Two Weeks in August

I’m stretching that headline somewhat to make it sound good. It was close to three weeks. In between.

Where were you in August

My best plans had me thousands of miles away across the Canadian Yukon on to an Alaskan summer. Those beautiful ideas dried up. Covid plodded on and on and so did the border closures. So, no, I wasn’t doing anything important when artist friend Michele Tuccini reached out for another painting assistant on the ‘Natural’ Power of Words Mural in Marquette. (Like she knew I was ignoring the many articles and posts circulating social media looking for painters!) (Yes, I was. That looked like a big commitment; I take commitments very seriously).

I Can Take A Bite Out of This

I’ve been up on scaffolding to paint a mural before. I did the Mondrian Garage Mural just down Third Street from the ‘Natural’ mural. When I designed the Mondrian Garage I intentionally kept the image minimal. I was relying on myself to complete a task I knew I could accomplish, but I still had gaps of knowledge. I suspected house paint was maybe the incorrect choice to use, I wasn’t sure what the choices even were. I needed the paint to keep the peeling, cracking wood veneer bound together. Three years on, I’m happy with how it is holding up to the brutal Marquette winters, even though I am told the colors are probably already fading.

Mia Tavonatti was specifically looking for painters to join the project. The basic knowledge of working in acrylic/oil painting was important. It would have been better, for this mural, if I had some experience painting landscapes. Much more better. (Who needs proper English anyways).

Who are These People I’m Surrounded By

  • Tara Tavonatti: A skilled painter and mosaic artist. Muralist and teacher.

  • Michelle Tuccini: Known in Marquette for her watercolors and dedication to the arts community. Current work can be seen at Zero Degrees Gallery.

  • Patty Gagnon: Encaustic Artist with landscape experience, check out her work at Zero Degrees Gallery.

  • Gabrielle Noelle (and his friend, sorry I did not catch your name) : NMU student and most important mural varnisher.

  • Madeline Goodman: Water Girl, artist and owner of MadGoodies. Brought us fresh ice water, invited us to her balcony for lunch twice, and stepped up to help with the reception.
Madeline Goodman at MadGoodies
  • Kurt Babcock: Bonus assistant. My supporter of the arts (aka husband) was often utilized to help with scaffolding moves.

  • Kate Lewandowski and Christopher Ray: gracious, warm welcoming owners of BeWell and Elixirs.
  • I hope you know who I am. Taryn Okesson. Artist, Wanderer and Cat Lover.

It’s an Art Studio

I felt like I was dumped halfway up a mountain and I didn’t know how far the top was or how far the bottom was. Or how steep the climb. Mia was the artist and the project manager. And I needed to let go of my own instincts and opinions. Her design choices were what mattered. It was my job, to the best of my ability, get the paint on the wall how she wanted. I tasked myself with absorbing as much information as I could.

Trust the Process

“Trust the process.”

”Trust the process.”

Mia directed me from day one through the flow of the process. First adjusting the drawn owl and adding missing details. Continuing the grid past the owl with a level. (For anyone not familiar, artist’s use grids to enlarge images). Then I sketched in new areas of the image. After that I based in backgound from dark to light. Laying in the dark warm brown around the owl shape, then coming back in with a green of the same value. I was limited to two colors at that time. By the end of the two weeks I worked my way up to… too many colors. The palette got HEAVY.

Another day I was tasked with painting a gradient from the warm darks into cool blues and grays that would become the ground for the ice flow. And later basing in “blue blobs” that became, in their final form, pancake ice. I did not get it on my first try. I remember something about… magenta. Magenta is a very overpowering hue. At that scale and with my limited experience working that large (or with magenta), the hues/values/brightnesses can get to be too much/too little. Or they aren’t working with the rest of the image and need adjustment. Mia, while working herself, stopped to redirect each of us as needed. As often as needed. Repeating herself with patience. And offering demos for us to follow.

Behind me Tara swooped through turning my warm darks into a water fall with sparkling reflections. Traded a penciled owl, for one shaped out of light. Sabrina worked on feathers, Patty on winter cliffs, Michelle small critters, and Mia everywhere all at once after (and during) perfecting the form of the woman. Nowhere near a full accounting of everyone’s activity on the mural, just a taste.


  • Being fed lunch by sponsors. Oh my. All my favorites. Did not have them since before Covid. Spoiled.
  • Love this paint. Mia uses Nova Color. A preferred brand by many muralists and studio artists for their superior quality and customer service. You must buy it direct.
  • Veganaise. I think I like it.
  • Elixirs. Do I look healthier? So good, so guilt free.
  • Affirmation. If you say yes to projects, other projects will come to you.

A Monster Created

I approached the Mondrian Garage mural conservatively. I tried to be a knowledge syphon around Mia and the other artists working on the Power of Words mural. Now I itch to plan something all my own. Inside or outside. Something comparable in size to the Mondrian Garage or smaller. GO. On out to the ether my little heart’s desire. Come back to me when you’re ready◼︎

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  1. Taryn Okesson - The Mondrian Garage Project

    […] commissions and work. Read about the Zephyr Bar Installation here. Read about my experience on the Natural Mural […]

  2. Tara

    I love this and your colorful expressions:)
    Such great photos!!!

    1. Taryn Okesson

      Thank you so much Tara! I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet and paint with you.

  3. Sabrina

    Ahhh I love all the in progress and detail shots you took. You really described how it was like to be a part of this project. Thank you for narrating this so well. So glad you were a part of this project!

    1. Mia Tavonatti

      Omg! You just Crack me up! I loved reading your recounting of your experience. Your humor and humility that allows you to learn and grow as an artist will only take you forward my friend. I look forward to watching your journey.

      1. Taryn Okesson

        Mia, I learned so much in such a short time. What an experience it is to work on such a project!

    2. Taryn Okesson

      The journey is as important to me as the goal. I’m glad you were there too, I should’ve joined sooner.

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