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And this is what it looks like when my heart explodes

August 22, 2014

My friends who run our Burning Man camp asked me to paint a 20-ft by 8-ft piece of canvas to hang over a boring-looking metal storage container that is going to be parked at our camp this year.  While sorting out the logistics of what to paint, and how and where to paint it, I happened to also decide I personally would not be going to Burning Man this year.  At the moment I decided not to go, this mural became much more important.  If I wasn’t going, this painting would go in my place.  Being able to send along such a giant piece of myself, and to contribute to both my camp and the Burning Man community as a whole made everything right in my world.

I’ve put together the following play-by-play of creating this mural because of how many people have asked me how I did it.  And if you know anything about me, you know how much I love documenting my experiences.  This one was a game changer.


I started with a 20-inch by 8-inch piece of paper so I could sketch out ideas… (in the end, I never actually drew on this).


I’d been thinking through ideas for about a week, and one day, all of a sudden, all the ideas I’d been thinking of separately came rushing together in my head so I grabbed the first piece of paper I could find and watched this image take shape.


Once in LA (where most of my friends and Burning Man family live), we had to have two separate pieces of canvas drop cloths sewn together to get something that was the same size as the storage container.


When I got the canvas back from the tailor, my first step was to measure 1/3 of the way up, and 1/2-way across.  I had my friend sit at that mark (halfway across, 3rd of the way up) and hold one end of a chalk-line while I moved around the top of the canvas with the other end, creating the edges of the sun rays.


After much deliberation about where and how to hang the canvas in the warehouse so I could paint it, we decided not to hang it at all.  It was going to be a project-and-a-half just to hang it and no one had any time for that.  I protested the idea to paint it on the ground for the pain and suffering that would cause my body, so the guys came up with a plan for me to be upstairs using a table.


I’d pull a piece of the canvas up on the table, paint it, pull it over farther, paint that part, and again and again and again until I reached the other end.  Took me probably 7 hours spread across two nights.



Once the sun rays were complete, I wanted to “take a step back” and look at it before I started the next phase.  When you’re working with a 20-foot piece of canvas, “taking a step back” becomes a bit tricky.  So with this one, I had to wait until the shop was relatively empty and carry the folded up canvas downstairs, lay it out flat, and go back upstairs to stare at it and take a picture.


The bottom of the canvas was originally planned to be blank except for the reflection of the equalizer (the squares).  After a minute in a steel shop though, the bottom was so covered in dirt that I knew the whole thing would need to be painted.  I tried to buy silver paint and ended up with Rustoleum that didn’t act like paint at all.  And at this moment I start to question covering up those awesome sun rays with those blue squares at all.  So I painted a “mini mural” to test a few things out.


Even less sure of the silver paint after trying it out, I decided to just move ahead with the blue square plan, hope for the best, and figure out the bottom later.  If I ended up hating it, I could paint over it.

To paint the blue squares, my plan was to use painter’s tape and tape-off squares every where I wanted them.  But the canvas wasn’t smooth, it was sweaty hot in the warehose, the tape wouldn’t stick so I knew pretty quickly that I needed to take a different approach. I got the bright idea to rip off the cover of a small notebook I had and used it as a stencil to draw squares with a pencil and fill them in with my “spongey paint brush things” (their official name) that do really well with straight lines.





After all the EQ levels had been added to the top (not all pictured), I whined about the silver I bought to anyone who would listen, and then unsuccessfully tried to buy different “better” silver paint. Left with no better option or other idea that felt right, I decided to just try the silver I had again on a scrap piece of fabric… and decided it would work just fine.


The silver paint went on unevenly (as you can see) and I knew I could fix that with a second coat, but decided the unevenness was exactly how it should be.

Then I knew how I was going to add the lighter squares on the bottom (of course still not 100% sure it would end up looking like a reflection… or if it would end up looking stupid), and that was my next step, but it was at this point that I really started questioning where to put the “be grateful.”  Looking at all the squares laying over the sun rays, I was starting to be fairly certain that I didn’t want to try and put my words over all that action.  And with that unknown gnawing at me, I started worrying when no other idea came to mind.  I did know however, that I wanted the words to be white.

So before going to the paint store again for the third time to get white paint, I had two friends hold up the canvas so I could see it upright for the first time- amazed at what I saw!


I started thinking I wanted to write “be grateful, please.” in the top left corner as opposed to in the center over the squares. The top left corner is where you’d write the start of a paragraph and it is a short sentence, after all.  But something in me wouldn’t let me be sure.

I got started on the lower squares, hoping that soon, something would tell me where “the right” place was to put my “be grateful.”


To get the lighter look on the bottom, I just dipped the “spongey paint brush thing” in the paint, dabbed it off on the unused canvas and lightly brushed it on the mural.  It ended up painting the raised pieces of the canvas darker, but I loved the shady way it was showing up on it’s own.

The steel shop was alive and running at this point, hence these headphones.




To get a better look at this point, I laid the canvas out on the floor of the shop, stood on the welding table, and took a panoramic picture on my phone.


I was in love.  The more I fell in love with it though, the less sure I started feeling about where to put the words.  I was having a hard time imagining putting any additional paint over any piece of this painting, because I liked every piece of it so much.

I took the little mini mural I’d created and tried it in the original spot.  Hated it.


After I confirmed for myself that I definitely did NOT want to go with my original idea, I sat in the kitchen and texted a friend that maybe I wasn’t going to add “be grateful” at all. As I processed that thought, I found myself in tears.  After letting myself be upset for about 20 minutes, my best friend reminded me that “not adding be grateful is not an option.”  So I took a few deep breaths and tried my other idea on the mini mural.  I knew right after painting this – that this second idea was THE idea.


Creating art is such an interesting process.  When it came to the most personal part of this mural for me, I became frozen in uncertainty and thought about maybe leaving myself off the mural all together for fear of ruining it.  Instead of believing in my idea, I spent a good 40 minutes refusing to trust myself.

After seeing it like the picture above, I felt like the life was breathed back into me and I found an entirely new decisive energy to keep painting.  So I got started on the final phase of the mural.






I hopped up on the welding table again to take a look at the whole piece, thinking I’d see how and where I wanted to make the letters bigger, but then realized… I was done!


Ok so I wasn’t done completely.  I knew I wanted to add a mustache (mustache’s are kind of the camp’s “thing” aside from music, so I wanted to have one on there somewhere)… Standing on the welding table together, my friend Cameron and I decided to hide a mustache in the music.


The only things left then, were to add silver lines in between the sun rays, around the letters, and to put my “artist signature” at the bottom.


It was Monday night by the time I was putting these final touches on, and I was leaving LA Tuesday evening.  I still had to do my “day job” all day on Tuesday and the shop was going to be getting dirty again, so I wanted the mural to be done-DONE before I went to bed Monday night… which ended up being around 5 in the morning.  “How is Sarah staying up?” … “Red bull and art.”


Putting my initials down…



Collapsing in the best possible way, for the best possible reason.  Me and my mural.  Done.


..and this is what it looks like when my heart explodes..


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