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The world on your walls

Murals add a personal touch that wallpaper can't deliver, and they can be as simple or detailed as your pocketbook can handle.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001

[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Ron Hutchinson, a.k.a. Dr. Doodle, adds finishing touches to a mural inside an alcove in WestShore Mall’s food court. He wears hospital scrubs as he paints.
A squadron of red-tipped F-16s aims at little David's bed, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

The 7-year-old wanted the jets painted on his wall, even pointed to the photograph in a book.

Then mural artist Mike Jenney went to work, painting first a matte turquoise background, then the five jets in formation, nose-diving toward David's arched headboard.

"I like to watch planes," said David Harris, who lives in Tampa Palms.

A personal touch that wallpaper can't give, that's what murals bring to a room.

Increasingly, a home-improvement public is taking that artisan route, opting for a one-of-a-kind look.

Airbrush mural artist Jenney, of Largo, has painted an aquarium in a back patio and macaws and white parrots around a bird cage. The owner wanted company for her bird, said Jenney, who started airbrushing T-shirts in college and about 19 years ago turned to leather jackets, cars and homes.

He's done a music room shared by a father and a son. Guitars, the Doors and the Grateful Dead tell the history of rock 'n' roll on the walls.

He brought the mountains of Colorado in the summertime to one wall in a mirrored workout room.

[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Mural artist Kathryn Valdes uses her Riverview home as a showroom. Almost every inch of wall space is covered in murals. This is the dining room.
He added ivy-covered pillars to a dining room to give the illusion of al fresco dining.

One client bought a wood carving of a barracuda and hung it on a white wall. Jenney painted an underwater scene around it with a fish hook near the wooden fish's mouth.

Clients always ask: Is all of this expensive?

Detail, not size, is the determining factor, artists say.

An outline of a dolphin on a wall of a patio might cost $200. A reproduction of center court at the U.S. Open, like the one Ron Hutchinson of Tampa did in the basement room of a Maryland home, could set you back $14,000.

It was a practice room for brother and sister tennis hopefuls, said Hutchinson, a.k.a. Dr. Doodle, who studied commercial art and illustration at Philadelphia College of Art.

On the four walls in the basement, he painted stands filled with people, including the kids' mom, dad and dog. Every lifelike detail is there, down to the water bottles in people's hands and the racquets and equipment bags near the referee's chair.

In between these extremes, you can find a mural that is right for you and your budget. Now, how do you find an artist?

Look in the Yellow Pages under "Murals," where some artists are listed. If you visit designer showhouses or model homes, keep an eye out for murals and ask who created them. If friends have murals in their homes, ask who painted them.

Call interior designers, who often use murals in their clients' homes, and ask if they have names to pass on, and keep your eyes open as you shop and dine out: Many artist do commercial displays. Hutchinson has done work at WestShore Plaza, Jenney at Jon Dilly's Bistro in Clearwater.

Mural artist Kathryn Valdes uses her Riverview home as a showroom. Almost every inch of the wall space is covered in murals.

[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Valdes made the fireplace mantel in her living room from an old piano she bought for $50.
Her daughter's room: paradegoers at Mardi Gras.

Entertainment room: jungle.

Kitchen: bugs and, yes, a rat.

They're for whimsy, said Valdes, an interior decorator who specialized in murals after creating them for years as a hobby.

Another source, of course, is the Internet. Hutchinson, who lives in Tampa, has a Web site and a marketing strategy: He works in hospital scrubs. Many clients think he paints only kids' rooms because of his company name, Dr. Doodle. His forte, actually, is re-creating Mediterranean scenes, recalling the time he has spent in Europe.

He also specializes in trompe l'oeil, such as the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach golf course in California that he re-created in a clubhouse. That one was 56 feet long and 16 feet high.

In selecting an artist, ask a lot of questions:

Ask to see photographs of the artist's previous work. Ask for references, and both call them and go see the artist's work.

Look at work that's a couple of years old to see how well it has stood up over time.

Ask previous clients what the artist was like to work with. Was he or she pleasant or temperamental? Would clients hire that artist again?

Ask the artist how he or she works: Will suggestions or sketches from you be welcome? Will the artist show you a sketch or drawing for your approval before he or she starts to work?

[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Valdes’ favorite painting adorns her kitchen wall just over her dog’s food dish.
If you discover after the work has started that you just don't like it, what happens then? Will the artist start again? Repaint the wall as it was before and leave?

Many artists will sketch beforehand, but you pay for those sketches, usually $100 to $150, even if you decide not to go with the work.

How long will it take? Work can take a day or a week. Hand painting takes longer than airbrushing techniques. Ask whether the room can be used while the painting is in progress, and whether all furniture and other items must be removed.

And discuss payment: What will this cost? When and how will payment be made, partial in advance or all at the end?

Also, listen. Many artists have ideas you might not have thought of.

Some use more than paint on their murals. Valdes, for example, used fabric trimmings to outline the clothes the Mardi Gras revelers wear.

Jenney made a shark jump out of a patio wall. He used a combination of plaster and plastic foam to make the body and then painted it.

"It looked very real," he said.

There are many skilled mural artists in the Tampa Bay area; not all of them are named in this story. Ron Hutchinson can be reached at (813) 835-7744 or; Mike Jenney at (727) 584-3111; Kathryn Valdes at (813) 685-6852.

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