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Final Photos

Final Photos are up!

Check out the “Final Photos” tab at the top of the page or click this link:


to see photos of the finished mural.


The Grand Finale!

Yes, the rumors are true!  We have finally finished the mural project!

Finished Mural

Painting began in a whirlwind of colors rolled, splashed, finger painted and sprayed onto the wall.  First, we filled in general shapes with solid background colors.  Although paint spread gracefully along the surface of the brick, each crack remained bare as the roller passed. With the help of our dedicated volunteers diligently painting each and every space between the bricks, we finished in record time!

The following Monday the children who attend summer camp at Joan Miró Special Education School came to help us with our design. Hands in tubs created handprints on the wall and smears on our T-shirts.  One little girl dipped her hands in blue paint, made a beautiful imprint of her fingers and palms on the wall, then wiped her hands from the top of her head, onto her dress and all the way down to her toes.  She looked as if we had rolled and dipped her in our paint buckets. Oops!

              While some kids loved to feel the squish and slime of the paint on their fingers, others preferred the artistic stroke of a paintbrush.  One boy was so excited to have the opportunity to paint the exterior wall of his school, he jumped up and wrapped his pudgy arms around my neck to bring me closer.  He gave me a kiss and with all the enthusiasm in the world declared, “Thank you for letting us paint the wall!”  He then ran his tongue from the bottom of my chin all the way up the side of my face.  “It’s a ‘Cow Kiss’!” he exclaimed.  Tears of laughter rolled down my face. I told the little boy to hurry up and get to snack before he tried to eat any of the other summer camp monitors along the way.  The work the kids created was both creative and free and added brilliance to our mural.


Next, it was time to spray. With minimal sputtering and not a single misplaced drip, images began to dance from our wall.  Kaos dreamed up a purple city that extended throughout the mural as I squared off and created the image of Miles Davis and the Flamenco dancer.  Kaos and I worked well together.  As he pushed me to work faster, I begged him to take his time and have patience.  The two of us together balanced out a rhythm and pace that got us to finish the mural just in time!

On Tuesday, just 24 hours before I was scheduled to board my plane to Minneapolis, we all met to celebrate the mural’s completion.  The kids jumped and yelled with the excitement of seeing the finished product.  As we rounded the corner of the wall, we were surprised by the presence of Michele Ortiz, an internationally renowned American mural artist and her husband.  The kids were ecstatic to see new faces and jumped over them with an enthusiasm and energy too great to capture in words.

All the artists celebrating the mural's completion

Our celebration was the perfect conclusion to my year in Spain and this mural project, which has become an enormous part of me.  As my time with Michele came to a close, I made the comment, “Sometimes it feels like I did something big here, but the next moment feels like I simply painted a wall.”  Her husband responded, “It’s not necessarily about what you create, but the lives you’ve touched in the process.”   This could not stand more true.

As I leave Spain, I remember all the people imperative to the organization of this project, all the volunteers who moved us along, the passerbys I befriended, the graffiti artists I had the privilege to create with and the young students from Joan Miró exploding with energy and enthusiasm.  Thank you for your support and all you taught me along the way. Keep the creativity flowing.

Kaos and I



Michele and I











More students and artists by the wall

Painting Progress

We are finally painting!  We are currently putting down an under layer of paint over which we will use spray paint to elaborate our sketch.  Check out our daily progress on the day by day page:  https://alexandrawaters.wordpress.com/day-by-day/

Here’s a sketch of what the wall will look like when its finished:

Mural Sketch

Splish Splash

After what seemed like an endless battle scraping, scrubbing and scratching off the anti-graffiti paint, we have finally finished!


Time to make puddles!  We snaked the yellow hose through the carefully landscaped orchard of Joan Miro, over the wall and through the fence above.  As soon as the metal knob was turned from the other side of the wall water spewed out, making the hose slither like a charmed cobra, drenching us both.  It was the perfect reprieve from the mid-summer sun!  Kaos and I filled bucket after bucket soaking the wall and scrubbing it with brushes until all remnants of powder were long gone.

By the time Kaos and I affirmed that the wall was in fact cleaner than our own kitchen counters and my tennis shoes made a funny gushing sound with each step, we shut off the hose and broke out the paint rollers! We sealed the wall with an acrylic, water-based sealant.  It was a milky white liquid that stuck to my fingers with the same rubbery stickiness of elementary school Elmers Glue.   It gave the wall a nice clean shine.

 Tomorrow we start to paint…

Power Blasting

After much deliberation, the city council declared they would allow our project if we presented a color sketch of the mural.  We had hoped to begin painting the following Tuesday so Kaos, Sheila and I met that very night to work some photoshop magic.  With the speed of a video game addict, Kaos scanned and clicked color onto our pencil sketch.  Within the hour, our sketch took on brilliant colors hinting at the hues of our final product.

On Monday we went material shopping at a nearby paint store.  I lost myself in the enormous number of paint colors to choose from.  We picked up some preliminary materials, fully aware of the many return trips we would be making.
I have since made dozens of trips to hard ware stores across the city.  It is quite humorous for the men to watch a little blond foreigner searching for hardcore materials.  One man asked if I was having a party with the  dust masks and steel wool I was purchasing.  Of course!  What Else?
On Tuesday, none of the necessary pieces fell into place.  Sheila forgot her permission slip to get out of school, I forgot my cell phone and Kaos forgot the meeting place.  It was a disappointing morning for everyone.  Janel had come by to take photographs so we went out to take a look at the wall.  We found that the wall is not painted in ordinary paint.  It is painted in an anti-graffiti paint meant to cover the graffiti below and prevent paint from sticking to its powdery surface.
The only solution is to strip the wall of this powdery mess and then paint and spray.  However, in absence of the necessary funding to sandblast or power wash the wall, it was up to us to power blast the paint away.
Armed with steel wool and metal scrapers we have mounted our defense.  We have spent days and days scraping and scrubbing, becoming intimate with the walls history, revealing graffiti from decades past.  My students recognize the signs and tags from long retired graffiti artists in the neighborhood. We have even found paper posters still clinging to the under layers of brick.
Although the work is physically taxing, it has been fun to play around, listen to music and at times stop scraping to dance out a song.  We have many neighborhood visitors who drop by to see what’s up or lend a hand.
Later this week we will fire up the hoses and scrub the excess powder away.  We will then begin the painting process!
Let the fun begin!

Among Rubble

I rode the bus with Sheila, sweating from the heat of too many bodies crammed into a city bus on a scorching day.  Although the fans of the air conditioner huffed with exhaustion, they could not keep up with the sun’s cruel rays invading the metal vehicle.  As we moved through the streets to the city council, she pointed down nearly every other street, “I lived there when I was four with my parents”  “That’s the park where I scraped my knee”  “I lived there with my Mom when I was six”  “I lived there with my Dad when…” I asked her how many places she’s lived and she explained that there were far too many to count.  Her mom moved around a lot “But I haven’t seen her in years now.”  She goes quiet, I don’t ask.

Sheila is one of my bilingual students at the high school where I teach.  In class, she is the girl who sits with her head down, face hidden behind a curtain of tight black curls, silently drawing song lyrics on the face of her desk.  After class she wipes them away, and moves on with her day.  In a community graffiti class however, she is silly and playful.  She is confident, laughs a lot and jokes around.  All until she picks up a spray can.  Then, she is all business, focused and perfecting hours on end.
“I don’t want to live among rubble”- Orcasitas 1957
As we arrived to the city council, we navigated through the security checks and around official looking desks until we reached the office of Public Works.  Here we presented a sketch on an outstretched piece of paper.  “We want to do a mural.”  The three official men in suits looked at the two of us disapprovingly. They tried to explain that the bureaucracy concerning permission for a project like this was a nightmare.  They attacked each argument we made in favor of the project, insulted my Spanish and dismissed the sketch.  Finally Sheila spoke up, “Listen, a lot of people complain about the aesthetics of this neighborhood.  They go around doing graffiti trying to make it better but only make it worse.  This is a way to do something good for our neighborhood.”  They told us they’d think it over and pass it up the chain of command.  We’d know by Friday.
Sheila and I walked out of the building silently.  We got to the bus stop.  She turned to me and said, “Do you want an ice cream?”  I said “Sure.”  We both got a cookie ice cream sandwich and made our way back through the neighborhood to the school.
This mural may change Sheila more than the neighborhood. She is engaged, focused and has plans to create art as her future career. Yet I see myself growing right along with her.

Contradicting the Clandestine

Asking Permission to Graffiti
A piece by Banksy- The famously mysterious graffiti artist

When I think of graffiti I think of hooded teens, stealthily covering the hardest to reach crevices of a city’s treacherous landscape.  This project is taking another direction.  With artists armed with spray cans and money for materials in our back pocket, it is now time to find the wall waiting for our work.

In mid May, as Madrid heat danced on pavement creating glittering mirages of puddles ahead, Kaos and I scoured the Orcasitas neighborhood in search of blank faced walls.  We zig-zagged the streets, darting for spotty shade under the scrawny trees that brave the harshness of concrete. Every few blocks emerged soaring brick walls that encircle the various schools in the neighborhood.  We photographed each one, documenting our options for the mural.
We concluded our search near Ciudad de Jaen, the high school I teach in.  We trampled through the surrounding vacant lots, knee high in hostile weeds armed with prickles and thorns.  I stepped carefully, unaware of the beasts that may take refuge in such a place: bugs, mice, snakes, or worse yet crocodiles… you just never know. Ballet flats were clearly not the best choice for this excursion!
Nevertheless, the journey through the jungle of thorns led us the perfect wall for the project. It borders the wild and vacant lots surrounding my school, yet is clearly visible by the many cars that pass by on Avenida de los Poblados.
The exterior wall of Joan Miró
The wall belongs to a Special Education primary school called Joan Miró that works with mentally handicapped students.  Juan, the Community Outreach Coordinator at Tiempo Joven, set up a time for Kaos to meet with the director of the school.  Everyone at the school was overwhelmingly excited and the project quickly cleared all the way up the chain of command.
We have permission!
The following Thursday, as I left work I saw that the previously overgrown lot was cleared of it’s hostile inhabitants (both real and imagined) and our wall stood tall and proud, bursting with potential.  I was dying to capture its grandeur but decided against stopping to take a photograph as I imagined what my students would think of me photographing a barren brick wall.  As I walked by, a wave of regret hit me. I decided to just do it! I turned around decisively, took out my camera and began taking photos of the wall.
“Shhhwe… Americana… Shhueshh… un mural…”
I heard whispering from a large group of women staring inquisitively and pointing at me from the sidewalk. As I made eye contact, a woman approached to ask if I was the American planning on painting the school’s exterior wall. Word sure travels fast!  She introduced herself as a teacher at Joan Miró and rattled off a million questions with such excitement I worried she may burst.  At the end of our exuberant conversation, she explained that Joan Miró was a school for mentally handicapped students and asked if there was some way to include the mission of the school and the students into our mural plan.  “Absolutely” I responded.
Back to the drawing board…
We are now working feverishly to complete our sketch by next week when we will meet with students and teachers from Joan Miró to gather ideas and share our plan. A section of the mural will be dedicated to these student’s unique artistic talents.  We will then complete the mural in two waves.  First we will work with students from Joan Miró to complete their part in June before school is out for the summer.  The second wave will begin on July 5th when the graffiti artists are out of school and we have the time to work uninterrupted for days at a time.
Now it’s time to get my sketch on!