Last winter I applied to take part in an annual event in my town, Tinley Park IL. Each year, after the theme is announced, local artists submit ideas for the Benches on the Avenue summer art installation. This summer's theme was "Heroes and Villains". I knew right away that I wanted to recognize actual people instead of going the fictional route. My mind went right to some of history's greatest female icons. But how? I have a deep appreciation for super heroes, and love comic book graphic art. What better way to share the stories of amazing people with another generation than by adapting them into a comic book hero style that so many relate to? I had my idea, now to sketch it out....
I ended up selecting Amelia Earhart (inspired by Wonder Woman), Sally Ride (inspired by Ironman), Marie Curie (inspired by Black Widow) , Eleanor Roosevelt (inspired by Superman), and Rosa Parks (inspired by Thor).
I was thrilled to find out that my sketch was selected! After meeting with the other artists, I received feedback on construction strategies. With the notes from experienced artists in hand, I was able to make adjustments to the design to add stability. With only about 5 weeks to make the bench a reality, I had to get to work right away.
I created full size paper templates to help me figure out proportion and layout. They also became the templates I would use when it was time to cut them from plywood. After having the paper sizes figured out, I calculated my supplies and began accumulating materials.
Cutting out the women was one of the best parts of the process for me. I absolutely love working with power tools, and this was quite the opportunity to do just that. But, stability was critical. I had to plan my cuts carefully so that I could layer and fuse the plywood cut-outs for added strength. And, because I was trying to get a 3-D effect, I had to know exactly how I would apply each layer to help turn a flat wooden surface into a formed character.
With the layers cut, I was able to really envision how I could apply different materials to achieve the right effect. I knew that fabrics and textures would really make each character stand out.
Some of the textural items I added were canvas for capes and skirts, faux fur for Eleanor's cape, a halved rubber ball to form the shape of beakers for Marie to hold, and a small mirror for Sally (Iron Man's) chest plate. All of those items had to be applied prior to paint so that they could be integrated and weather proofed accordingly.
I was thrilled with my progress, but even more excited when the day finally came to start painting! The first step for any outer project is definitely primer. I applied 2 coats to help seal the wood and get it ready for color.
Painting the actual color seemed like it would be a huge process, but for me, this was the fastest step. Thankfully, I have a super supportive family that allowed me to block out long chunks of time for me to get in the zone. When I am fully wrapped into a project, I function on auto-pilot. It is a very meditative place for me, and I love being lost in thought and letting the paint do it's thing.
This project was rapidly coming to a close. Knowing the benches draw crowds of families, I knew I needed to add information to the bench so that families could learn about these amazing women, and conversations could be sparked. My mind immediately jumped to the BAM POW fonts that you would see in classic comics. Each woman would get a name tag and their bio's added to the sides and back of the bench. Once all of the painting was complete, 3 coats of sealer were applied to protect it from the elements. Then, just like that, it was complete and ready to leave.
The best part of this project was definitely seeing it on the street and getting Facebook posts from friends showing their families enjoying the bench. It was also a wonderful surprise to be one of the award winners. I was named "Best First Time Participant"! And, an added bonus, my sponsor, First Midwest Bank, allowed me to keep my bench. The ladies will be the highlight to my backyard garden so that visitors will enjoy it for years to come.