Process: My idea for the mural at Sweeney was to create something that involved the students and visually talked about learning. I wanted the students to come up with the content, the content being what they learned at Sweeney. So, I went to each classroom and asked them what they learned in school that should be included in the mural. Then I went home and I sifted through the many, many great ideas that the kids had come up with. I looked for common and repeated ideas that they had written down. For example, many of the kids wrote that they learned about the planets in our solar system at Sweeney, so I decided to include the solar system in the mural. Some of the younger kids wrote that they learned the alphabet and counting in school, so I tried to include that in the mural as well. I made sure to include something from each subject: math, science, music, etc.
Once I had a good list of ideas from the kids, I set out to make a sketch. To make the sketch I used a drawing tablet that connects to my computer and the program Adobe Photoshop. This software allowed me to make the mural in pieces or what the computer calls layers. Each layer could be moved around and altered easily, so I was able to change the sketch without having to spend lots of money and time painting over things. The process of creating the sketch took almost as long as physically painting it on the wall. The sketch shows all of the things that the students have learned at Sweeney on the left flowing into the three kids on the right. The kids on the right are life-sized silhouettes of actual students. The image is meant to remind the students of Sweeny of all the things they have learned at Sweeney and are taking with them as they go out into the world.
Before I could paint the idea on the wall I had to first prepare the wall. The wall is 33 feet long by 8 and a-half feet tall. First I grinded out the mortar in between the blocks and roughed up the surface of the blocks so that they would accept the primer. Next I filled the grooves from where I grinded with a filler and skimmed the surface flat. Then I painted the primer (called “gesso”) over the entire surface so that the acrylic mural paint would stay on the wall and not fall off over time. After the wall was primed I projected sections of my sketch onto the wall and traced the outlines of the objects from my sketch onto the wall. Now I was finally ready for painting.
I painted the mural using acrylic paints. I premixed many of the colors that I would use in multiple areas so that I wouldn’t have to mix a color over and over. I stored those colors in containers and used them when I needed to. Repeating colors in different areas creates unity in the painting. I started painting on the left and worked my way to the right (for the most part). The people took the longest time to paint and the airplane probably took the shortest. I stood on a ladder for the parts by the ceiling and kneeled on the floor for the parts on the bottom.
Before I finished painting I wanted the students to be able to add their own touch to the mural. So I blocked out the silhouettes of the three Sweeney students using tape and had each class at Sweeney come down to the wall and stamp their fingerprint into the silhouette. Eventually, each silhouette was filled-in by the students’ fingerprints. The last step was to add 2 coats of varnish over the entire mural to protect the painting. The whole process from start to finish took about 6 months.
Bio: Jon Henricksen is an art educator that is currently teaching at Chanhassen High School. He has been a teacher for 9 years and has been painting since he was young child. Much of the painting that he does is portraiture in oil paint. Jon also does illustrations and posters for various groups using his tablet and Photoshop. Jon lives in Prior Lake with his wife Heather who is also a teacher.