Over the last few months, the City of Urbana has undergone a major mural makeover. The artists behind three of the latest murals, Rafael Blanco, Kinsey Fitzgerald, and Lisa Kesler, worked with the features of their unique sites to create vibrant designs, often in record-breaking heat. Below you'll find what they shared during our behind-the-scenes look at the making of their murals. 


Rafael Blanco

Title: Dance on Illinois

Location: 806 W Illinois St, Urbana


Photo from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program Facebook page.

Smile Politely: Describe your mural in three words.

Rafael Blanco: Bold, Dynamic, Site-specific

SP: What's the best thing about creating an outdoor mural?

Blanco: For the viewer: the transformation of an empty/boring wall, to vibrant and exciting work of art. For the artist: the experience of painting and solving the challenge of creating a large-scale public work.

SP: What's the most challenging thing about creating an outdoor mural?

Blanco: The rain. Even though we have access to countless weather apps they are not always accurate. The weather changes really quickly and the public artist is always at the mercy of the elements.

SP: What are the three things you take into consideration when designing an outdoor mural?

Blanco: As a public artist I'm interested in creating site-specific artwork. In order to do so I must have in mind the following:

The site: The building, wall, and/or space which is going to be transformed.
The community: The city, town, and/or neighborhood surrounding the site.
The commissioner: The person who is actually interested in creating the transformation of the site.

Muralist Rafael Blanco in front of the mural location. Brightly colored stripes cover the building.
Photo from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program Facebook page.

SP: What was the inspiration for your most recent mural?

Blanco: My inspiration for the Dance on Illinois mural was the architecture of the apartment complex, and the performing arts. We (Fairlawn Real State and I) wanted to create a dynamic mural that could inspire students and that it was connected to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

SP: What other formats do you work in?

Blanco: I was a classical studio artist for more than 15 years before I discovered public art in 2014. Before I was a studio painter, and worked also with sculpture, photography and installation art. After my first experience at a 24h mural marathon in Reno, Nevada, everything changed. I felt liberated painting outside at a bigger scale, connecting with people, and under a time limit. Since then, I have been transitioning to large-scale murals. I'm in love with the idea that public art is owned by everyone.

SP: What's up next for you?

Blanco: Next week I'm traveling to Colorado to create my last mural of the summer. I have painted seven murals almost back-to-back in Illinois, Utah, Texas, and Connecticut in about three months.

SP: What do you most want viewers to know about your mural?

Blanco: There is nothing to know about the mural, there is no secret or hidden concept.  However, it is about the visual impact and how a gray and empty wall could become a source of inspiration with just some paint on it. Public art is for all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. It tends to connect and unite viewers despite their differences. A couple days ago I got an email from someone explaining how her grandmother, who just turned 102 years old, made her to drive by the mural three times in a row because of how much impacted her. Stories like these are like trophies I take home with me.

Learn more about Rafael Blanco on his website, or follow him on Instagram.

Kinsey Fitzgerald

Title: Native Prairie Roses

Location: The Rose Bowl Tavern, 106 N Race St, Urbana

Muralist Kinsey Fitzgerald at work on her mural on the side exterior wall of the Rose Bowl Tavern featuring deep pink and white prairie roses.
Photo from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program Facebook page.

SP: Describe your mural in three words.

Kinsey Fitzgerald: Site-specific, organic, activating.

SP: What's the best thing about creating an outdoor mural?

Fitzgerald: The continual collaboration with the elements, and the community. The process is on view continually. For me, I love working big.

SP: What's the most challenging thing about creating an outdoor mural?

Fitzgerald: The elements and weather. For Native Prairie Roses, it was so hot in June. It’s challenging to balance the social aspect and working, as well when you are painting a public space… but, that might be because, I love talking with viewers and and hearing feedback. Also, working big and getting those proportions right. Learning how to drive a boom lift.

SP: What are the three things you take into consideration when designing an outdoor mural?

Fitzgerald: The viewer, the establishment, community, or patron’s “personality” or vibe, I guess. (Future me: the budget).

Muralist Kinsey Fitzgerald posing against  the Rose Bowl Tavern wall in front of a prairie rose with her signature to the left.
Photo from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program Facebook page.

SP: What was the inspiration for your most recent mural?

Fitzgerald:
Native Prairie Roses was inspired by the idea of rewilding downtown Urbana with native flowers of this region to inform and call attention to prairie flowers (I hope to do more around town, like Coneflowers or Black Eyed Susans) The Rose Bowl Tavern itself was an inspiration, as in the building, and the local music scene it is cultivating.

SP: What other formats do you work in?

Fitzgerald: Illustration, ceramics, sculpture, painting… I also enjoy working with textiles, and performing.

SP: What's up next for you?

Fitzgerald: Hopefully more murals and more collaborations on creative projects. Also, I’m planning to apply to grad school this fall.

SP: What do you most want viewers to know about your mural?

Fitzgerald: That it is the first of many. And it wraps around the corner to the east. Take pictures and tag me. I love to see it!

Learn more about Kinsey Fitzgerald on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

Lisa Kesler

Title: Summer Rhythm

Location: 25 O'Clock Brewing Company, 208 W Griggs St, Urbana

Wide shot of Lisa Kesler's Summer Rhythm mural at 25 O'Clock featuring black outlines in abstract and geometric shapes and brightly colored shapes in yellow, magenta and cyan.
Photo from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program Facebook page.

Smile Politely: Describe your mural in three words.

Lisa Kesler: Color, rhythm, joy.

SP: What's the best thing about creating an outdoor mural?

Kesler: Many people will be able to experience it.

SP: What's the most challenging thing about creating an outdoor mural?

Kesler: Height. Lots of up and down ladders, on and off scaffolding, etc. When I’m painting the lower part of a mural, I can have my supplies all around me and just grab whatever I need. Once I get to the higher sections, though, I have to carry everything with me, so I use an apron and overalls with lots of pockets.

SP: What are the three things you take into consideration when designing an outdoor
mural?


Kesler: I want it to be interesting from a distance and also from close up. I like to take the architecture and features of the building into account. The mural should harmonize with its environment.

Photo of the ribbon cutting ceremony in the parking lot in front of Kesler's mural.
Photo from the Urbana Arts and Culture Program Facebook page. 

SP: What was the inspiration for your most recent mural?

Kesler: My new mural in Urbana was inspired by one of my recent series of linoleum block prints. I love how the shapes work in the little 8” prints but also on the 13’ wall. Amazing. Scale fascinated me.

SP: What other formats do you work in?

Kesler: I work with letterpress printing and linoleum block printing. I am also a painter. My paintings are acrylic, sometimes combined with collage.

SP: What's up next for you?

Kesler: Mural-wise, I am submitting design concepts to several regional mural projects for this fall and next spring. I am also continuing with my studio work. I am getting ready to ship several paintings and prints to a hospital in Texas this month. I’m starting to think about the holiday season. I may host a holiday show at my studio or participate in another local show. [I'm] still working on my plans, so nothing is definite yet. And I am continuing with a book idea I’ve been working on sporadically for the past year.

SP: What do you most want viewers to know about your mural?

Kesler: I want them to know that the mural is for them. It’s for everyone to enjoy.

Learn more about Lisa Kesler on her website, or follow her on Instagram.