Posts Tagged ‘West Reading’

I have many painter friends, and I am active in the local art world as well as the community of Art Quilters.  So when Plein Air West Reading loosened its rules this year, I decided to take up the challenge.

This is the second year of the event. For 2017 only 80% of your piece has to be completed outdoors.  The rest can be in the studio.

Here’s what I did: limited my palate to blacks, whites and grays, and pre-fused some workable size pieces to take with me. I packed a scissors, tracing paper, parchment paper, drawing paper, muslin and pencil and set up a small table near an outlet so I could plug in my iron.

I started as any Plein Air artist would: made a sketch.  For me, the sketch had to be the same size as the finished piece would be.  And I worked as I always do: traced the shapes in the drawing from the sketch (the buildings, the sky etc) and cut them out in fabric.

Honestly the experience did me more good than I thought it would.  As in all plein air work, the values are higher keyed (brighter — more white) than when translated through a photograph.  Since values are my most difficult artistic component, it was a useful adjustment to work outside. Also, of course, you can walk around and better see what you are trying to depict than when working from a photo.

The most difficult part was trying to keep the pieces from moving in the slightest breeze.  A pin or two helped here. And I don’t know how I could do this without an extension cord and iron fairly handy. I used it by heating it up, unplugging and bringing over to my work — still hot enough to activate the fusing and hold the fabric pieces down. But I couldn’t be too very far from it.

Of course I finished the pieces in my studio: using my sewing machine for the quilting and binding. I also took photos, printed them on cloth, and places them in key spots.  Those I printed in color, so the works were desaturated with bits of color.

These will be shown June 17 at Art of the Avenue in West Reading.  Just look for the Art Quilts in the Plein Air display.  I doubt there will be any others.  But maybe next year!


Michael L Miller, Wyomissing art teacher and founder of Berks Community Murals, started off his walking tour of the murals of West Reading with addressing one the biggest fears of public murals. Many people have seen murals they don’t like– the colors might be garish, or the design primitive. He described the dreaded “Let’s put some paint brushes in the children’s hands.”

But his approach, learned from the Philly Mural Arts Program, is very different. He has been able to retain overall artistic direction, and yet involved many people, including young children, in the actual work.

He showed us an example in the “West Reading Is . . . .” mural on Cherry Street. Residents were invited to write down what they think of when they think about their community.  The answers were many and varied: from skunks to skateboards. All of them were then represented by simple visual stencils. The overall design of the mural was created by Mr. Miller, but young painters were let loose to divide areas into geometric designs, and apply the stencils. The overall design is unified and artistic, while incorporating real meaning.

Another example is “Viral Van Gogh.” Wyomissing Area High Schools Public Art Workshop was trying to come up with a design for a mural on the wall of a pharmacy. One idea was based on Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. Another was based on greatly magnified viruses. After collective brainstorming, students came up with a design that has the look of Starry Night, but is inhabited by giant viruses that look like starbursts. More subtly in the design are chemical formulas and lab beakers.

During the course of the morning, he gave us all the details: how do they create these giant works of art? What materials do they use? How long do they last? What surfaces are good for murals?

Most are painted on a polyester interfacing material. The design is drawn out and the colors coded. Painting becomes like filling in a giant color by number piece. The individual pieces are then glued to the wall with a clear, acrylic gel glue. And no — they cannot be removed. “Just enjoy them while they are there,” Mr. Miller advised. The life of a mural is 15-20 years. He says, “Then it’s time to make another one!”

The paint used is an acrylic with UV protection manufactured by Nova Color. An additional UV protective acrylic varnish is added to the surface. But eventually direct sunlight will break down the vibrancy of the murals. Additional maintenance may have to be done if the wall becomes damaged in some other way.

As far as the wall surfaces go, rough surfaces can be smoothed. But the cloth panels can otherwise be adhered to brick, concrete block or concrete.. East facing walls are the best. For south facing walls, Mr. Miller recommends use of glass mosaic. This increases the cost, but is not affected by sun damage over time.

The murals in West Reading were mostly funded through the West Reading Elm Street Program, Dean Rohrbach, Manager. The murals are owned by the property owner, and could theoretically be painted over, but that has not happened, nor has graffiti damage.

Initial skeptics have in many cases become ardent supporters of the beautiful murals. Residents prize them. Visitors also find time to eat in one of the many fine restaurants in West Reading, or shop in local stores and art galleries. The murals have become a local treasure.

Kline Street Mosaic 2010

Mosaic on garage on Kline Street. 2010. Designed and created with students in Wyomissing Public Art Workshop.

Classroom of Michael L Miller at Wyo elementary school

Michael L Miller in his art classroom, explaining the details of the creation of murals.

A Walk in the Park by Jane Runyon lead artist

Mr. Miller points out where the four panels of cloth meet on this approximately 10 x 16 foot mural by artist Jane Runyon, 2014. Russ Slocum looks on.

Detail Viral Van Gogh

Detail of Viral Van Gogh, painted on the side of a pharmacy. The overall design takes after Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night, but giant viruses (including HIV) take the place of star bursts.

I and West Reading 2010

I and West Reading, 2010. Designed and painted by students in WAHS’s Public Art Workshop. The mural is inspired by artist Marc Chagall’s painting I and the Village, painted in 1911.

Sixth and Franklin Mosaic Michael L Miller 2012

Blocked in windows look a lot better with these mosaics made by Michael L Miller. This is an example of a south facing wall which is better served by using glass mosaic, which is not subject to fading in the sun.

Detail of West Reading Is . . . stencils of what residents think of when they think of West Reading. Note how the green tree also becomes roof shapes for row houses. Designed by Exquisite Fource, created b youth from Wyomissing Public Art Workshop

Detail of West Reading Is . . . stencils of what residents think of when they think of West Reading. Note how the green tree also becomes roof shapes for row houses. Designed by Exquisite Fource, created b youth from Wyomissing Public Art Workshop