July 3rd 2017
3:30 – 8:30 PM
Milwaukee Art Museum before the fireworks
The parade of thunderstorms that came through during the week and weekend made me a bit nervous. Don’t get me wrong I love thunderstorms to pieces, but they aren’t exactly painting-friendly. In the end it was a perfect weekend to skip painting. Nature’s fireworks gave me an excuse to go to Milwaukee’s on Monday. And with Summerfest already making the city a zoo, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find a crowd or two.
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After work I packed up and walked down along Prospect toward the Milwaukee Art Museum hoping to get some sense of what might be a good spot. I had no idea what to expect except from what people had told me about the event. So I continued on through burger n’ brat smoke, hunting for a spot that would have 1) a clear view of the lake, 2) enough foot traffic and 3) where I wouldn’t be baking in the July sun for the next 5 hours. I settled reluctantly for a garden ledge by the sky bridge to the MAM that was kind of off to the side but had a friendly low hanging tree and promised that even if I didn’t get anyone I would at least get to paint my beloved MAM again (See first one here).
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I’m always curious who I’ll get coming up to the canvas, but I especially make mental bets about the very first one. This time I almost – ALMOST- had someone add the very first brushstroke to the painting. They were interested in the project and did come back later, but man oh man that would have been cool! Maybe next time.
As usual, the longer I stayed and painted, the more happy I was with my spot. It fit my plan perfectly – I wanted to maximize the sky and minimize the architecture and give people the suggestion of adding fireworks, which they were super willing to do. I suppose fireworks are fairly friendly things to paint: any color, all kinds of shapes and sizes, and everyone was already in the mood.
Every color’s here, but especially purple and the classic red white & blue. Sparks, spirals, flowers, and starbursts. And the usual hearts and smiley faces I get were perfect this time because they showed up in the sky that night during the show! The rising moon is also there in purple and white. “July”s and initials pop between the streaming colors and fly behind an airplane. A strong tree wraps its roots around the roof of the museum next to a patriotic heart. Green and pastel clouds balloon on all sides. I wove bold purple and green shapes into the wings of the MAM, just like the smoke and sparks would later that night.
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As usual I met a huge variety of people, but this time mostly families. Some were there hours early for the fireworks, others just visitors spending the afternoon out in the sunny city. A fashion designer, writers, painters, kids with scooters and face paint, a father and daughter visiting from Columbia. Some kept coming back with more in tow to show off everyone’s painted masterpieces and add a little more. A few people just kept coming around to watch the painting evolve and see what was new, even if they themselves didn’t take the brush. That is one of favorite things about painting at an event; I get many more returners that come back around to add more, bring others or just check in.
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Again, the most common thing I hear from people is that they’ll “ruin it”. What was a little different this time was because of all the families. When I’d invite them, parents would ask their kids if they wanted to paint a little (which 10 out of 10 times is yes). Then I’d make sure to invite the parents as well, to which most would say they would want to save room for other kids. While I absolutely love it when kids help me and I understand how this might seem like a kid’s activity, I want this to be for everyone. I don’t believe you have to be young to try anything new. I don’t believe you have to be young to experiment, to explore, to play. That’s one thing I never want to grow out of. That’s partly why I’m doing this project – to try something new, to experiment, to explore, to play. Maybe its not that we don’t want to, it’s just we don’t get asked often enough. I certainly know I don’t. So that’s why I decided to start asking.
I will always respect people’s decision not to paint – I get it, some paint-covered stranger comes out of nowhere and asks you to try something completely new in public, it’s a bit scary. I will never judge you for saying no, but I will promise you that you won’t regret saying yes. The rest is up to you.
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Having been out there for 5 hours, a chilly lake breeze and achy knees remind me how I still need to fit in dinner before it gets dark. So I hiked back through the barricaded streets and packed sidewalks to my apartment, ran back down with the pb&j and banana chips I meant to eat hours ago and sat cross-legged right next to my painting spot to watch the second best fireworks show I saw that day, hearts and smileys and rainbows and all.
Special thanks to: