AIGA Tucson, Arizona

The “Public Speaking” mural above the entrance to the Tucson Art Fair

Val Lehnerd, a member of the board of AIGA Arizona, invited me to give a talk to the chapter. Or rather, he invited me to speak in Tucson and Phoenix on two consecutive nights. I told him, “OK, but if I’m in town for a few days, let’s make something of it!” “Like what?” “Like… let’s paint a mural!” I didn’t think it would happen, but I underestimated Val’s power of persuasion. Before long, he had sweet-talked Tig and Gabriele of the Tucson Art Fair to let us paint the facade of their building. We’d have two days to get it done.

Of course, the whole thing had been a spur-of-the-moment dare. I had no experience painting mural. I had designed one for my friend Norm Schureman in college, but I wasn’t there when it was put up. The one thing I had done was design a mural for the music room at my high school when I was in 10th or 11th grade. Back then, we used an overhead projector to throw my illustration on the wall in segments, so I could trace it. Then about ten of us spent a week filling in those lines. Why wouldn’t that work here?

All we’d need to do was to put a projector on a scissor lift across the street from the building, and a second scissor lift for me to trace the projection. And a long extension cable to power the projector. And we’d have to do it in the middle of the night, so you could see the projection, and so there’d be no traffic. Easy! This is the magic of the local AIGA chapters. These people are all just as crazy as I am.

The wall we’d be working on was the marquee of a community center—the aforementioned Tucson Art Fair—so I thought, “Let’s make it interactive!” A giant speech bubble covers about a third of the wall. At night, the Art Fair could project event information or even movies in that space. During the day, you could stand across the street, have your picture taken next to the speech bubble, and then fill in your thoughts in Photoshop or on a printout. One of the volunteers asked if I had a title they could use to promote the whole endeavor, and I made up “Public Speaking” on the spot. I think it strikes a decent balance between “Yeah, alright.” and high pretension.


On a more practical level, I knew that we had a very limited amount of time available to make this happen. Having the giant speech bubble meant that we could leave a large part of the wall blank except for the white base coat. For the background, I created a sea of faces in the style of the 344 Tree poster on top of a stylized Arizona desert. The limited color scheme made the whole thing nice and bright and graphic, and kept the production manageable.

We traced the design onto the wall Monday night, and were up on two cherry pickers from 10 am until 2am the next day to paint the thing. I had a squad of great volunteers who worked on the painting with me—Kimmie Piet and Natasha Kolosowsky, Rachel Degelbeck, Kerry Tealdi, Aaron Reyes, Val’s daughter Misha, and William Stauden. William, in particular, stepped up to the plate when a few other volunteers didn’t show. He had signed up for a two hour shift and ended up staying from Tuesday afternoon until the bitter end. And so did Aaron, another AIGA Arizona board member. Not only was he on the rig the entire time, but he then went home to stitch together a cool little time lapse movie of the whole process:

After spending hours on a less than stable cherry picker, it was very strange to be back on solid ground. Everything around me was swaying by the time I crawled into bed. Might just have been exhaustion, of course. Hell, we even made the local news, where Val explained the idea behind the mural:

It’s mildly stunning to me now that we pulled it off, but it never occurred to any of us that we wouldn’t. I was certainly pleased with the result. As you can clearly see in this photo:


After all of this, we had a great little party for the unveiling, and the talks themselves went beautifully. I did a lot of talks around this time, and all of them were fun to do, but this was a definite highlight. I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you my flyer design for this one time only double header. Because if you’re gonna make a pun, make a pun!


The only thing better than one Elvis is two Buchers.
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