The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural (Pt. 1 of 3 – Inspiration)

In November 2010, I received an unexpected phone call from a friend.  “My parents want someone to paint a mural at their house.  I told them you would do a great job, and they should talk to you.  They’ll pay …”

Sign at Bailey's Key, where I swam with dolphins in a beautiful bay in October of 1992. I don't have still images of the swim, and I'm not tech-savvy enough to "capture" images from VHS. Anyone want to get together and help me out with that? I'll buy the pizza! 🙂 (Bailey's Key, Roatan Island, Honduras)

<<<<< Let’s rewind oh, about 18 years to 1993 – when I saw the first mural that really inspired me.  My mother told me about an article in the Oregonian (Portland’s main newspaper) talking about an internationally famous artist who was painting a mural on the back of the old Fox building in downtown Portland.  At the time, there was just the slightest glimmer in my mind that I could be a professional artist, so the thought of being able to watch an artist in action was interesting.  Even more intriguing was his favored subject matter – ocean mammals.  Less than one year before Wyland came to Portland to paint his mural, I had the delicious experience of swimming with a pod of dolphins off the island of Roatan, Honduras.  The memory was still vivid and the pull of the ocean creatures was strong.  So I took mom’s advice, hopped on the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) and made my way to downtown Portland, where Wyland was working.

The mural was huge, 120 feet long by 60 feet wide!  When I arrived Wyland was up on a scaffold, working away at his creation.  I was fascinated by the fact he set a deadline for himself to complete the piece over the course of a weekend, after which an official dedication was scheduled.  Talk about working under the (self-imposed) gun!

The scene he was painting depicted orcas in their natural environment, located somewhere along the Oregon Coast.  One member of the pod was breaching while the others swam languidly in mist-covered waters.  The sight of this scene was fascinating to me.  I fell in love with Wyland’s work, which reflected my passion for the ocean’s creatures.  Given my recent experience, I found his pieces to be simultaneously exhilarating and peaceful.

Wyland's "Whaling Wall #35: Orcas of the Oregon Coast" on the back of the old FOX building in downtown Portland. Everything in this picture is now gone, including the famous Hamburger Marys and yes, the Whaling Wall. Wyland was so upset that they destroyed the mural that he packed up his gallery and left town.

>>>>> Fast forward two-and-a-half years, after my first husband and I were divorced.  I moved into downtown Portland, right across the street from the Portland Art Museum, just a few blocks away from Wyland’s “Whaling Wall #35:  Orcas of the Oregon Coast”.  At the time, dim flickers of possibility that I could somehow be involved in the art world were growing stronger.  I walked to work each day, creating a path that would take me directly past Wyland’s art gallery or at a good viewing distance from the Whaling Wall.   Though intimidated by the idea, I eventually walked through the door of Wyland’s gallery and asked for work.  Though the answer was no I became a fixture at the gallery, learning all I could and periodically asking for employment.  The ladies there came to like me and eventually I was invited to be the (volunteer) door greeter for Wyland’s All Artist’s Exhibitions.  They were so impressed with my results, I was invited back another two times*.

The idea that maybe I could paint murals started to germinate.  The thought that I could influence someone’s mood and feelings by creating a large immovable work as part of their environment was intriguing.  I began asking around, calling companies and artists that advertised their services.  I offered to work as a volunteer so I could learn the ropes … but was rejected repeatedly.  The door had been pushed shut … but never latched closed.  The idea lay dormant somewhere in the layers of my mind, coming to the fore whenever murals were mentioned.

Over the next 18 years I asked about how murals were made, what materials were needed, how one would get started.  The information was slow in coming, but by early 2010, I felt confident that when the opportunity presented itself, I could pull it off.

>>>>> Fast forward to summer 2010 ….  (stay tuned for part 2!)

This is part one in a three part series. Next week we’ll explore the commission process from initial ideas, to black and white sketches, to color sketches through to the final selection (read it here).  The third installment will walk you through the process of actually getting the mural on the wall, from start to completion.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey!  🙂

*  Unfortunately, Wyland and Co. pulled up stakes and closed the gallery before I had a chance to get a paying gig.

© Amy Buchheit 2011 All Rights Reserved


About Amy Buchheit

I am a Signature Member of the International Society of Acrylic Painters and an Ambassador for Artist Trust. I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Marylhurst University and have exhibited on regional, national and international levels since 2000. I am committed to connecting with the viewer through my work - stirring buried emotions to the surface for further inspection and introspection. The inspiration for my art comes from direct observations, research of subjects I am passionate about and personal experiences. For more information about my art, workshops and exhibitions, visit my website at My blog "Fantastic Voyage" can be found at, and I can be found on Facebook under Amy Buchheit Art and on Twitter as @AmyBuchheit.
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4 Responses to The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural (Pt. 1 of 3 – Inspiration)

  1. Patrick Ross says:

    How exciting, Amy! I can’t wait to read more!

    The painter I interviewed in Cape May, New Jersey, began his career painting murals in Atlantic City casinos. He chafed a bit from that, because he was part of a team painting someone else’s creative vision, but he soon formed his own mural-painting company and that led to his gallery work he paints and sells now:

  2. Amy Buchheit says:

    Dear Patrick,

    Thanks for letting me know this was of interest! I started writing with the intention of beginning at what is now “part two” of the trilogy, but my fingers and brain had an altogether different idea. The idea to wander down memory lane and write a “prequil” of sorts (though not that, since the other two parts haven’t been written yet?).

    I’m starting to feel like the long and winding journey that often occurs on a creative path is of interest to readers, which is heartening. That will give me a lot more options/things to write about! 🙂


  3. Pingback: The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural (Pt. 2 of 3 – Preparation) | Fantastic Voyage

  4. Pingback: The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural (Pt. 3 – Conclusion) | Fantastic Voyage

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