As if You Had Eyes in the Back of Your Head

I’ve spent the last 29 years with my back to my “audience”.   When you paint murals in public spaces—on a sidewalk, in a park, in a mall, or on a trade show floor—you must by necessity spend the majority of your time facing the wall (or canvas, or backdrop).  You would be amazed how this amplifies one’s attention to sound and smell.  Some artists choose to tune out with headphones but I think it’s far more interesting to let cavewoman-brain take over and tune in to my surroundings.  Plus the art is more impactful when one is open to engage with passersby!

Pacific Beach Historical Mural 1988

Kathleen King – Pacific Beach Historical Mural 1988

At first, there is a mental frenzy that must be conquered.  There is a hyper-focus on what your eyes are seeing directly in front of you.  No matter how much is planned, sketched, or plotted on a grid beforehand you must confront that empty wall, raise your brush and begin—for all to see.

What is the most exciting thing for a visual artist?  A blank canvas.  What is the most terrifying thing for a visual artist?  A blank canvas.  It mocks you, taunts you—’Bet you can’t do it again!’.  For a moment all those years of experience mean nothing.  ‘What if’, you wonder, ‘all my talent leaked out my left ear last night while I slept?’.  Just like an actor waiting in the wings to make an entrance afraid she’ll forget her lines the second she opens her mouth to speak, there’s always a few heartbeats of panic.

If your technique for a particular composition is a little rusty, one you haven’t worked in recently, you have to vamp for a bit, fill in a large area of a single color, start with the part that calls for a simple outline, until you’re sure your brush will obey your mind as it has all those times before.  Every composition has a door to conquering it.  Every door has a lock and a corresponding key.  It could be mixing the perfect color, a blending stroke, the perfect placement of a shadow…and suddenly you’re “in” and the current takes you.


WEFTEC New Orleans

While not exactly on autopilot, you begin to move through the micro tasks toward completion the way we all move through the lyrics of a familiar song.  You’re in the flow.  A zen-like state takes over.  That is when the ears (and nose) turn “on”.

The most poetic aspect of the public soundscape is found when arriving at an early, quiet hour of the day, following the slow crescendo of activity to it’s zenith and then, as it begins to recede, marking the reversal to quiet again.  If you are in one spot for several days, weeks even, patterns emerge.  You get to “know” the place and people by the sounds (and smells) that inhabit it, always with your eyes front on the task at hand.

If outdoors, you can still hear animal sounds at the beginning of the day, birdsongs and squirrel scoldings, the breeze caressing the trees.  If indoors, you are aware of individuals… some whistling or humming, to the bold in full-throated song as they jangle keys to open doors or rattle wheels on carts and dollies.  Zippers and clasps are heard as cases and bags are opened.  The singers are often the ones giving loud greetings, but as the smells of hot coffee fill the air so do the whispers of a more intimate start to the day.  The volume will rise soon enough.  And yes, you with the Dirty Chai Latte and the thick foam sneaks?  This is the third morning you’ve passed behind me at 8:15 talking to your phone…

"Water = Life" Mural - Cortez Colorado

“Water = Life” Mural – Cortez Colorado

In the exhibit hall the backup bells of bobcats and whirr of hydraulic lifts that dominate cacophonous set-up have given way to the hum of electric golf carts.  Is that Maintenance, Security, or a VIP?  That’s easy.  Do you smell solvent, hear a walkie-talkie, or hear laughter and smell popcorn?

When the food smells begin to waft you had better be prepared with a snack or you are toast.  As the kitchens ramp up to serve the masses, only the greatest hits, quick bites, street eats: Fat-Sugar-Salt, win the competition to reach your nostrils first.  If you are lucky enough to be set up near a bakery, that morning perfume is heaven indeed.  Otherwise, grilled meat, teriyaki sauce, garlic/pizza, anything fried, and waffle cones will own your attention.  At trade shows warmly wafting snacks are a calculated seduction.  One must brace oneself and plan accordingly!

The arrival of deliveries, buses, inspectors, supervisors, staff—all have their rhythm and pitch.  The luxury sports car driven by the Italian leather shoe, the economy sedan by the rubber sole.  The clank and screech of a panel truck, the exhale of a shuttle bus.  And the horns, whistles, bells, and beeps, both analog and digital multiply exponentially in 30 minute increments until pre-lunch.  Lunch brings a lull of industrial sounds and a mad increase in human conversation.  Go figure!  And back at it again until about 3 p.m. when it seems all eyes seek a clock and pause to anticipate the end of the business day.  It’s clear those who can take a nap about now would and those who can’t wish they could.

There are dangers too:  skateboarders, tourists on Segways, scooters, bicycles… hecklers, and the occasional drunk, all must be listened for and triangulated for threat level, velocity and distance to prevent collision.  I rarely have to look up anymore.


Interbike – Las Vegas

On the trade show floor, threats to your composure are blessedly limited.  The battle for empty space is all about recorded sound.  Dueling music and video messages collide.  The aesthetic juxtapositions are comical sometimes.  Some companies want to keep the energy up up up, while others seek to envelop visitors in an elegant atmosphere.  That first booth to test the playback makes everyone jump.  All that thick carpeting laid overnight (which has that new carpet smell) does its best to muffle but no one needs to tell you when the main doors open to the hall because all speakers seem to hit showtime level at once.  You can hear the boisterous crowd enter like an approaching wave.  Don’t worry, when all the recordings get to about the fourth round of the loop you’ll tune them out in favor of your audience members, too.

So at last for the most subtle of sounds—the sounds of people thinking.  My favorite.  A lot of science has developed around the universal tingle we all get when someone stares at us from behind.  With practice you can perceive and anticipate—as if you had eyes in the back of your head.

Is this visitor reluctant to approach?  Maybe you should turn and encourage conversation.

Observing from a distance, encroaching on your personal space, or doing the “human zoom”?  That one’s passed and stopped four times now! Let them catch you looking out the corner of your eye.

You would be surprised how quickly you can identify encore observers by sound and scent!   (Boy, that conditioner smells awesome!)

Are they really intrigued, or just need something to watch while they finish that sandwich?  (Is that a Korean BBQ taco!?  Where’d they get that!?)

Are they curious about the art, the product, or just looking for a restroom?  Smile and nod, let them know they aren’t interrupting and you don’t bite.

Will they ask a question:  “What’s it going to be?”  (I always answer: “You’ll have to come back and see!” ),  or make a statement:  “Hey, my nephew is an artist, too.”  (“Really? Cool! What medium?”)

All this you will begin to divine while they inhale, sigh, fidget, shuffle their feet, and rifle their bags before they ever say a word.

Peptalk - Hotel Del Coronado

Peptalk – Hotel Del Coronado

And the martini shot in the banquet of public performer sounds—one we all know and can pick out beneath the harshest blare: the click of a camera shutter.  It makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up like no other.  Thankfully, digital camera designers thought to replicate that sound to make the new technology familiar.  When you hear it you will instinctively turn your head and scan the landscape… You can always tell the difference between amateur shutter and pro by sound.  Also, pros give off an aura, a vibe.  Though with all those stealthy phones and a thicker crowd you may not spot the source.  Sometimes there are several at once.  With any luck you will connect and they’ll snap a second frame, perhaps join you for a selvesie!  Either way you will smile quietly and know you’ve hit the mark.

In this way I have met, chatted, and posed with people from all walks of life and nearly every corner of the world.  A rich experience indeed.

A public mural is both product and process on display.  Artists love the act of making art as much as the art itself.  Public artists love to get caught at it!  But I’ll bet you never thought it would make us such wonderful listeners.


Interbike – Las Vegas

2010 is Dancing on the Pedals from the Starting Line

In the fall of 2009 my road led back to the Central Coast of California and the little town of Atascadero.

I was met by it’s wonderful inhabitants and some of the best cycling terrain I’ve ever had the pleasure to explore.

With breathtaking scenery on all sides that often had me whispering to myself “I’m soooo lucky!” I set about to regain some of the fitness I’d lost between Interbike and Thanksgiving.

I asked the locals where the main bike shop was and they pointed me in the direction of Kman Cycle and Run. My aging “Fiery Steed” was already having saddle slipping issues. Also, Kman’s sister website Team Kman (@teamkman) provided me with a comprehensive list of trail maps incuding mileages that I went to right away to plan my training routes. It was a great way to get acquainted with the area.

My friend Martha VanInwegen (@marthvan) lives in Atascadero and, knowing me, also mentioned that Kman’s had a BIG BLANK WALL that might be hungry for a Bike Scribble! Hmmm, do tell!

(photo courtesy of Todd Ventura (@tventura)

Well, I’m a muralist at rock bottom so while I may love to paint on canvas and draw on paper, I pretty much want to put everything I do on a big wall in the open air. Ever since I painted the first Bike Scribble on canvas I wanted to see it on a bike shop wall.

To my surprise, when I met with the owner Keith “KMan” Schmidt and his wife Robyn, they were smitten with the concept straight away. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a project come together more quickly.

Keith “Kman” Schmidt

I chose my colors from the landscape of vineyards, olive orchards, lakes and lavender sunsets.

We met the first week in December and by January 8th the Scribbles were spinning vibrantly on the two story wall and visible from Highway 101. While I wasn’t sure why I chose Atascadero for the next chapter when I arrived, now the purpose is absolutely clear.

While there were some grumblings from the city about needing sign permits and such, nothing in that regard has materialized. The City of Atascadero doesn’t really have a public art policy or process and we’re hoping, now that some redevelopment in the historic downtown area is planned, that public art will be a larger part of those plans.

With any luck this mural is the first of many. The plan is to have a whole peloton’s worth of Bike Scribbles on as many LBSs (Local Bike Shop) as will have them, promoting the joy of cycling through public art. I’ve been talking to bike shop owners in several cities across the country and there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the energetic designs.

In between the brush strokes I’ve put in some delightful miles over the rolling hills from Atascadero north through Templeton to Paso Robles and west to Morro Bay. There are wineries and wildlife in every direction. The cycling community here is serious, dedicated, warm, wonderful and completely wacko in love with their region. I don’t blame them. It’s gorgeous here and I’ve made some great friends.

The Central Coast is Cycling Heaven.
On to the next Bike Scribble!

“@bikechik Thanks for sharing your great passion, inspired by riding through vineyards, indeed, almost a surfeit.” -@RandallGrahm President, Bonny Doon Vineyard

It is Finished. And it is Varnished!

It’s official

The mural for Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs is complete. Here are the photos and text supplied by Marian Hunting of Women’s cycling Magazine. They have put the article on their site with an interview they did with me when I began the project. I will edit this post more after I have had some sleep but couldn’t wait to share.

The WHOLE thing

El Diablo terrorizes the leader up Alpe D’Huez

Kathleen King’s Tour de France Mural

Courtesy of Marian Hunting, Women’s Cycling Magazine

July 19th, 2009

Kathleen King is a cyclist and an artist who began her career as a muralist in 1983 in San Diego, California. More recently, Kathleen was commissioned by Chris Carmichael to paint an indoor mural for the new Carmichael Training Systems facility. Kathleen began researching her latest project, an 8 foot by 13 foot indoor mural, in January of this year and began painting in March.

Kathleen’s painting is visual representation of the history of the Tour de France with a timeline composed of sunflowers, one for each year of the Tour since it began in 1903, and a peloton composed of all of the 56 Tour winners done in Kathleen’s distinctive scribble style.

At the head of the peloton she painted 8 of the stars of the Tour de France history: Lance Armstrong (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, & 2005), Miguel Indurain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, & 1995) Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, & 1974), Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 & 1985) , Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, & 1964) Fausto Coppi (1949 & 1952), Gino Bartali (1938 & 1948), and Maurice Garin (1903). Kathleen has also depicted 8 of the popular climbs that are often featured in the Tour (including the Alpe d’Huez), the popular El Diablo, and the celebrated Lanterne Rouge.

Kathleen will be unveiling her latest project at the Grand Opening of the new Carmichael Training Systems facility today. You can follow Kathleen on twitter here, follow her on her blog here, and purchase some of her wearable art here.