• Kristi Burke

Murals, Mistakes & Moments Of Clarity

Wow, it feels so good to finish a project.

There are times that I think I'm crazy for choosing this life. Mural work can be so exhausting, physically and mentally. By the end of it i'm usually cursing the project and swearing I'll never paint another mural again. But then I make that final brush stroke, pull the last remaining piece of tape, take a big step back, close my eyes, breathe in deep, turn around and...


That finally finished feeling. That moment where I realize all my hard work does actually pay off in the end. The countless hours spent looking at color palettes and Pinterest boards. Making cut and paste collages and testing out 20 different shades of brown. Mulling over paint swatches in the middle of Ace Hardware. and then climbing scaffolding and ladders in Florida heat, making sure that line work stays clean despite the clumpy, dry paint the sun so quickly loves to create. This is what it's all about; seeing my vision come to life. Creating something that will last. Something I can be proud of. Nothing else feels quite like this.

But I've got a confession to make.

When I claimed that I was "finally finished", it was an accidental lie. took me 3 days and the start of a new project to make me realize that I was, in fact, not finally finished. At least not entirely. It's funny how I can look at something for a week straight, studying its every detail, making sure every line is just right. and still miss something so big. When I "finished" this mural, I asked my husband to complete a scan of it with his own eyes to help me find anything I might have missed. He picked out a couple minor details, but nothing that took more than a moment to make right. We both triple checked from top to bottom. Everything looked great! We were good to go - until I started the next mural.

Midway through, my big mistake hit me like a ton of bricks. I was painting the inside of the letter "N" for the Sanford postcard mural. The design contains all these different Florida-esque elements. I painted this creepy cool gator peeking up from the swamp water, and he's got this tooth that sticks right over the edge of the...oh!....OH!!!

His tooth! His TEETH! I Forgot the other gator's TEETH!

What?! How did I miss that? How, of all things, did I miss the alligator's teeth? How did my husband miss it? Once you know the teeth are missing, you really start to see how odd it actually looks. My husband so lovingly calls him "Grandpa Gator". But that's not going to work. So I whipped out the white paint and gave his smile what's it's been missing all along.

That's better.

I'm not one to point out my own flaws. I struggle daily with a fears of criticism. I don't prefer for my imperfections to be brought to light. But I've learned lately that my mistakes aren't better off in hiding. I realized that to live authentically is to embrace your flaws and be transparent with them. We are all imperfect beings, just trying to get things right every now and then. We should be more willing to show ourselves and others compassion and grace. My goal this year is to do just that. To be more open with my mistakes. To embrace my flaws. And to inspire others to do the same. Imperfection is what makes us perfect.

These two murals were created for Florida Craft Brewing, opening in Sanford in late June. This project was different from past projects in more ways than one. First, it was a deviation from my typical bright, and more simplified style. These pieces had significantly more technical detail than anything I've done before. But I loved the challenge and opportunity to demonstrate and practice versatility. Although I do have personal preferences, it's nice to get outside of my own creative box and expand a bit.

This was also different because, for the first time, I had my husband working by my side as my partner throughout the entire duration of the project. Unfortunately, when lockdowns over Covid-19 started, Dave lost his job. We have been discussing the possibility of teaming up for months, but this was the push we didn't know we needed to finally make that happen. I've been getting pretty swamped with work lately, and have considered hiring an assistant to help with basic tasks like cleanup, setup, fill in work, etc. But with Dave out of work, he had the availability to give me the help I needed. My husband isn't a visual artist (yet!), but he's still very much an artist. He's been making music since he was a kid, and his songwriting abilities always amaze me. He's also a very quick learner. He can pick up almost any skill or fix anything that breaks by watching a few minutes of a Youtube tutorial. Before long he was helping in ways I didn't even expect. Laying down clean lines and even paint strokes. With his help, we completed these murals about 4 days ahead of schedule. This guy saved me about 10-15 hours of extra work. We realized that this was a push in the right direction, and have decided to partner up full-time for all future murals.

So here's to him! My husband, my best friend, and now officially my new business partner. I am really excited to start this new chapter of our lives and spend our days living and working together, as a team. Just like it should be. To new beginnings and a kick-ass husband!

A Moment Of Clarity

Something that I enjoy about painting murals is the copious amounts of time I have to be alone with my thoughts. Even when Dave and I are working together, I tend to be more focused and quiet - a switch up from my typical chatty self. I get a lot of time for reflection.

As I was painting the details in the boat, I stopped to consider how often I use water and liquid in my art. I never thought about it beyond a quick moment. I live in Florida, an hour from the beach. And Orlando alone is home to around 100 lakes. There's a lot of water here. So it makes sense that most of my pieces would have a liquid element. But is there something beyond that?

When I first started making art as an outlet, ocean waves were a constant in my doodles and drawings. One of my first real paintings (and also the first painting I ever sold) was created while I was going through an exceptionally difficult time in my life. I was in a very low place, and wanted to make something bright and bold and happy. So I sketched out a big sun and ocean waves. It was the largest piece of art I'd made, since most of my art prior were doodles on a sketchpad. I remember sitting for hours and days and weeks focusing all my energy on finishing this piece. I needed it. It was as if the process of painting it was one long, giant inhale, and the moment I laid down the last brush stroke: exhale.

About halfway through painting this, I found out that an old childhood friend of mine passed away unexpectedly. Although we didn't stay close, we had a sort of special bond in our elementary years and reconnected temporarily in early adulthood. The news was painful. And I thought about him a lot while dressing the waves in blue. His name was Ocean. Appropriately, I named this piece after him. It sold at an art market shortly after.

When I applied to my first call-to-artist- for the Thornton Park Storm Drain art, I used the Ocean painting as inspiration, and came up with this chosen design.

My first mural, in Thornton Park, with big blue waves, depicting nearby Lake Eola.

Waves and water. All the time.

When this occurred to me, I had to ask myself; "Am I uncreative?" Have I closed myself into a box that I won't think out of? Why, even when given creative freedom, am I always drawn to water?

For many years, I've had very vivid dreams, and nearly every single one of them involves water. Sometimes the water is dark and murky. Sometimes it's clear, crystal blue. Sometimes I'm swimming in it. Other times watching from afar. I've been in small boats, cruise ships, resorts on the beach, even lakes in the clouds. Water has become such a strong subject in my dreams, that over time I've felt more and and more drawn to it in real, natural settings. I crave the feeling of being submerged in cold, fresh water. I love finding mountain swimming holes deep in the forests of North Carolina. I regularly daydream about waterfalls and rivers. I can't get enough of it.

I read a story recently about a Japanese pseudo-scientist named Masaru Emoto, who claimed that, through his own personal research, he found human consciousness to have an effect on water, and that water can and does respond to emotions and energy. I found this story fascinating on the surface, although this theory has never been proven by Emoto. He even turned down the chance to replicate and demonstrate his hypothesis for a $1,000,000 reward from the James Randy Foundation. His ideas have remained just that - ideas. I like to consider myself largely skeptical, but I enjoy entertaining the idea that perhaps there may have been something to his claims.

It is said that water is linked to emotions, especially in dreams. Water isn't bound to anyone or anything. Water is entirely free. It can be raging and powerful. It can be quiet and calm. It sustains life. It nurtures and encourages growth. It really is the perfect symbol for emotion. I think maybe there is something more to my inclination to water, especially in my art. Perhaps my emotional state is sending me messages of healing and freedom and hope. Perhaps there are things I still need to work out internally. Lessons I need to learn. Experiences I've yet to heal and grow from. I'm learning to be more aware of what my mind, body and spirit is trying to tell me. I'm learning that a recurring theme in my art isn't uncreative, it's my innermost expression. I think we should all spend a little more time listening from within. I know that I will.

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