A week at Sanya International School in China, in collaboration with my Mom, Carol McDougall art educator and naturalist. She came up with the theme and coordinated the opportunity with the school. It’s been an awesome learning experience going through the process of painting a mural in another country.

The Creative Process: “Art Never Sleeps”
collaboration, internet, research, nature, connection, kids, learning, gifts

Step 1: Brainstorm – October 7th 2016
My mom moved to China in August, 2016. I wanted to come visit!! I also wanted to explore my art practice and began researching artist in residence programs. I shared my thoughts with my Mom, and she proposed to her principal to paint a mural at the school and work with the kids. This is the photo she attached in the first e-mail:

“..saw this on twitter at a Canadian school in Bangalore India.” -Carol

She gained some insight from the principal, he wants colour! My mom is a naturalist and thought to include the local nature. This resonates with me, as I explored this theme in my last mural project, CCCMP in Victoria. Working around the desires of the client, timeline and materials all played a roll in inspiring the final design.

Art never sleeps, or sometimes doesn’t let you sleep. I received another e-mail from my Mom sent in the middle of the night (her time) “…add whimsical colourful butterfly wings as inspired by New York artist Kelsey Montague “What lifts you” mural..” – Carol

Now that we decided butterflies are the theme, “…I want to get the whole school drawing my photographed butterflies..” -Carol
View photographs here http://www.inaturalist.org/people/salmonskyview
It’s inspiring to see my Mom’s passion shine through her work with kids connecting them to nature through art.

The wall:   

My Mom put a lot of thought and consideration into choosing this part of the school. This wall is in the shade all day, and it’s located in high traffic area in the centre. I knew this texture would take longer to paint then a smooth surface. Considering location, weather and surface are important details in estimating how much time and effort the project takes.

Step 2: Traveling Internationally: Visa tip
I was due to arrive on the 4th of January and have one full school week to paint. Turns out, there’s a “Visa upon arrival” that one can purchase at the airport in Sanya to stay for 14 days. The trick is I had to fly in from Honk Kong to arrive at the international airport, have 2 printed mugshots of myself, RNB cash money and the address of where I’d be staying written in Mandarin characters. Then I had to visit the police station within 24 hours to finish the process. Also if one wishes to extend this visa for one month it’s possible at the police station with more cash and can do this twice = 2 months and a half total possible stay in Sanya through this process. This travel tip is for Sanya only. I have no clue how Visa’s work in other areas of China.

Step 3: Supplies in a Foreign Country: 
It was November when I sent my Mom a list of materials. She did the best she could communicating with the school’s administrator/translator Ashley to find these specific materials. Things like painter’s tape and extension poles for rollers didn’t seem to exist, or didn’t translate well. They used this website called Taboo to order supplies, it’s like Amazon, the online store. What I started to learn about China is that the government has restrictions around internet use. A lot of the websites we use in North America are blocked, such as Google (this includes gmail!) as well as Facebook (this includes Instagram!) Therefore they have some of their own versions, such as Taboo and WeChat. The only thing with Taboo is you never really know how long things are going to take to arrive.

Eventually, some things arrived but the paint did not. I learned very quickly that a lot of products we use in North America are made in China, but China doesn’t actually use them. I was so grateful to have packed one of my house painting brushes. Next time I’m also packing a five way -this tool could have prevented a paint spill. (*Note: the importance of drop sheets). A trip to the paint store was in order. That was interesting, considering neither my Mom, step Dad or myself speak Mandarin. This store wasn’t like the stores I’m used to back home. I couldn’t pick a colour and have them make it for me, I had to mix the colours myself. The woman sold me a giant can of white paint, and 5 containers of tint. One thing I had on my mind was if I have black tint and add that to white, it’s going to make grey. I need pre mixed black paint. I ended up having to go back with the translator, Ashley who helped me get pure black paint.

Tip: Bring tools from home that make life easier -they may be hard to find in a foreign country i.e.: your favourite paint brush

Step 4: Getting Paint on the Wall
Here’s an image of the rough draft design.

I still hadn’t decided what local species the butterfly or plant would be. Having explored the natural habitat, mu Mom recommended a few different species and we decided on the European Peacock. We took a walk around the school and I enjoyed seeing the giant palm like leaves. They’re tropical and simple. Easy enough to get on the wall during a short time. I still don’t know the exact species of this plant, though I suspect it’s in the same family as the banana plant.

Finally, time to get busy on the wall. I used chalk to outline my ideas and my eye to lay everything out. In the past I’ve used a projector and traced -this is another option if there’s access to such equipment. Also tape measurers can be useful.

After laying out the design, we realized that walking up the main stretch one of the first things you see is the right side of the wall. I felt disheartened for a moment realizing I should have considered this when placing the butterfly on the left side, that maybe it would have been better in reverse. But that would mean washing off the chalk, waiting for the wall to dry and re-sketching everything and time was of the essence. Instead my Mom prompted me to put another butterfly on the right side. Either way, both decisions = more time. I just want to stress the importance of thinking through every detail when trying to meet deadlines.

Having the species be anatomically correct is an important aspect to this project. We realized when the European Peacock’s wings are closed are a boring brown colour. This meant figuring out a different local species with an interesting side profile and similar colours. Luckily my Mom was happy to go research while I started to lay the paint down. She came back with the Red Lacewing.

Step 5: Collaboration and Education 

My goal was to have the kids paint as much as possible and also producing the type of quality the principal desired. In the end, butterflies may not have been the best subject matter to collaborate with the kids. Or even the way I designed them was not feasible for young people with different skill levels. The most I was able to have the kids help with was rolling out the blue, and some of the red. Everything else was painted by my Mom and I. Though having me there for the week, talking to the kids about the process and having them see the progress is in excellent learning experience in itself.

This theme is going to be explored more at the school. There’s plans for wooden cut outs of butterflies that the kids paint themselves, to be mounted on the walls. It’s great to know this work inspires more possibilities for the kids to contribute.

Day 1:


Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

Day 5:

This project definitely had some learning curves. I wish to continue this theme around the world. If you, some one, or a community you know wants to explore This Wild Mural theme in their location, please be in touch! It’s time to engage young people to connect with nature through art and be inspired to respect and love each other and their environment.

Special thanks to my Mom, Carol McDougall for instigating this project. More to come!