Building Bridges

At this year’s Global Mural Conference, Fernanda Gonzalez Lattrecchiana from Buenos Aires was among a dozen sponsored artists who created murals of scenes along the Erie Canal.

by Tina Manzer

In September, the 10th Global Mural Conference was held in Fairport, New York, just a few miles down the road from our magazine’s headquarters. The conference is held every other year under the auspices of the Global Mural Arts and Tourism Association (GMACTA) based in Canada. Its unique goal is to help communities become tourist attractions through mural programs. The conference – which brings together city officials, artists, businesses, art enthusiasts, economic development authorities and tourism organizations – helps create the partnerships and networks necessary to reach that goal. It has been held in locations around the world, from Tasmania and New Zealand to California and Georgia, since 1997.

This year, it was hosted by Mural Mania based in New York’s Finger Lakes Region. Mural Mania has been placing murals along the regional Erie Canal Corridor for the past 20 years. Its efforts are both cultural and economic, and so far have resulted in 70 miles of murals stretching from Syracuse to Brockport, New York. Their themes are mostly historical, and are portrayed in styles that run the gamut from realism to abstract. Each mural was commissioned using input from local communities.

The conference began with a bus tour of those murals, followed on the second day by expert presenters who discussed mural restoration and upkeep, marketing, working with communities, mural funding and more. Mark Golden from Golden Artist Colors, a major sponsor of the event, spoke about the resources available to mural artists for selecting supplies and materials.

GOLDEN also donated a generous supply of Heavy Body Acrylics for use during the Erie Canal Heritage Mural Expo, a special feature of the conference. For six days, a dozen artists painted murals outside in a tent near the conference venue. The group was mostly local, but also included artists from Argentina, Australia, Canada, China and Tennessee. They painted on Evolon, a soft but durable microfilament fabric donated by Atlantic Papers. Three local student groups also participated, and a mosaic mural created by students from across New York State was on display throughout the event.

About 1,200 people attended the conference and expo, a low number considering that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for local artists and art lovers alike. “As much as we publicized in advance, there were still some people who did not understand what the conference and expo were all about,” commented the event’s planning committee. “They had nothing similar to compare it to.”

Resourceful problem-solvers 

“Muralists typically work independently, so seeing everyone working at the same time was fascinating,” says artist and expo organizer Amy Colburn. “We mural artists are good at making our own quirky but wonderful tools, and adapting tools used for other tasks to meet our needs. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a line of tools available specifically for muralists.”

She described a “swab” that one artist was using to push the paint around. It was like an extension pole for a roller, but on the end was a rag wrapped around padding or a sponge. It looked like a giant Q-tip, which is exactly what the artist needed. There’s nothing like that at an art materials store.”

When Amy required an easier and more efficient way to grid out her murals, she attached a long wooden handle to the front of an existing 4-foot metal ruler. On the back she added padding. “I can put the ruler right up against the wall without hurting anything,” she explains. “It’s really sturdy, and very efficient.”

The same is true for her scaffolding, custom-made by her father. “You can’t move commercial scaffolding. Mine is modular so I can reconstruct it and use it on stairs and around corners.”

For her supplies, she heads to hardware and craft stores. “Cinderblock walls and plywood are not surfaces designed for expensive little brushes, so I have a totally different tool set for canvas painting in my studio,” she explains. Her tool set for mural making contains more disposable pieces like low-cost brushes and rollers, which she purchases in several sizes. “Mural artists don’t buy good brushes to take from job to job because they are just going to get eaten away by a concrete wall.”

For many years Amy used Benjamin Moore exterior latex for outdoor art. “A lot of muralists use house paint because it lasts in the heat and is less expensive than acrylics,” she says. “I love GOLDEN acrylics but it would be cost prohibitive for me to use them for an 800-square-foot mural.”

About a year ago, an artist in Germany recommended Nova Color Artists Acrylic Paint, made in California. “It has nice opacity,” says Amy. “It comes in a variety of sizes from 4-ounce jars to 5-gallon pails, and you don’t have to mix it with a medium or water. It’s not sold through stores, so it’s much less expensive than other brands.”

The Artex company has been making Nova Color for more than 50 years. It was developed by Carlos and Raoul Amparan shortly after acrylic polymer resin was introduced for commercial use. They produced their product on a small scale in Culver City and sold it directly to local artists. Because Nova Color was cheap and readily available, it helped fuel the explosion of mural art movements in Southern California during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Over the years, the formula has become more advanced, but it’s still produced in the same. Nova Art still sells direct only, and has developed a loyal following.

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