Art and inspiration in everyday urban elements.

Downtown, our walls and sidewalks tell a story through artful messes—compositions of paint, tar, mortar, chalk, rust, or even beverage spill. There is visual texture beneath my feet—on cobbled streets, nonslip curb ramp treads, bricked walkways. Concrete walls and building exteriors are marked with graffiti explosions or patterned murals. I see city maintenance markings for gas and water lines, warnings for low-overhead parking entrances, or directionals for loading docks. Everywhere: letters and numbers, smears, drips, crackling paint, arrows, puddles.

Electric panel, rust, found in a parking garage stairwell

You might see me standing before walls, iPhone in hand taking pictures of what seems mundane to passersby, but those elements isolated in a photo or reassembled with others on substrate in the studio become something else: urban iconography. And, my unfolding narrative of living and working in Richmond’s urban center.

Tag by Akers and other graffiti, under a bridge in Shockoe Bottom

These are the things appearing in my art and are often posted on Instagram along with my paintings (some successes, some work-in-progress). You can visit that site to see what intrigues me, but there are a few shots tucked into this post. They are reminders that art is everywhere, and can be in unlikely places. Sometimes, they just need the eye of a wandering artist to bring them to your attention.

Not sure what this is–city maintenance mark?

Curious about the cryptic marks left by maintenance crews in your city? You can learn more about what those things mean here.

Creativity, rush, and satisfaction.

My husband said recently that his current job punches more adrenaline through his system than skydiving ever did. Call it what you will—a kind of runner’s high when he beats a deadline or juggles multiple calls and internet portals to resolve a crisis for a client. I get it, but what I feel when I’m onto a stream of something successful with my art is more like that moment when my car moves from potholed, washboard, gravel roadbed to smooth, sloping asphalt. Relief, not wanting to stop, flowing easily to the next thing, and the satisfaction like that from having consumed a warm, zesty meal after a day of fasting. Whatever that is, that’s what I’ve had in the last week when I made this painting…

And then…

And finally this one.

The first two were quicker than the third, and there is a fourth, still a work in progress. Basically, I have found my arty groove.

Note the urban elements in this series of paintings: graffiti, cityscape, motion, light. Think of the stenciled labels in downtown parking lots. The buildings at sunset with their reflections. A train bursting past at just the right (or wrong) time. If I could attach the sound of vehicles blasting down highway overpass, the sirens, and the clip of worker-bee heels on brick walk, I would.

Basic steps:

  • Graffiti-style lettering on white clayboard.
  • Greasing a collage of city imagery down with a layer of cold wax under and over.
  • Swipes of the colors I remember or felt when I saw all those things live.
  • Stencils of random letters (well, the LC had significance).
  • More play with knives and paint mixed with cold wax—blurring colors, swiping away to leave traces, and learning which colors that I like seeing side by side.
  • Leaving mess here and creating more there, then wiping away where I want you to see things.
  • Then walking away before it got muddied.
  • Maybe I went back and dragged texturing tools across areas. Pressed paper in and pulled it away. Patted at the paint with a knife. Did it again.
  • Walked away one last time.

I prefer shine to matte, and plan to wax and polish these for a good finish when totally dry, which may take a few weeks. In the meantime, this weekend’s plan is to recreate the above theme with acrylic media options and see what results unfold.

I’m hoping for a good ride from that, the kind that comes from succumbing to that sensation of easy smears and swipes, the gliding dance from palette to board (or canvas), and the full-feeling in my eyes of radiant color, texture, symbol, and urban iconography.


Tools used: paint knives, spatulas, brushes, paper towels, stencils, toothed scrapers, mini screwdriver heads for etching.

Media: Sharpie, Gamblin oil paint, Galkyd gel, cold wax, odorless mineral spirits.

Collage: Newspaper, magazines, postage stamps.