The Making of “The Journey from the Outside In”

The “Journey from the Outside In” is a massive 20×40′ mural on Butler University’s campus in Clowes Hall that took 263 hours and 25.5 gallons of paint to complete.  Please enjoy this photo gallery of the process:

This is the single sheet of canvas used all folded up.  In this state is weighs approximately 75-100 lbs

16 Gallons of Gesso was used.  The first layer took 8 gallons to cover.  The next 2 layers took 4 gallons each.  For future reference, I should have gone ahead and put a 4th layer of gesso down.  It was just barely “spotty” looking at the underneath side once covered in paint meaning in spots, the gesso layer was still too thin.

I am a brand ambassador for Royal Talens North America so they kindly gave me a discount on this huge order of paint.  When I completed the Urschel Laboratories Mural I kept track down to the approximate ml of paint used on that project for future reference. That paid off. I was under a strict timeline with this Butler mural and I knew I wouldn’t have any time to make trips to an art store if I ran out of any specific color.  The Urschel Mural was almost exactly half this size, I took the ml used in that project and doubled it to get the estimated paint used on this project.  When I placed the order, I added in additional quanities of colors like Ultramarine Blue & Titanium white which I knew I was go through at a super rapid rate.  The 12×40′ Urschel Mural took 8 gallons of Gesso & approximately 18,490 ml of Amsterdam Acrylic Paint, the Butler Mural at (paint size) 23×43′ took 16 gallons of gesso and approximately 36,000 ml of Amsterdam Acrylic Paint.

Kyle Ragsdale recommended I just start by throwing buckets of paint on the canvas, I really had no other ideas as to how to get this thing started, so I took his advice and just started throwing thinned down acrylics.

With a watecolor background, I worked wet on wet, I used a commercial sprayer to wet than canvas prior to throwing the paint.

I used a mop to push the color fields into each other, along with soak up some of the excess water.  The floor of the Lily Hall Studio Theatre was not very flat either.  The room used to be a dance floor and years ago it was covered with 3/4″ plywood.  Those seems of the plywood proved to be super challenging to work around through the whole process. You don’t have to look hard to see them in the image above. A few work arounds to “camo” them in involved constant moving the canvas around the room so it never dried too much with the same “peaks & valleys”.  Another trick was varying the opacity throughout the composition as I built it up.  The super organic areas of “thin” juxtaposed with high areas of opacity gave the piece an intentional looking variety that by the end, almost completely mask the lines of the floor.

Once the canvas was covered, Graham and I grabbed the corners and futher started mixing the colors into each other.  Much like real watercolor, it got significantly lighter as it dried and gave the painting a nice organic ground.

After the first few small 1×2″ and then 4×8″ thumbnail sketches, my working sketch was 4×8′.  In my smaller sketches and in this first large one, butler was just a small part of a large world.  I wasn’t happy with how little of campus was shown so I asked my wife, Halie, (a Butler alumnus) for help.  We were in the snug at the Broad Ripple Brewpub with my sketchbook in hand when this particular angle of campus emerged.  I took that sketch to Butler the next day and sketched it larger.  This is what I used to inform the final composition.

I am also a Brand Ambassador for Royal & Langnickel Paint Brushes.  They kindly supplied the brushes for this project.  The work horses quickly become those big orange R7500B-20 Vienna Brights.  Their shape held well through daily abuse of the creation of this mural.

Drawing out with super thin “watery” acrylic.  I essentially took a small bucket of water, tinted it with Prussian Blue and started drawing.  In this first layer I was super messy & drippy, throughout the process you can see that I embraced this first layer in spots and kept many of this drips in the final composition.

In order to both save my back and to get long fluid flowing lines, I taped a Royal & Langnickel Jumbo Round to the end of a paint pole and this is what I used to draw out the initial composition.

Matthew Allen painting in the light sides of the buildings in the Indianapolis Skyline.

My brother, Nathan, and his fiance, Sarah, came and helped me start filling in basic shapes of color.

Drawing out Hinkle Fieldhouse

Lots of time was spent going between the floor and the scaffold. Seeing it from above was so incredibly important for establishing proportions and color balance.

I worked wet on wet, throughout the whole process.  In that yellow area, I am both increasing the intensity of color, while creating more of a gradient into the blues and pinks, while also building up a bit more opacity.

The timeline was June 2 – July 31, but due to summer camps and construction on the stage of Clowes Hall, my real working time was just over 4 weeks to complete.  With such a tough deadline, I had to enlist help.  This was our first “pizza & beer” night.  I essentially turned it into a giant paint by number so they each had flat basic shapes to fill in.

Sammy Daniel, Liz Greene, Charlie Schmeltzer, Mitch Greene, & Halie Vining helping me paint.

Same crew with the addition of Alex Reiff (red shirt) painting the roof of the farm house.

The first time we rolled it up to take it over to the stage of Clowes Hall.  By this point it weighed approximately 175 lbs, we know this because of the counter balance on Butler’s fly system.

Its about to go up!!  I was super pumped to see it vertical for the first time.

Thankfully I like heights.  The surprising thing to me was that I thought I would love working in the lift and being on stage but I quickly learned that the creation moved much slower.  It was the first time I felt how big this thing actually was.  No longer could I just bounce from place to place as I could when it was on the floor but now I really had to plan and work down single channels until it was time to move the lift again.  It was fun on the stage, but the process moved slow.  I was excited to get it back to the floor so I could start “running” again.

My mom stopped by and even helped for a little bit.

Still using the paint pole at times.

Local attorney and friend, David Muller, stopped by and helped for several hours.

One of my favorite features of this mural.  I invited 9 of my artist friends over to help one evening.  Rich Anderson, Benny Sanders, Johnny McKee, Matthew Allen, Kyle Ragsdale, Nathan Foxton, Kipp Normand, Alicia Zanoni, & Graham McMullen (not in photo).  I asked them to help me with some of the busy work but more importantly, I asked them to help me with the skyline.  I asked them to paint original paintings in their own style in the shadows of the city.  I asked them to keep their values dark and subtle but they could do anything they wanted in those shadows.

Nathan Foxton working on the One America Building.  To the lower right you can see Alicia’s plastic inspired shadows.  You can also barely make out some Kyle Ragsdale figures right “below” Nathan’s building.

It looks like a messy process, but thankfully everyone here are pro’s and there were no accidents during while they were helping.  Also, acrylics are super forgiving so I was pretty fearless just letting them do their thing.

Benny working on a very subtle River Scene that really stands out in the final installation.  One of my favorite parts of the whole piece.

Kipp is known as a mixed media assemblage artist, but don’t let him fool ya, he is solid with a brush.

Our crew

In order to get everyone in, I had to time-lapse it which led to some really interesting outtakes.   Needless to say, we had fun.

I would often eat lunch from right here..

Dragging a park bench underneath the canvas.  I used it to raise the canvas in order to get some “organic” dripping effects where that giant road meets campus.

The final push.  Deadline is Sunday, Friday night I called in a favor.  Halie, Sammy, & Charlie came back to help me with some final busy work that needed to be completed.  Sammy even tackled the shadow side of one of the buildings in the skyline.

I was super thankful to have an art store worth of paint at the ready.  The standard colors were awesome, but I also used both Amsterdam’s lines of Pearls & Metallic’s to help give some elements some extra flair.

That #20 Vienna after over 260 hours of work, still holding form.

That last Saturday night was a long one.  I stayed all night just making minor changes and adding subtle details.

The canvas was significantly heavier by this point, I think we were all super surprised.  I forgot to ask Jimmy the approximate weight based upon the fly’s counter balance, but the math puts it at about 300 lbs.

The deadline was July 31st, but it wasn’t installed until the first week of September.  So it was stored above the stage of Clowes. It was flown & hung completely vertical and hidden in their ceiling.  I couldn’t believe they were able to hide a 40′ above that stage, but they did!

Butler asked me to keep the whole process secret and it was totally worth it for this moment alone.  What a surreal experience unveiling this massive project to my friends, family, and the Butler community.

James Cramer is the Community Relations Manager at the Butler Arts Center.  He is the reason I first exhibited at Clowes Hall in late 2016 and was who I approached about this project.  He was a big advocate for me and help make this happen.  He was there at every step of the way, from coaching me for my first meeting with Ty to helping install the canvas on the last day.

Ty Sutton is the Executive Director at the Butler Arts Center and was the ultimate decision maker in allowing me this opportunity.  Ty put his trust in me and gave me 100% free reign on this piece.  It was great getting to know him better through this process.

Speech time!

The Crowd

The Cue:  “Without Further Ado … “The Journey from the Outside In”

Right after the curtain drop, I am thankful so many people shot photos and video as my back was turned the whole time so I missed it live.

Signing the painting.  Almost 3′ was trimmed off the bottom and 18″ off of each side.  I wasn’t quite sure where that bottom corner would eventually be so I waited until it was up to sign.

My family

Left to Right: James Cramer, Justin Vining, Ty Sutton, Lisa Whitaker

“The Journey from the Outside In”

I time lapsed the Unveiling and Benny & his girlfriend Hayley, crashed one of the frames.  I shot with an open aperture and slow shutter speed which created this blurred image.

The time-lapse is just over 42,000 still photographs stitched together and then sped up a ton.