Artist interview: huge mural painting!

Cathy Gendron, a CAT artist of many talents, has just completed a most marvelous mural this past summer plus, and I thought it’d be so incredibly interesting to hear and see a bit about it and the process.  so Cathy….take it ‘up and away!’

Interview Questions

mural Cathy painting

Cathy tightening the drawing



Cat Artist Cathy Gendron and her crew of three spent this past spring and summer clambering up and down scaffolding to paint a gigantic mural in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Cathy won the commission from a pool of 26 artists from around the state. Cathy’s theme “Enduring Roots,” is based on the idea of living, working and playing in Ann Arbor. Mayor Chris Taylor dubbed the finished mural “ a giant bucket of awesome”.


Chris: Tell us how the mural commission came about?


Cathy: Oxford Properties, a real estate company in Ann Arbor, commissioned it. Two exterior murals were to cover the south side of Oxford’s downtown office, plus the rooftop two-story wall belonging to Magellan Properties. It was to be the largest public art project to date in the city of Ann Arbor.


Chris: What did you do to win the commission?


Cathy: I responded to the call for artists literally at the last minute, and then found out I was shortlisted while my husband and I were in the Florida Keys.  Without knowing ANYTHING about mural making, I had just a couple of weeks to come up with a proposal, which was to include a design sketch and narrative, a timeline and a full price quote. Yikes! So here I was in the Lower Keys with only a few basic marker colors that I’d tossed in a suitcase at the last minute and not a clue about where to start!

First I scrambled and ordered paper and pencils from Dick Blick. Then, after calling a half-dozen printers, I found Alan Kennish and his amazing print shop on Stock Island for my sketch scan. Next came hours and hours researching mural painting and scaffolding, negotiating with my insurance company, and crunching numbers.

mural Oxford Proposal, sketch2, 72dpi

mural Oxford Proposal, sketch2 3-D, 72dpi


Chris: Were you surprised when you won?


Cathy: Yes! I was the only finalist with absolutely no mural experience. When I got the news, I was terrified! Four. Thousand. Square. Feet.


Chris: Did you have help?

mural Anna, Kyle and Andrea


Cathy: My plan had included hiring two of my former illustration students, recent grads from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Kyle Scott and Andrea DelRio. Andrea neglected to tell me that she had no transportation from Detroit to Ann Arbor so I acquired my bonus crew, Andrea’s friend (and driver), Anna Posey.


Chris: How did you tackle the project?


Cathy: I drew the overall design for both murals to scale, then enlarged segments, in particular each figure, and tightened the drawing. Next I scanned and assembled them in a very high resolution Photoshop document scaled ½ inch to a foot. We then projected the scaled drawing, section by section onto the wall at night. I wanted to make the tree in the lower design line up with the upper design so I used Photoshop’s perspective function to approximate the scale of one to the other at a specific spot on the sidewalk. To my surprise and delight, it worked, and you can see a continuous scene from the SE corner of the nearest intersection!

Mural pic from dedication event

Gendron mural 2


Chris: The painting approach is different from your illustration style? What made you shift?


Cathy: My illustrations are drawn, then painted in transparently applied oil glazes. Muralists use acrylics. There are artist professional mural paints on the market, but for cost reasons many muralists use high quality house paints. I worked with a local paint supplier who has a stellar reputation here. We chose their brand of ceramic paint for their durability, and also because the pigments are more lightfast than the other alternatives. It was wonderful stuff!

I had the base coat tinted with intense colors and we intentionally allowed some of the that color to show through the rendering. The paint dried in a heartbeat – especially in 90-plus heat – so we worked opaquely, dry-brushing any form modeling.

It’s funny though, how many passers-by have asked if I was a children’s illustrator!

mural Dancer, boy head, small

mural Woman reading, small


Chris: How long did it take you?


Cathy: The design took maybe a month and a half. The painting took about three and a half months, with me working mostly 10-12-hours days, 7 days a week. The total crew time averaged around 60 hours a week.



Chris: Would you do this again?


Cathy: Not likely! I’d be delighted to go back to children’s illustration. If however, the experience is anything like childbirth and I somehow forget how much work it was, I’ll count on my friends to remind me!

gendron mural

A reminder for Cathy of the LONG hours!!!   Congratulations Cathy….a legacy adventure beautifully done!!!   AND another congratulations due Cathy for the Three starred reviews for her DEPUT children’s Book from Lerner Publishers: The Nutcracker Comes to America. (available now for Christmas and holidays!)  Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The School Library Journal!!!  not a bad start for this obvious children’s book illustrator!



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8 Responses to Artist interview: huge mural painting!

  1. Cathy Gendron says:

    Oh Chris, This is beyond wonderful. Thank you so very, very much. I¹ll spread the word far and wide tomorrow!!! Cathy

  2. What a wonderful post! Amazing work, Cathy!! WOW! What a great experience too. but I understand how you wouldn’t want to necessarily repeat it — especially any time soon! Congratulations creating such a beautiful piece of art that will be enjoyed for years and years to come! 🙂

  3. Cathy, you’re even more of a superstar than I thought! Thanks for sharing the story of this project and a hearty congratulations.

  4. Charlie Barshaw says:

    Hooray for Cathy Gendron. Two huge career-stretching artistic leaps in the “giant bucket of awesome” mural and the picture book “The Nutcracker Comes to America.”

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