This past spring, I was invited to lead a group of students in painting a scenic mural inside of Furr High School as part of an internship experience. Over a two-phase process in Houston, Texas, I worked extensively with select students in the high school’s cafeteria, initially, for a week over spring break then returning for two weeks during the summer for completion. My talented young collaborators came highly recommended by their teachers, who saw their passion for the arts and encouraged them to participate in the opportunity. While this experience required me to teach them, I also became so much more knowledgeable about myself and my craft in the process.
Before my arrival in April, I created a design, met with the interns over zoom, and requested they add their own additions to my original sketch. While most high school students are glued to the devices in their free moments, these students spent time drawing inspiration from the outside world to make the mural their own. From there, we combined their contributions into one master sketch and brought it to life in the high school’s cafeteria.
The task was daunting initially. For the interns, this was their biggest canvas to date. For me, this was my first time teaching on such a level. I had to learn how to effectively demonstrate, explain, and guide these young artists through the basics of mural arts and watercolor painting and executing our vision from start to finish for success of this project. The interns were new to me and, for some, new to each other. To break the ice in our small group, we bonded over conversation, outdoor meditation (led by myself), and singing and dancing. I cherished the connections made with the interns over the three weeks. What really elevated this experience was the excitement of the students. It was refreshing and a great pleasure to see their enthusiasm about the work. They showed up every day with a great attitude, ready to tackle the seven-hour workdays.
We focused on a few sections of the wall at a time and sketched our design on the space utilizing the grid method in the first phase and a projector in the second. The grid method, which is a drawing technique that utilizes a grid to proportionately transfer a reference image onto another surface, was challenging for timing in the spring. Thus, when I returned in the summer, I took a different approach that was more efficient: the projector. The projector allowed for us to easily trace our design onto the wall and had the interns on ladders with paint brushes in hand in no time. As each day went by, the project became less intimidating. We tackled each section until we made it to the finish line and created a product we were proud of.
With all the adversities the pandemic has brought, this was definitely a beautiful accomplishment. I was happy to help the interns utilize their artistic abilities in a meaningful way and encourage them with advice as they choose their path in this world. This was not just an invitation for me to execute as an artist, it was an opportunity to grow as a person and to make an educational contribution to society. It was also an opportunity for the students to explore their talents and leave a stamp on Furr High School history, a little legacy if you will, as the mural will be on display long after they graduate. Hopefully, this painting will inspire viewers to consider art and nature in their daily lives and become a gift that keeps on giving.