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Getting Your Friends To Do Your Work

April 5, 2011

While I was recounting the saga of making the nursery at the farm bird proof, one of my blog friends pointed out that the nursery “needs a paint job.”  I couldn’t have agreed more, but there were two impediments to correcting that deficiency.

First, I would probably be intimately involved in any painting project and second, it seemed really boring to just paint it a plain old solid color.

So my wife and I came up with another idea.  Because our whole project is about restoring the old grazing pastures to native forest and creating a habitat for native birds, we decided to decorate the nursery with a nature mural featuring native New Zealand birds and vegetation.  Plus, not to sound obsessive, but it seemed to me that painting giant birds on the side of the building might further discourage real birds from taking up residence.

There was only one significant flaw in the plan.  Painting the nursery a single color would be a big enough challenge.  Doing something artistic was pretty much out of my comfort (and skill) zones.

After a surprisingly long search, which I won’t bore you with, we found a mural artist by the name of Doug Ford.  He is a truly gifted artist and fascinating person and he has made a name for himself by decorating telephone exchange boxes, electrical panels and several unused walls throughout the Auckland area as a result of commissions from city councils and a number of arts groups.

We really liked his work and asked him to come up to the farm to have a look at what we were doing and see if a nursery mural would be doable.

Doug, my wife and I immediately clicked and he was very enthusiastic about our project and the mural idea and he laid out a design that we liked.  While discussing the execution phase of the job, he made an interesting suggestion.  One important aspect of our project is community involvement.  We’ve gotten schools and businesses (and friends) involved in planting and maintenance work and Doug suggested that it might be fun to make the mural painting a community project.

That seemed to defeat the purpose of having a professional artist but he assured us it would work.  He would draw the design on the building and then supervise the volunteers as they did the actual painting.  And before signing his name to the final product, he would go over it to make sure it was up to his standard.  Here he is doing the drawing:

It was then our turn to convince friends and associates to come out and unleash their inner artist.  We were pleasantly surprised (amazed) when over 120 people came over a recent weekend.  The groups were a little imbalanced—40 on Saturday and 83 on Sunday.  The result was mildly hectic, but fantastically fun and extremely productive.

The actual painting process was fairly informal.  We had a lot of food and almost everyone who came also brought a picnic lunch.  Training consisted of picking up a paintbrush and asking Doug what color to put where.

The mural took shape amazingly quickly.  Some people tackled the sky, others the trees and bush and some adopted a bird or two.  Doug passed around a dog eared and paint encrusted Guide to New Zealand Birds so the that volunteers could see the actual colors of the birds they were working on.   Speaking of colors, the paint for the project was generously donated by Resene, a major manufacturer of paints in Australia and New Zealand.

And for once, I didn’t get stuck with ladder duty:

We had a group of about 20 children on the second day and they worked on the forest floor, filling in flaxes and undergrowth and making a path of different shaped (and colored) rocks.

In addition to doing a fantastic job on the painting, everyone had a fun time:

Once the volunteers had finished their work, Doug went over it with his artist’s eye and filled in any areas that were missed or where perspective or color needed to be enhanced.

The next job is doing some low level landscaping (and watching out for real birds!)

45 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2011 11:46 pm

    You and your wife are amazing people. From the response to your product it looks like the community thinks so too. Great results.

  2. April 6, 2011 12:20 am

    Absolutely beautiful Thomas! It is is fun to see all the community support for the project. I love the finished project and seeing it come together. Someday I will get there to see it in person. Jeanne

  3. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    April 6, 2011 12:27 am

    Wow. Wow. I’m so in awe! Good for you and your wife and the community. Oh, our world needs more creative souls like you!

  4. April 6, 2011 2:21 am

    This is called “the Tom Sawyer” method of painting a fence white.

    (Refresh your Twain?)

  5. len skuta permalink
    April 6, 2011 2:35 am

    Talk about rallying around the flag. You have a gruop of fantastic people that are community minded and appreciative of a worthwhile project. Bless all of you.
    Len Skuta

  6. April 6, 2011 2:49 am

    Way to go! Great fun, great project, great results. Where in New Zealand do you live. Was over there in 2006 and drove around both islands; loved it, the people were happy and kind to visitors.

    • April 6, 2011 8:17 pm

      Thanks! We live in Auckland and the farm is about an hour north. Glad you had a good trip down–how did you like driving on the wrong side of the road?

  7. April 6, 2011 7:51 am

    I love this idea, Tom! Kinda like a barn-raising, only prettier! Reposting to Facebook…


  8. April 6, 2011 8:41 am

    Apologies for moth-eaten, overused word: AWESOME.

  9. April 6, 2011 9:42 am

    That’s seriously impressive. And great fun! I wish I was able to do something like that.

  10. Anahita permalink
    April 6, 2011 11:55 am

    What a wonderrful project and to share it with the community is inspiring.
    Great job everyone! Looking forward to seeing it in person one day.

    • April 6, 2011 10:51 pm

      Thanks Anahita. We look forward to showing you around CUE Haven on your next visit here.

  11. April 6, 2011 5:25 pm

    Ok. Wow. This was worth the wait. This must have been an amazing experience if I get such good feelings just reading about it. Any way you look at it- the community involvement, the beautification of the building, even just the original concept and down to the group of kids getting into the act, this is what we all need more of. And the end result? Just beautiful.

  12. April 6, 2011 6:51 pm

    Nice. I hope the real birds aren’t art lovers.

    Regarding this blog friend of yours who pointed out that the nursery needed a paint job:

    Some people are inherently given to finding flaws everywhere, and they delight in highlighting what’s missing as opposed to commenting upon the inherent beauty and perfection of what’s actually there. So even if you were going to paint the shed anyway, you should have waited awhile, so as not to give this manifestly insecure individual the mistaken impression that he or she caused this project to happen from halfway around the globe, thus positively reinforcing his or her unwholesome habit of telling others what they should do. Last thing you want to do is to nurture negativity and an unstable person’s power complex.

    Food for thought.

  13. Priya permalink
    April 6, 2011 7:41 pm

    It doesn’t really matter where the inspiration or the idea came from, does it? The fact remains that the both of you, along with the community and Doug, worked together to actually create this beautiful way to keep out the birds from feasting over the nursery goodies. It is beautiful in many ways, at many levels. Well done!

  14. April 7, 2011 12:53 am

    Great idea. Fun to have an opportunity to get so many people involved in a creative project.

  15. April 7, 2011 4:59 am

    Wow that looks great. I oversaw a group of people to help pain a mural at an elementary school and…well, let’s just say it didn’t come out as well as yours did.

  16. April 8, 2011 1:28 am

    This is amazing, Thomas! I’m so glad this project turned out so well for you and your family. Doug is clearly very talented, and I’ll bet your friends and associates will always remember and appreciate the chance to add their creativity to the mural.

    Our mutual friend, Wendy, pointed me to your post because she said it reminded her of one I wrote and published yesterday. It’s about an artist like Doug who improved Pittsburgh’s aesthetics by contributing murals and a series of streetscapes. Here’s the link in case you’re interested:

    • April 8, 2011 8:02 am

      Thanks very much Maura. Randyland is fantastic and I think that Doug and Randy would get along well!

  17. Gail Robertson permalink
    April 9, 2011 10:34 am

    Tom, I notice many of your on line friends mentioned the fact that so much of the community became involved – To those who have not met either Tom or Mahrukh, they are such special people I feel they could get anything done by just smiling. Always in awe of what you both accomplish, much love, Gail.

    • April 9, 2011 10:46 am

      I’ve complimented Tom on his nice smile before…

    • April 15, 2011 2:08 am

      Thanks Gail! It’s thanks to the support of friends like you that we have the motivation to tackle projects like this!

  18. April 11, 2011 8:33 pm

    Thomas! that is absolutely fantastic. what a brilliant idea and how fantastic that so many people responded. it sounds like a whole heck of a lot of fun and looks gorgeous into the bargain! Clever you! I got quite choked up reading this coz it reminded me of when my daughter & I bought our first house in Cape Town, we had a boring old concrete wall so she got her paint out and painted a seascape mural with a whale jumping out the water, nasturtiums on a rocky wall and the edge of a house overlooking the sea with puffy clouds in the sky and a few birds wheeling above the water. it was marvellous and we could see it when we opened out kitchen door.
    thanks for a wonderful post, this made my day.

  19. April 13, 2011 1:46 am

    Wow, that’s fantastic.
    You must be part of a really caring community. nice

  20. April 15, 2011 4:11 pm

    Just reading this post now, a bit late.
    What an ingenious idea. As Andreas said above, Tom Sawyer would have been a mighty proud and thumpin his heart to see the folks, them work together to create art.

    I’m sure some of those birds, looking down from above, may be a bit confused and intimidated!

    Wonderful project and goal. You and your wife are really making a difference.

    • April 16, 2011 1:23 pm

      Thanks Cheri! I’m away overseas for a few weeks so when I get back it will be interesting to see if the birds have tried to re-establish a beachhead and/or show their displeasure by bombing the mural with guano!

  21. April 18, 2011 3:03 am

    Well, as you know, guano is terrific fertilizer.
    Have a safe trip.

  22. April 22, 2011 12:51 pm

    Hi Tom, great project! The result is beautiful. I like the photos of the older man, and Doug with the two kids. SGxx

  23. April 30, 2011 12:27 pm

    Hi Tom – got redirected to you by Wendy at writerwoman61. So you’re from Ohio and have landed up in Godzone. Great. I am also transplanted to NZ and have lived here on and off for about 40 years.
    I love what you have done with the barn. Great idea to get everybody involved like that. Unfortunately, as my friends are all city folk they would have brought food and plenty to drink but no paint brushes and no enthusiasm for painting either.

    • May 1, 2011 5:48 am

      Hi Judith–

      Thanks! I’m currently back in Ohio visiting family and friends! I’ll check out your site when I get back next week. Hope you can come up to CUE Haven some time (we won’t make you paint!).


  24. May 6, 2011 12:53 am

    That is a good-looking mural, Thomas! Great post.

  25. May 7, 2011 1:46 am

    That is absolutely beautiful, the mural and all the support. Good on you guys!

  26. May 8, 2011 6:55 am

    Wow, I loved this post! You have an amazingly talented group of friends. Although I’m creative when it comes to writing and actually paint houses as a job, at times, I couldn’t do that if you paid me a million dollars and gave me a year. I’d need the outlines.

    It looks beautiful!

  27. May 9, 2011 1:00 pm

    I’m impressed by the notion of a mural artist that can strawboss people into producing such an excellent result.

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