Nice Niece Bedroom

A little while ago my sister-in-law (J) moved with her daughters to a new house. I offered to redo the girls’ bedroom, which I’m sure they regretted agreeing to since it ended up taking me about a year to finish. When they moved in, the bedroom was a little boy’s room with a duck border and a single wallpapered wall (I think it was kind of a meadow/lake thing? To go with the ducks?) with the other three walls painted cream.

The girls, aged 7 and 5 (8 and 6 by the time I finished, I was not over stating how insane long it took me to finish) liked the ducks, but we wanted to give them a fresh room and they were excited to have a room painted to their specs. (Somewhat. Even without previous experience, I know better than to take my design instruction 100% from kids, otherwise the room would have ended up half neon orange and half neon pink. Just saying.)

The older niece (we’ll call her N1) wanted a jungle/forest room, and the younger (N2) wanted a princess room, because when kids are sharing, nothing is simple. So I decided to do a sort of enchanted forest thing, with animals climbing the walls for N1 and a floating castle peeking through the trees for N2.

Most childrens’ rooms can end up looking awfully cartoon-y. We seem to have the notion that all childrens’ decor must be primary colors, or at least painfully bright, and if it works for a 6 year old they’d better outgrow it by the time they’re 7. My goal was to design a room that would work for both N1 and N2, and preferably continue to work for them as they grew into preteens.

The first thing we did was hang up the curtains from their old room, then started stripping wallpaper. This was gunky messy work, and the girls were able to help which I think they both enjoyed.

The texture left on the stripped wall was cool, almost intentional looking. It reminded me of a map, and made a nice backdrop to the globe. It almost seemed a shame to paint over it, but of course, we painted over it. In picking paint we (J and I) stuck to two main background colors. As I said, I wanted something that could grow with the girls, so we went with fairly muted colors: a yellowish bamboo green and a greyed out purple. The green went up first. J did most of the painting.

It’s always hard for me to tell how a color is going to look once you get it on the wall, but I LOVED the green.

Next I put up masking tape, in a non-pattern pattern to represent “trees.” I used two different widths of tape to keep it from looking overly ordered. Since the final intended effect would be flat, I hoped it would also create a sense of depth that unified width “trees” would not.

The effect of the tape on the green walls was striking. I think the girls would have been happy if we’d just left it like that.

For the next step we (and again, in this case we means J) painted over everything in our purple color. This didn’t look nearly as cool as the tape on green, and it stayed this way for several months which I felt a little bit bad about. N1 and N2 were remarkably patient, though I think every time I saw them N2 would ask me when I was going to paint her side pink. Eventually, I got around to the next step, painting clouds on top of the purple. This is a terribly stereotypical little-kid room motif, but I like to think I put a different spin on it. Once again, J did most of the actual painting after I outlined the cloud shapes on the wall.

With all the clouds up, I was able to start detailing the clouds. From here on, I think I can honestly say I did all the painting, rather than just stealing credit from J. 😉

I outlined the clouds in a metalic paint that was supposed to be silver, but looked more gold or bronze depending on the light. It was a much darker color than I expected, which I think worked out quite well. One of these days I’ll learn to make art that looks cool according to plan instead of accident, but for now, I’ll take what I can get.

Once I finished all the outlines, I started sketching in the little details, a castle for N2 and some jungle animals for N1. N2 only got the one fantasy element because the castle took so much more work than the animals. I googled Disney castles and pulled a bunch of images that I thought N2 would like, then freehanded it with pencil on the wall. I don’t quite have the painting confidence to just paint without pre-sketching, and chalk didn’t work, but fortunately the pencil came off in the end.

The details went pretty quickly, but I still had to leave long gaps between steps because I don’t live super close.

Once the pencil was up I was able to start painting. This took far longer than I expected, because the undercolor, white, required several coats to look convincing. Once I got the white up however, the color went on more rapidly. Of course N2 got a PINK castle. I tried to match the color to the comforters and curtains, but I think I ended up going a little overboard and used a color that looked more like a highlighter exploded on the wall. N2 LOVES it though, so I guess that’s all that matters.

N1 got three animals. She specifically requested a monkey and a cat, but I decided she also needed a koala. I think the cat is her favorite, and the spots were quite fun to paint.

I intentionally kept the wall facing their beds a little calmer than the wall behind their pillows, with the notion that you don’t want anything TOO exciting to look at while you’re trying to sleep.

I have insomnia, so probably I’m a little oversensitive about that. We didn’t really have any plans for the door or the closet door, so I was pleasantly surprised that the cream color looked nice against the mural, and we didn’t have to do anything at all. The blue carpet does not match quite so nicely unfortunately, but it’s not a big deal. I think the eventual plan is to pull it out and restore the wood floors underneath, which should look incredible. All in all I think the room turned out well.

N1’s animals are mostly orange with a bit of the pink, and N2’s pink castle has touches of orange to tie them together.

The girls added the butterfly stickers.

Ultimately I’m not sure I succeeded in giving them a room that will stay timely into their teens. N2’s castle especially is pretty age specific, very little girl. Despite my attempt to broaden the visual style with black outlines and stark, limited color, I can’t quite see N2 wanting the hot pink princess castle next to her bed when she’s ten. At least it gave them a dramatically different space and they had a lot of imput in the creation. Possibly they would have been happier with something cartoon-y-er, I’m not sure. I honestly don’t know that I could have done a good job on a typical cartoon style childrens’ mural anyway. This simplified flat color with line detail is much more suitable to my artistic style.

Now of course, I’m planning my second mural/room design, for our baby‘s bedroom. I have the same goal of longevity (so I don’t have to paint over it in 4 years) that I had for my nieces’ room. My friend Kim is going to help me with the painting since I’m getting less mobile by the day, and also because she loves painting murals and is awesome at it. Hope to have something to post photos of soon.

  • home galleries writing aboutme ../contact
  • Octopus’s Garden

    Here’s some art:

    I started this piece several months ago. Somewhere along the line I went mad with power and blacked in way too much, and once I realized it, I sort of stopped liking it. I’ve been trying to use more contrast of both black vs white and texture vs space, but I think this one would have been better sticking to the texture play. Now it’s a bit too heavy, but it’s still technically worth showing I suppose, so here you are.

    I could probably help the balance of this piece by putting a bit more black in the white areas of the top right quarter, but for the moment I’m sick of looking at it, so I’m calling it done.

  • home galleries writing aboutme ../contact
  • 26 Mar 2010, 9:23pm
    animals & children drawings



    If you’ve been following my twitter stream you’ve probably already heard that one of my cats is diabetic. She’s fine, never actually got to the point where she was acting weird (which made figuring out what was wrong a bit difficult) but my brain has been pretty cat centered last couple weeks.

    Chyna is the cat with diabetes. We’ve got her on special food and we’re giving her insulin injections twice a day (which I mind much more than she does). The vet shaved a patch on her back to make it easier for us at first, so now she looks like she’s got a sunroof. We couldn’t help laughing at her for the first couple days.

    The drawing below is of Tricky, the other cat (because she’s the one who was finally willing to look at my phone and give me a good face photo). She added to the sick cat confusion by puking all over (just hairballs) just as Chyna got her infection so we took the wrong cat to the vet at first.

    This week’s Illustration Friday is “Rescue.” The first thing I thought of was rescue animals, cats and dogs. (And since I’ve been sick this week, drawing a cat was an easy option.) Chyna was a rescue cat, Matt got her from a foster program before I met him. Tricky was also I suppose, just not officially. She was a pregnant stray when she adopted us.

    We’ll probably always go with rescue cats, I’ve never really understood why so many people pay hundreds from breeders when there are so many unwanted cats in shelters. My friend Kim got a beautiful kitten from a shelter last year (Olive is lovable, though bitey, but that’s cats for you).

    I kind of get it more with dogs. Breed plays into personality quite a lot, plus, no matter how much the experts say dogs are never too old to be retrained, it’s obvious early habits make a much bigger difference with an animal that can rip your throat out if it gets too scared. Abuse and poor training can really screw up a dog, while with a cat the worse you’ll get is a nuisance.

    Rescue dogs can be a bit of a gamble, though the rescue dogs I’ve met have been wonderful, including a shepherd mix that probably saved my niece from a coyote when she was three (nope, not exaggerating). When we went to get Kim’s kitten, she was thinking she might get a dog instead.

    We found an absolutely sweet 9 month old dog, a Pharoah Hound mix (I’d never heard of them) that was quiet and friendly, and seemed like she’d be a great pet for Kim. We asked at the desk if they thought she would make a good first dog, and we were told, regretfully, No.

    The dog was “trained” on puppy pads, which means it had learned to go to the bathroom right on the floor, which is, you know, fantabulous. Also, the dog had chewed up every bit of wooden furniture in the house, while left alone all day as the owner woked.

    That’s the tragedy of rescue animals. You get a fair number of animals like Chyna and Tricky, born strays from stray parents. You’ll find animals that are left behind when an owner dies, or becomes homeless, or just gets too old to care for it. Too often though, the pets you find in shelters are animals that are abandoned, or returned, because the ownder simply doesn’t want them anymore.

    The cat isn’t as cute as it was when it was a kitten and it scratches up the couches, pees on the carpet. The dog is too much work, and it hasn’t been trained, so now it’s unmanagable, even dangerous. Sure, those that are abused or starved, those animals are far sadder. It’s so easy to justify taking back a “bad” animal. We forget that animals are living beings and not toys. Someone else will take them.

    I have been a bad pet owner. Now Matt and I have cats that are such prizes it makes me cringe with regret. The drawing I did of tricky doesn’t express what a sniffy cat she is. If you’ve ever had a sniffy cat, you know what I mean. When we first got her she couldn’t figure out how to sit on a lap and now she’ll run to curl up with you as soon as you sit down. When I pick her up, she meows and struggles in complaint, but the whole time she purrs so loudly you can hear her across a room.

    Chyna does everything timidly, primly, as though she’s made of glass, and you feel a bit like she is when you pick her up. When she’s upset she hides her face against you. At night when I brush my teeth, she likes to attack my socks. She is always utterly happy to be in the same room with us. It takes my breath away.

  • home galleries writing aboutme ../contact
  • Lines of Thought

  • Once & Future Things