Percy Bartley House Mural

I’m back in Canada but I’ve got quite a few things still to write about!  In late April I had the pleasure of painting this wall at Percy Bartley House.  This home for boys operates out of an old house in Woodstock, giving kids from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to live in a safe environment while attending school or skills training programs, learning life skills before being reunited with their families.  This rejuvenation project was a continuation of an ongoing collaboration between Write on Africa and Ogilvy Cape Town, working with local and international artists to turn a house that has over the years run down into a place full of life and color.  Both David Shillinglaw and myself spent about a week at the house and really enjoyed ourselves.  Here are some videos from the previous installment of this project, with artwork by Faith47, Mr. Fuzzy Slipperz, Black Koki, 35-ten-73, Bison, Freddy Sam, Xanele, Michael Tymbios and Coe One – curated by Write on Africa.  Videos courtesy of Rowan Pybus and Katharina Brinkmann of Makhulu Productions.

For me this was a chance to try something new – I don’t have a ton of experience painting freehand with spray paint, and the two freehand portraits I’ve done in the past were sketched out with the help of a projector.  Walking up to the wall with nothing but a bag full of cans and a printout of the image was a bit intimidating, but really satisfying in the end.

When I was planning out my mural, I really wanted to do something that was relevant to the community, to the boys who live there and all of the hard-working individuals that keep this wonderful space running.  This image is a portrait of Grant Adams, the oldest resident of Percy Bartley House, and a true success story.  Grant was born in Mitchells Plain, one of the townships just outside Cape Town.  He grew up in Durban and moved back to Cape Town as a teen.  His family still lives out in Mitchells Plain.  He’s incredibly well spoken for his years, kindhearted and creative, with a budding talent as a hip-hop musician.  We shared a lot of amazing conversations during the creation of this work, and have come away from the experience feeling mutually inspired every day.

Grant Adams - reference photo

Here are some pics, some taken by myself and some by Rowan.


sketching out the image

Gympie St, coming back to WIC after day one of painting

Getting started on day two

While I was painting up on the roof of the carport, David was painting inside the living room/dining room area:

David Shillinglaw, day two

Day three - color blocking

end of day 3

day 4

And here are Rowan’s photos of my final paint day. We had been trying to schedule this shoot for about a week, and it finally came together on a beautiful sunny day.

Day five, final touchups

thank you to Ogilvy Cape Town for funding the materials for this project!

Grant, with his portrait

Rowan and Grant - behind the scenes portrait shoot

Big thanks to everyone who helped make this possible – with a very special thanks to Farlane, Grant and everyone at Percy Bartley House for letting us into their home and their lives.


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The tree of life – Woodstock

wall 1 in progress - all my little helpers

About two weeks ago I had a conversation with the man whose house I was painting about why I do what I do – why travel so far away from home, why decide to work outdoors – in short, why is some random girl from Canada painting his house?  What’s in it for me?

The thing is, right now it’s not really about me.  When I left I had a pretty good idea of the kind of work I was going to be doing here.  Before we went out to find a wall, I had a solid plan for the first wall I was going to paint.  As a side note, in Woodstock that process involves walking around and asking people if you can paint their house or shop – what a nice change from dealing with permits and paperwork in Vancouverland. My plan, as always, involved portraiture.  I don’t think I’ve ever painted a wall with anything but a picture of a person, regardless of medium.  But in this case, that wasn’t really an option.

in progress

It’s Thursday and I am painting a forest of trees growing from his front stoop.  There’s another one, a big one, on his side wall, overlooking a patch of bare earth where eventually a garden will grow.  It’s Thursday and he is fasting.  Like many in this community, he is Muslim – and for religious reasons, was not going to be ok with faces on his wall.  So, he asked me if I could paint him a tree.  Ok, I can paint trees.  I’ve been drawing them for years, but never put one on a wall before.  So, a drastic last minute change of plans.  After all, he has to live with my work on his home every day until he moves out or paints over it.

We’ve talked quite a bit as I work, about how in situations like this, yes I am painting for myself, but even moreso than that, it’s about giving back to a community that has welcomed me with open arms.  Woodstock has its problems, some of which are very similar to problems in the DTES back home, but on a completely different scale.  And like Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, the sense of community is so very strong.  There is more tangible hope here.  Yes, like in many poor neighborhoods, gentrification is increasingly becoming a reality – but here there are also positive changes coming from within.  Write on Africa/ A WORD OF ART has been curating and organizing mural installations in and around Woodstock for the past two years, and when you walk through the streets you can feel the pride that people take in their homes, in their neighborhood.  The children are playing in the streets and going to the gallery every day for open art sessions.  They crowd around me as I work, singing and asking a million questions and helping me paint the wall.  On the second day, we all write our names at the base of the big wall, and the older kids and adults join in – a community of roots nourishing a tree of life.

This is why I do what I do.  Why I am here, halfway around the world, painting a strangers’ house.  Because I believe in the power of art and creativity to effect positive change.  I believe that if you give love and respect to a community, it will be contagious.  I believe that I – that we – can help change how people see themselves, their surroundings, and their place in the world.


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Painting in Khayelitsha

had to abandon this one.

Our wonderful new friend Juma took David and I out to Khayelitsha for the day to paint a couple of pieces on the walls of a children’s centre.  Khayelitsha is a township that was established in 1985.  It’s about a 20 minute drive from the city centre.  Cape Town is such a strange mix of first world and third world existing in such close proximity.  The townships are overwhelmingly huge, way bigger than i imagined.  Wood shacks and small houses for miles.  Beautiful people living very hard lives.  Puts things into perspective.

I was working on the side of a creche and the woman whose yard I was standing in took issue with me standing there.  Community politics, nothing we could do about it.  Unfortunately this was as far as I got before I had to pack up and go.

The source image for this work was taken by Pavement Specials in Woodstock during I ART SA.

Some pictures I took while I was painting.  All the kids wanted their picture taken…

David painted a lovely piece while we were there….here are some pics on his blog.

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Live painting at Labia Theatre

On Friday David and I live painted at a hipsterlicious night market at a place called Labia Theatre (yes, really).  This was our first official collaboration and we’re both really pleased at how it’s gone so far. The little boy is one of the kids that I’ve been hanging out with since I’ve been here. We’ll be finishing this up in studio and including it in our exhibition, EVERYTHING MUST GO on the 22nd.

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/A WORD OF ART presents EVERYTHING MUST GO, a exhibition of new work by international artists in residence Indigo (Canada) and David Shillinglaw (UK).

Completely created while living and working in Woodstock for the month of April, EVERYTHING MUST GO is an exploration of process, collaboration and participation, blurring the boundaries between studio, gallery and street.

/A WORD OF ART will be open to the public to come and meet the artists from 11am-2pm April 18-21 during installation. The full exhibition will be up for ONE NIGHT ONLY! EVERYTHING MUST GO!

Facebook event page

David’s project blog

/A WORD OF ART website

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The Cape Town Adventure Begins

I have no words for how amazing and magical this place is.  I’ve been here two days and have already completely fallen in love.  I start painting a big big wall tomorrow, with David Shillinglaw and Freddy Sam.  We have many many big plans for the next month, and I’m really excited!  I will write more later…here are some pictures of the awesomeness thus far.

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