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Sharon Dowell on “Transit” & Her Creative Processby Tim Miner & Sharon Dowell on March 23, 2021
Charlotte artist Sharon Dowell is at it again. Over the past 16 years, she’s created her distinctive murals, which often feature a complex design of bright colors and intersecting lines, across the Queen City — from Camp North End to South End to East Charlotte. Now, she’s added University City to the list.
Dowell was commissioned to paint a mural called “Transit,” in the newly completed UNC Charlotte Marriott & Conference Center. The 226-room hotel sits along the LYNX Blue Line at the intersection of North Tryon St. and J.W. Clay Blvd.
Inspiration for “Transit”
The piece, in which Dowell invested 100 hours from conception to completion, was curated by Denise Joseph of NINE dot ARTS art consultancy.
It was designed to incorporate landmarks and themes related to the university.
She also incorporated the design choices made at the hotel — carpet samples, furniture textures, colors and more — “to ensure that the work flows with the feel of the space.”
That aspect required an unusual amount of color matching, she says.
“Intertwining themes course through all of my work; the energy of place, renewal, temporality, shifting facets and planes overlapping,” said Dowell.
“This mural incorporates iconic architecture from UNC Charlotte’s main and uptown campuses and transit forms, exploring the idea of education culminating in growth, expansion and connection.”
“It is a special piece for me, as I am a UNCC arts alumni and also taught in the art department and managed the Rowe Galleries. Walking around the hotel, I see artwork from professors who positively impacted, encouraged me and changed the course of my life.”
A Complicated Process
Looking at a completed mural, it can be difficult to visualize the steps that went into bringing it to life.
To give us a sense of how her 100 hours were spent on “Transit,” Dowell shared her process flow with us below … as well as a few “pro tips” for emerging mural artists.
Initial Client Interaction
- Project overview
- Portfolio shared, explain contract process to client
- Cost estimates/explain range of pricing based on square footage, equipment needed, location of mural, surface prep, detail of design, etc.
Site Visit/Client Meeting
- Site photos, plans/blueprints given
- Discuss imagery, colors, timeline, etc.
Estimate Sent & Contract Signed
- Half deposit accepted to begin design process
- Create several sketches (Dowell manipulates photos digitally in Photoshop or Procreate)
- One or two iterations of chosen design before client approval
- Determine schedule and site access hours
- “As a woman, I always want to determine the safety of the site and best hours to paint, where to store supplies and equipment,” Dowell said.
- Determine closest access to power (for projection or powering up her portable speaker; “Gotta’ have tunes!”) and a sink (for cleaning brushes)
- Hire assistant
- Commercial liability policy needed?
- Construction site: Determine what safety gear is needed
- Rent lift or bring scaffold or ladders
- Color match and order paint or spray paint
- Other needs: brushes, protective plastic, tape, stencils, painter’s edge, bucket, paint sprayer, etc
- Water, snacks, sunscreen, speaker, umbrella, etc.
Painting the durn thing!
- Plan on working six to 10 hours a day
- Share social media tidbits of the process
- Completion/approval by client and invoice for balance of project
- Photograph the mural for documentation for portfolio, website and social media
- Remember to thank those that made it possible
- “I usually treat myself — to an ice cream cone, a new dress or a nice dinner with my sweetie,” Dowell said. “Something to say: Yay! You did it!”
- Wear hiking boots to support your ankles or New Balance sneakers (“My back never hurts now,” Dowell said.)
- Take a day off to rest every five or six days and book a massage in the middle of the project (“My shoulder and arm muscles are now thanking me.”)
- Seasonal game-changers: Pop-up umbrella in summer, wool socks and leggings in winter
- Use a pillow and knee pads for crouching on the ground for long periods of time
- Talenti Gelato containers are the best for holding small samples of paint (“I eat so many, I should be able to write those things off on my taxes!”)
- “Having a big ego is lame, but do recognize that the universe has given you a talent that is unique and special and is of value.”
- “One often has to hustle. Understandable, but constant ‘‘busyness’ is not fulfilling. Find balance, ways to rest, connect to yourself and make time for those you love and things that nourish you. This unblocks creative blocks and allows you to blossom and your work to soar to new heights.”
- “Boundaries are important. People constantly expect free or cheap work or push the limit if they can. Compromises will happen when working on a commission, but ensure that your contract has limitations on how many revisions you will make in the design or mural painting process.”
Gallery of Sharon’s Process on “Transit”
MAIN PHOTO CREDIT (Above): Brooke Brown Photography