How did you become a muralist?
I was taking an art history class at UNC-Chapel Hill and the professor [asked], ‘Is anybody in here planning on becoming a professional artist?’ I was the only person who raised my hand. He said, ‘Well, there’s a muralist looking for people to come work with him this summer,’ and that was Michael Brown.
That was my summer job immediately after graduation. I learned how to paint murals. Then I begged and pleaded for [Brown] to let me stay on and work as his assistant, which I did for three years.
How did mural-painting become a career?
I play for two bands in the area, Dynamite Brothers and Birds of Avalon. From 2002 to 2010, I toured nonstop every year. I painted murals to make enough money to go out on the road for a couple of months at a time.
In 2010, my wife got pregnant and we had a baby, a little girl named Finch. I decided I needed to make a go of the business if I wanted to pursue painting murals as a career. So I formed an LLC called The Mural Shop and I began taking on any and all jobs, big and small. Here it is 11 years later and it’s still kicking.
How do you make a mural?
[The method] changes. I started a project last year, the “North Carolina Musician Murals Project,” where I travel all over the state and paint portraits of famous North Carolina musicians in the towns they were born in.
Those [murals] involve a grid system where I mark out a series of patterns on the wall and then overlay the image on top, so I can understand where the eyes connect … the nose and the mouth, and flesh it out.
If it’s a smaller mural, I’ll use a projector. On large-scale stuff, I use the building as its own grid. A lot of stuff is freehand. [The new Green City mural in Raleigh] is a little bit fluid. It’s a geometric pattern, triangles interlocking. So it wasn’t a pattern I followed exactly. There was some adjustment on the site for that.
What’s your favorite thing about your work?
I have a hundred billion amazing stories of interactions with people. I work by myself, I don’t have any employees. I get to travel all over the region and occasionally into a different country and paint a picture for people to see. That, right there, is something people are already gonna start questioning.
What’s your most memorable interaction with a bystander?
I was doing a mural in Hamlet, a 60-foot-tall mural of John Coltrane who was an African American saxophonist, maybe the greatest of all time. And this guy walks up to me, he’s a Black guy, and he goes, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I was taken aback. I said ‘It’s John Coltrane, he’s the greatest sax player of all time and he grew up right over there, a block-and-a-half away.’ And the guy started tearing up and he said Black people weren’t allowed in that building.
It hit me in the chest because I hadn’t considered that before. It’s painted on the side of what’s called the Hamlet Theatre … and Black people weren’t allowed in that building for a lot of the 1900s. It was a real moving moment.
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