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  • emilygracemente

Conway Human Development Center

Installed in Conway, Arkansas, October, 2021

I graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, AR, in 2014 with a BA in Studio Arts with an emphasis in printmaking and minor emphasis in painting. I kept in touch with my professors over the years, and towards the end of 2019 was contacted by my painting professor about a potential project in Conway for the Conway Human Development Center (CHDC)! Due to COVID-19 complicating outside visitation to CHDC's campus in 2020, the project was put on hold, but in 2021 I was contacted again by members of the board who were ready to move forward, and we brought the mural to life in October of 2021. Here is the story of this mural, from start to finish.


CHDC is an assisted living facility for residents of Arkansas who have varying levels of developmental disabilities and need assistance that may not be accessible in their homes or communities. The residents are of all ages, and the facilities include care from education and housing to medical needs and extracurriculars (they even have an annual prom!). The campus is quite large, and due to funding restrictions, beautification of the space isn't something that can often be prioritized. Luckily, the CHDC Volunteer Council had been raising money to put towards a bright and joyful mural on the 3 awnings that span over their Barber Shop, Beauty Shop, and Snack Shack, and below their chapel. The building is in the center of campus, and would be seen daily by CHDC residents and employees alike.


After talking with the team of women facilitating this project, I realized that there were 3 concrete walls that needed to be covered, and the amount of space was huge. The walls were 7' tall, started 8' off the ground, and in total spanned 2240 square feet. They only had it in the budget for me to cover around 700 square feet of space, so the first challenge was creating a design that wouldn't look awkward without filling the whole space.



To cut down on costs, we agreed that CHDC maintenance staff would power wash, prime, and paint all 3 walls a single color of my choosing prior to my arrival, so that all I had to do was apply the paint required for the design. CHDC also provided me with scaffolding and a scissor lift that they own for onsite repairs, which allowed more space in the budget for design and install.

The goal of the mural was that it could be seen from all directions when coming upon the mural, and to create something that was bright, joyful, and fun, without being visually overwhelming, as some of the residents can become overstimulated easily. We decided that we wanted to highlight the natural beauty that you can find in Arkansas, showcasing native flowers and butterflies that can be found in the area. I also had the challenge of working around a few trees that block parts of the wall, so the placement of the design was key.


I sent 2 options for our first round of renderings. This was the first...

...and this was the second...

We had a zoom meeting to discuss, and there was a lot of feedback. I always tell my clients that ALL feedback is GOOD feedback. It's helpful for me to hear what elements of a design my clients don't like (sometimes even more than what they do), because that helps guide me in the right direction for my next round(s) of renderings.

Here's what we wanted to change from the start:

  • The placement of the design felt unintentional, and there weren't enough flowers

  • The blue background was too blue

  • The turquoise background was too bright

  • The random swirls in the background felt chaotic

  • The yellow bird wasn't working

  • One woman on the council really wanted a rainbow and clouds

  • They wanted more specific elements that they could point out to their family members, the same way you would with a child learning to talk. They wanted it to be engaging, so they could walk by with their loved ones and say things like, "Do you see the purple flower? Do you see the cloud? Do you see the rainbow?"

Overall, we wanted to make it feel more serene, intentional, calming, and engaging, so I got started with my changes, and after some back and forth, we finally agreed on...


We decided that grouping the images together and framing them with the rays would make it feel more intentionally placed, and also accommodate for the trees that would block parts of the wall during the months they are in bloom. We made some edits to the color palette during the process of choosing my paint, I sent them the color I wanted for the background, and they got to prepping the surface for me while I got everything ready to go in Austin!


This wall wouldn't allow me to use a projector due to the size, placement, and exterior lights that are on at night, so I ended up projecting them to scale on large sheets of paper in my studio prior to my arrival. I drew out the images on paper to be used to transfer the design. To transfer to the walls onsite, I coated the backs of the paper with charcoal, taped up the rolls in order on the wall with my drawn images facing out, and traced over the image again with a contractor's pencil. With the contractor's pencil, I was able to apply enough pressure to transfer the charcoal from the back of the page to the wall as I drew, so when I took the paper off of the wall, the lines I had traced were pressed into the wall in charcoal. This is a time consuming process, and there are other methods of transfer one can use, but this felt like the best option for this project, and actually worked really well!


For this mural, I decided to use exterior latex house paint for the light turquoise rays in the background and the black outlines, but for everything else I used Montana spray paint. I chose to do this because I had a lot leftover from a previous project that matched the color scheme, and also because spray paint can make the application process so much faster, and we were on a time crunch. Outlining everything in black exterior latex house paint with a brush allowed me to clean up the fuzzy lines you can get when you use spray paint, and also made the colors pop agains the background.


Because I was living in Austin, TX at the time, and the mural was in Conway, I loaded up my car with all of my materials and rolls of paper, and drove the 8+ hours to my location. CHDC was so gracious and hosted me in one of their apartments onsite, which allowed flexibility to work around the crazy rain storms that come through that time of year. I had 14 days to make this happen, and ended up getting it done in 13, even though there were a couple of days where I couldn't work due to the rain.

I also had help from a few Hendrix painting students sprinkled in throughout the project, who got extra credit for helping with the installation. It was so fun being able to teach them about my process, and chat with them about their art goals!

Below are progress photos taken along the way. I hope you enjoy!

Hendrix published a lovely article about this project on their website if you'd like to read more about it!

I loved working with CHDC, and am so grateful to have been able to add some joy to an organization that does such amazing work for their community.



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