesn't that bass tail just draw you in? That glimpse of color and life and something unusual!


Such stunningly beautiful artwork there. I love all this beauty that you and your fellow artists created. Truly awesome in every way. Thank you and Liam and the others for all of it. Thank you.

Oh, I miss Marietta so, even after 10 years. Great project, your perfectionism is appreciated, JZ. Kim S. in PA

Will definitely make this be a destination if I ever get to Marietta! You never stop making the world a better place. Loved this story!

So fun watching all this amazing mural come to life through your eyes! And completed all in 4 days! That is miraculous in itself. It IS quite the learning curve to go from watercolors to acrylic for a mural. You did a fantastic job. Kudos to all of you!

It will be the wonder of the town, I loved watching the mural's progress.

Beautiful! I can't wait to get to Marietta to see it!

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