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Off The Wall Graffiti: A Year of Transforming COVID into Color and Conversations

Artistic Inspiration

We first explored the work of arts education non profit Off the Wall Graffiti (OTW) via their mural projects and curriculum for Metropolitan and Stony Point continuation high schools. OTW provides art education to urban artists through after school programs, events and in-school curriculum, seeking to build a coalition of educated, global, and unified artists poised to change the world through their creativity.

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Through their work with LAUSD, OTW Founder Maura McLaighlin has made her mark, so to speak, on continuing education high schools throughout Los Angeles, as the nonprofit truly understands that not all children learn in the same way. We’re diving into OTW’s most recent work with two additional schools, Zane Grey High School and John R. Wooden High School, to see how the small act of painting can leave an impactful mark.

Off The Wall x Artist Amy Smith
The desire to make each new school year engaging and different than the previous year can be a demanding task for any teacher. Having worked with Reseda, California high school Zane Grey over the last five years, OTW “decided to go big,” this year, says McLaughlin. The idea was to wrap the school entirely in imagery, covering each and every wall with mural, even walls that spanned 34 feet in length.

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To help bring this vision to life, OTW teamed up with muralist Amy Smith and employed her signature stencil design process for the large scale mural. “We enlisted Amy Smith for her style and approach and used students in the actual imagery for the stencils,” explains McLaughlin. An on-campus photo day brought out a handful of bold student “models.” From there, OTW followed Amy’s process of posterizing the photos and printing them as large format black and whites. Then, over the course of a blistering hot week in Los Angeles, these portraits measuring a whopping 9 feet tall were painted on the school walls by OTW and Smith (unfortunately, COVID prevented students from taking part in this project’s painting).

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Each student model now imbues the school, and all who see it, with an indelible mark of their individuality, strength, and personality. Ultimately, says OTW’s McLaughlin, the project accomplishes the goal of Zane Grey principal Lucinda Burton, who “really wanted messaging and power used to show the strength of her kiddos.”

Painting The Farm Red
At another OTW partner school, John R. Wooden High School, also located in Reseda, OTW’s, student’s were able to get more hands on, helping apply the paint for this vast mural project. The challenging exterior walls of John R. Wooden High School, with their height and the stucco surface, gave OTW quite the teaching opportunity. “The cottage cheese surface made this project challenging,” notes McLaughlin. “We instruct students on the particulars of painting on stucco, demonstrate the way brushes want to be used and teach them the “step back and squint” method of having the wall tell you what is needed next.”

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When it came to the design of John R. Wooden’s mural, OTW collaborated with their in-house design agency Orange 34 Design to develop a motif using Dunn-Edwards paint in which every symbol represents the school’s unique environment. One such symbol sticks out in particular: the pig. The unmistakable symbol is tied deeply to the fabric of the high school, and it seems no mural would be complete without it. “Wooden has always had a working farm. It is what sets their school apart. The pigs are an integral part of the soul of Wooden. They provide a solace for students to go care for them,” McLaughlin explains.

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Ultimately, OTW, Orange 34 Design and the crew of John R. Wooden student-painters crafted a clean and complex design in one, using design principles and color theory to balance every part of the school’s mural.

A Different Approach To Education
The overall scope of this year’s school participants was to simply learn how to collaborate and paint with OTW, and in doing so students gain points based on their time “at the wall.” Students consistently put in that time because OTW helps keep the allure of their programming high. Street art and mural making takes a fair amount of courage as it is a raw, unfiltered look at the artist's skills. As a non-profit, OTW provides a different perspective on each high school’s on-site teachers. “We bring some flare, we talk about real life at the wall,” explains McLaughlin. OTW educators and students listen to music while painting, even trading Spotify playlists.

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As McLaughlin elaborates, the non-traditional environment is an easier one in which teachers and students can converse about everyday issues, “The kids report a surprise in their mood,” she explains, like a newfound calmness or mesmerization. “We generally have repeat volunteers for the painting, even if they aren’t earning points for a class.”

This isn’t the first time Dunn-Edwards has been involved with community efforts of beautification. Take a look at how artists transformed blighted buildings in Oakland, California with a dose of color from Dunn-Edwards Paints.