Oakland Mural Festival 2018: Warmer Waters

This year, The Bay Area Mural Festival teamed up with Visit Oakland to put on the Oakland Mural Festival as part of the first ever Oakland Art Month; and we had the huge honor of participating and completing our first Oakland mural!

The Oakland Mural Festival uses mural arts to engage East Bay youth, local Bay Area artists and the Oakland community through beautification and placemaking activities. This year's festival brought together master muralists and youth for the completion of 9 new murals in the Jack London District of Oakland; the event and resulting murals call attention to social issues, honor the legacy of Oakland’s historically industrial waterfront, and celebrate Oakland's cultural identity.

Earlier this year, we applied to participate in the 2018 Oakland Mural Festival. After completing last year's Laurel Planter Art Installation, we were clear that we wanted to create a mural in Oakland, CA, and this festival provided the perfect opportunity. We love that the festival included thorough coordination, compensation, and community building with other artists. We were thrilled to be selected, and honored to work amongst artists we admire.

The Wall

The Bay Area Mural Festival and Sarah Siskin secured walls for each of the 9 new murals. Our wall is located at 679 2nd Street, at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. We saw and chose it the week before the festival, immediately finding connection to ourselves and our concept. It's a stand alone A-frame building owned by PG&E. It is about 40 feet long and the peak is about 20 feet high. It has a corrugated metal surface, and while it presents challenges for painting, we love how the gentle ridges remind us of water. It's very close to the water, and the surrounding view includes the iconic Oakland cranes. Alongside the adjoining wall are two Magnolia trees which for Alise are a connection to Louisiana. The address is 679 2nd Street, and 679 is Fiji's area code- a piece of home for Jack.

The Design

We started designing before we were assigned a wall. We were thinking about Oakland, current events and Jack London Square's proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Once we were assigned our wall, we solidified and refined our design. We knew our design would be connected to migration and incorporate human and non-human animals. We're inspired by the monarch butterfly used to celebrate the beauty of migration in the work of Favianna Rodriguez and Jet Martinez; and we wanted to develop our own visualization of this theme.

Our mural design is inspired by the location of the wall in the Jack London District and its proximity to the ocean. Featuring a humpback whale and an afro-indigenous young woman, our design is created with deep respect to all living beings who experience a migration journey. In indigenous Pacific cultures, the humpback whale is a sacred symbol of migration and can represent a guide, a guardian and a beloved ancestor. Humpback whales migrate to the waters of the Bay area, shortly after giving birth, to find nourishment for themselves and their calves. Like many people, the whales make great, risky journeys for the sake of survival.

Many of the same human threats, including pollution, commercial fishing and climate change, cause harm to both animals and people who seek to live harmoniously with the earth. Like her feet, the young woman's mind is rooted in the movements and needs of the whale with understanding that protecting the whale is protecting herself, her ancestors and her descendants.

As the week developed, our design gained new meaning. We began to see the whale representing ancestors and the girl represents both present and future generations. Several people acknowledged that the piece reminded them of the movie Whale Rider, which is one of our favorite movies. We weren't intentionally channeling the movie, but we love the connection to the feminist themes and cultural pride. 

The Week

Alise and Jack BAMFest

We had one week to complete our mural. We both took the week off from our 9 to 5's so that we could dedicate all of our time to the mural. If requested, the Bay Area Mural Festival coordinated volunteers for the artists. Because the scale and surface were new for us, we weren't quite ready to delegate any of the work so we opted to complete our mural without volunteers. 

Day 1: Saturday, May 12th


The Bay Area Mural Festival provided the muralists with scaffolding and lifts. We had a two-story rolling scaffold that allowed us to access most of our mural, and our neighboring muralists had a lift they let us borrow to get to the rest of our piece. 

We spent the morning creating our grid and sketching the image. Jack's environmental design experience enabled him to quickly create a grid in 1/4" scale. One inch on our design sheet translated to three feet on the wall. 

To complete the circular elements of our wall, we used a string with a paint pen tied to the end. 

Alise and Jack sketching the design; photo by Bettina Sferrino

We used spray paint to sketch the design. This was both of our first time using spray paint, so sketching with it allowed us to experiment with the techniques and using different caps. We've done a couple of container murals in Fiji, but this was our first time painting an entire corrugated wall. Because the surface was corrugated, we couldn't use regular rollers to paint our base colors. We hand brushed the whole thing.

By the end of the day, we'd outlined the key elements of our design and covered the solid teal background areas. 

The wall at the end of Day 1


Day 2: Sunday, May 13th

Sunday was Mother's Day, and we had the option to take the day off. We drove to Sacramento in the morning to visit Alise's mom and to drop Zoey off for the week. We got back to Oakland in the afternoon, and spent a couple of hours working on the bottom of the wall- chipping loose paint, sweeping and painting the bottom gray strip.

We were physically exhausted from Day 1 and realized we'd need to pace ourselves for the week and treat ourselves to massages when finished the wall. We were also ecstatic with the design beginning to take form!

Day 3: Monday, May 14th

We painted the humpback whale and the orange, blue and white base colors of the circles. We spent alot of the day with spray paint, testing techniques. We outlined the areas of the girl that we could reach, and we recognized that we 'll need a lift to complete her head.

We had many visitors come through each day, and each one brought us some inspiration for the wall.

Day 4: Tuesday, May 15th

We saw some other areas of bubbling paint that we chipped and repainted. We brought in transition colors to the circles. We painted the Fijian kesa kesa print in the smaller circle.

Day 5: Wednesday, May 16th

We began painting the Fijian kesa kesa print in the big circle. We would have stenciled the designs on a flat wall, but we had to hand paint it on the corrugated surface. We love the outcome. Like masi and tapa prints, each design has a handrawn variation yet looks cohesive and identical when repeated in a pattern. 

On this day, we learned a whale was found dead, draped along the bow of a ship in the Jack London estuary, right in the vicinity of where we were completing our mural. The official cause of death of this particular being hasn't been named yet, but we do know that we humans cause incredible amounts of pain and suffering for whales. The Marine Mammal Center named the leading causes for whale deaths this year include blunt force trauma from ship strikes, malnutrition, trauma and entanglement. This reality was saddening and reinforced the environmental themes of our mural.

Jack sweeping on Day 5

Day 6: Thursday, May 17th

Our neighboring muralists, Mike Bam Tyau and Jesus Rodriguez let us use their lift for a few hours so that we could paint the highest points of our wall. We painted the girl's face and braids. We finished the print in the large circle.

It was cool to be in the vicinity of Mike and Jesus's wall and the wall by Lower Bottoms collective. We loved witnessing how different artists approached their walls, and we learned a few things from their along the way.


Day 7: Friday, May 18th

Jack painting kesa kesa designs

We cleaned up the edges and touched up areas where paint had dripped. We added white clouds, using our string method to get round shapes. We added more highlights to the whale and the girl with the spray paint.

While we were painting, we were honored to have John Paul Marcelo capture us painting our wall in his signature style.

John Paul with his painting and the mural in the background

By the end of the day, we completed our composition! We loved being able to step back and enjoy what had devloped over the course of the week.

The mural at end of Day 7

Day 8: Saturday, May 19th

We got to the wall early to touch up the bottom before the Oakland Mural Festival Closing Celebration festivities began. 

Jack touching up the bottom of mural

The closing festival was a beautiful opportunity for us to interact with our local community and  art enthusiasts from around the Bay. We loved witnessing reactions to our piece and the 8 other dope new works of art in the Jack London District.  

Finishing Touches

The following week, we painted our signature on the mural. The Bay Area Mural Festival supplied us with sheercoat to protect the longevity of the piece and we applied a few coats the following weekend. The sheercoat added a bit of shine to the wall and we love the effect it has.

If you're in Oakland, be sure to check out our wall at 679 2nd Street!