How to Execute a Large Scale Art Piece
Do you think you could paint a 400 foot x 30 foot canvas?
I did and I don’t mind bragging about it. Last December 2016, I was commissioned by Visual Elements to beautify an interior wall of their Vaughan warehouse. The piece was was designed to encourage a positive, friendly work environment for their employees.
I am definitely not one to turn down a creative challenge. The project took over four months to complete – over 515 hours from initial concepts to the fourth coat of paint in some spots. How did I do it? The whole thing was a big blur but I did manage to take a few pictures along the way and am sharing a few things today.
Visual Elements is a Canadian company that manufactures and installs retail and consumer environments. Their products range from store fixtures to hardware systems for high-end companies. I use the analogy of VE being similar to ‘framers’ – art doesn’t look as good without a frame. Similarly, VE makes your products look even more luxurious when displayed on the shelves and hardware they make. Next time you’re window shopping at Louis Vuitton, check out what the purses are displayed on – Visual Elements.
Stage One: Conceptual.
Meet the canvas. This 400 foot wide by 30 foot high beast intimidated me at first, but eventually we became friends.
I love the beginning stages of any project when I’m able to learn, brainstorm and work one-on-one with the client. The possibilities are endless!
The VE team members involved in the project were great throughout the entire process. We met early to plan ideas, set schedules and budgets to ensure the project was heading in the right direction. Robert Turk (president), John Simmen (Vice President), Randy Simmen (Project Manager) & Gus Amaral (Human Resources Manager) are all talented, hard-working guys with vision. The vibe in the building was positive and upbeat – the best kind to work in.
I spent an enormous amount of time in front of my computer working on the concept designs.
It is important to ensure that the artwork you are creating has purpose. It doesn’t need to just look good, it needs to function well and stand the test of time.
The two options below show the initial design concept in two colour variations. The concept flows from left to right – starting off abstract and ending in a literal visual, almost mirroring the manufacturing process within the warehouse. The left side represents the supplies, the middle shows how the work is being done and the far right is the final product.
Not veering too far from the original presented concept the final approved artwork below shows small tweaks. I cleaned up the abstract design on the left and simplified some of the ideas on the far right. The map in the middle showed all of the departments on the warehouse floor. This allowed the wall to be a functional resource for employees.
Stage Two: Preparation.
The old saying measure twice, cut once rings true large-scale art pieces. There is minimal room for error because it would mean an additional week (or two) of work.
There were a lot of safety elements included in the preparation stage. We had to be knowledgable and aware about what was happening in the warehouse. Any amount of carelessness could have resulted in serious harm. Let’s just say I moved very slowly anywhere I went.
In order to reach the heights of the wall I needed to be certified in operating a scissor lift. I did an online course to learn about the machine and obtain my certification through Occupational Safety Group. Whenever I see a scissor lift now I feel pretty bad-ass knowing I could take it for a spin, legally. 😎
The first few days on the lift were interesting, especially with the safety manager observing my every move. Shout out to Adam Reid for helping me get the handle on the machine. The key was to make every movement slower than the pace of a turtle. Worst case it would take you 2 hours to move 15 feet.
This was my view of the warehouse from the top of the lift:
The next step was to trace outlines of my designs on the wall. I rented a projector from Vistek for a full 3 day weekend of tracing outlines. I traced using acrylic paint markers and an INSANE amount of painters tape. I learned one lesson the hard way – the tape only adhered to the wall for max a week.
The appropriate amount of projector rental time was spent doing hand puppet shows. The below shows my assistant Jill punting her husband Brent back to work.
Next up choosing the colour palette.
My palette included 12 to 15 colours in different types of paint. Acrylic paint markers for the finer details and outlines, interior acrylic paint with paintbrush to fill in the areas and spray paint for the metallic areas that needed a gradient. It was very challenging to match all three styles of paint with the exact same colour. Also, because of the large scale of the project, I ran out of a few colours that were no longer in stock at the stores I purchased them from.
Other supplies included: different sized paintbrushes, rollers, trays, paint stir-sticks, a brush to clean the dust wall off before painting and Tim Horton’s coffee:
Stage Three: Painting
The most time consuming stage of all – painting. I listened to every playlist, album and podcast as the weeks and months went along. I was constantly reminded of my patience.
In addition to the back wall I also added artwork to the sides of the ducts:
There were also instances where the design wasn’t as effective when applied to the wall. In the image below, you’ll notice we re-did the white starbursts (around the logo).
There were a lot of external objects that got in the way of a plain canvas – pipes, ducts, etc. The sides of the ducts served as arrows to show you were you were in the warehouse.
The pipes, in the section of the wall below, added a fun 3D element to the map of the departments.
We used the ducts to look like the shelves that Visual Elements manufactures.
Below, I added an abstract pattern after painting over the railing concept that didn’t work, seen above:
Check out my custom rhinestone safety glasses!
This was the completed wall, four months after the project started.
Always sign and date your artwork!
This project was a great accomplishment. Thank you Visual Elements for giving me the opportunity to add this large piece to my portfolio! Check out the below video shot by Scott Summerhayes over the course of the four months.