Nancy Witherell Art Works Outdoors

Creating an outdoor mural three stories tall is no simple task, and it takes a talented artist to pull it off. Martha Wade is just such an artist. She is no stranger to large murals and has her process down, using her creativity, art skills, planning abilities, and even math to create pieces that bring joy in unexpected places.

This spring Martha and her team installed the large Poppy/Lupine mural on the new parking garage across from Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA. That mural is huge – 28.5’ wide x 52' tall.  I spoke with her about the project so we could share with you how such a beautiful and effective piece of art is created.

Create the Design

The potential location is first. Commercial construction in Santa Rosa with a budget in excess of $500,000 must either spend 1% of their total budget on public art, or they must donate funds to the City. The architects for St. Joseph’s project let us know the dimensions they had set aside for public art and asked us to bring them at least five artists and design concepts for their review. After a rigorous review and vetting process, they decided to spend their allotted public art amount on Martha’s mural design. Martha loves the natural world, simplicity, and very large flowers. These three elements meld beautifully into a mural design.

She mocked up ideas for the art committee, considering landscapes (wrong layout), lavender, and a few other plants before coming back to lupine and poppies – two of her favorites. She admits that the idea part of creating murals is challenging, sometimes fun and sometimes frustrating, but this is where it all starts.

Once she knows the subjects of her work and has the go-ahead from the contracting art committee, she sets out with her camera and her macro-lens to take photos to work from. For the St. Joseph mural she found a park full of lupine east of Santa Rosa, and even some yellow lupine out at Bodega Head. Martha eventually settled on the purple lupine which complemented the poppies nicely. She does field work to get photographs that are high resolution close-up shots, giving her the visual information she needs to work with.

Okay. The idea is set and the design has been approved. The photographs are perfect. Now all she has to do is create the image that will fill the space.

Studio Work

The image is painted in her studio that has walls only ten feet high, and of course she cannot create the finished mural there, so Martha divides the final image into panels.

She takes her perfect high-resolution design and prints it out to scale in Photoshop; this mural’s printout was 10.5” by 19.5”.  She draws the line where the corner of the building will be and then marks the vertical seam that will be exactly parallel to the edge of the structure, but not on the corner. She then draws lines to divide the image into workable panels and prints each individual panel as big as possible. Next, each of those prints is made into a small, to-scale transparency that will be projected onto the wall.

The mural is 28 feet wide by 52 feet tall

The image is painted in panels

  • September 12, 2020

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