3393 Adams Ave. San Diego, CA 92116
On the corner of 34th and Adams you’ll find Salon Bordeaux, a posh local business in the heart of Normal Heights. The exterior of their storefront features large bay windows that reveal a glimpse into all the glamour and grooming taking place within. On the side that faces 34th St. there are few windows, just a long and mostly uninterrupted section of plaster wall spanning the length of the building. It’s this wall where a lovely exterior mural was painted in muted, pastel shades of grey, pink and navy blue. Unfortunately this proved to be an attractive surface for those seeking to “leave their mark” — so much so that by the time I was able to get out to the site to paint, a new tag had been added. The damaged area was effectively double what it had been, as the new tag was as large as the other two (seen in the before photo) combined, scrawled hastily in thick black paint.
Now unlike the utility boxes I’d been reviving, this mural was going to have to be a very precise operation to be successful. One that tested my technical prowess with color matching, which is a task that can still present a challenge even if you’re a tetrachromat!
My strategy was to pre-mix the three colors I’d be using to cover the damaged parts of the mural using a photo of the piece for color reference. It just made things easier to do this part at home, so I didn’t have to bring so many different colors of paint to the site with me. Another thing one has to anticipate is that the color you’ve mixed will always dry a bit differently than you can readily anticipate so creating a swatch card was just a good idea. With swatches, I could see the color the paint would be when it dried, and make my adjustments and comparisons from there.
A good friend and mentor of mine, Jeff Robin, once told me something that always pops into my head whenever I mix up a color:
You’ll never be able to mix exactly the same color twice. It’s just not possible.
Now granted, there is some background context to his statement as it was something he said when we were teaching art to a class of teens at High Tech High. While it’s technically possible to mix the same color more than once, it isn’t an easy task or one that you can do without extensive forethought, planning or skill. So the long and short of it is that what Jeff told me is for most intents and purposes, true. What that means for me and what I could reasonably do to restore this mural is simply that I would only be able to match the colors so closely without knowing their actual, exact formulation — but I know myself and my eye is developed enough that I was certain I could attain a remarkably close match to the original paint colors.
On my swatch cards I created a swatch every time I made any adjustment to the paint color I was mixing. As you can see, the pink and grey cards are covered with swatches from top to bottom, and even a few on the back. With the exception of the top three swatches, these colors represent minute adjustments I made to the color while at the site, comparing each swatch to the color I saw on the wall, then making my adjustment until I was satisfied that the dry paint color on the card was as closely matched to the color on the wall as I could make it.
Interestingly (but unsurprisingly) the grey required much more adjustment than the pink — and a probable explanation for that is my own personal color preferences. One of my favorite fine art professors in college (and a wonderful local artist and small business owner of the popular North Park boutique, Pigment), Amy Paul explained to our Color Theory class that an individual can differentiate more shades of the colors they prefer. So that is to say, if your favorite color is blue, it’s likely that you could detect more subtle differences in shades of blue than you could with red or some other color. Time and time again I find that this little piece of knowledge is most definitely true. I love reds and oranges and as my artistic eye has developed over the years it’s become ever so apparent that I can easily perceive many nuanced shades so long as they contain red — far more than I can for other colors. So if I had to hazard a guess as to why the grey required so many more adjustments before I matched the original color versus the pink, I’d say it’s because I just don’t like cool, neutral colors like that grey as much as I like warm red-orangey tones like the pink.
I was pretty satisfied with the results of this color matching, paint mixing challenge that I had on my hands in trying to restore this mural to it’s original state. But you can judge for yourself if my execution was lousy or expertly done. Because of how we perceive colors and light, photos often don’t capture what we will truly see in person when we view a piece of artwork for the first time. In fact, terrible lighting can change the colors we perceive and make an expertly painted work appear disharmonious or particularly discordant visually. So while I’ve done my best to capture this mural in the same light conditions for my before and after photos, it’s best if you just come visit Normal Heights and see this piece in person. Take a stroll down Adams Ave. and you’ll see countless painted utility boxes and murals — most of which, I haven’t had to remove graffiti from. But I hope (and like to think) that if I’ve done my job right, you won’t even notice what I’ve fixed.