The Importance of Client Communication


One very important thing I have learned over my 25 plus years in this business is that clients need to understand the process by which their mural will take shape.  There are so many methods to creating a mural; sometimes I do a chalk or pencil sketch on the wall, sometimes I will grid a photo and paint a mural based on the image in little bits, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Whichever method I will be using on a mural for a client, I have learned to communicate about it as clearly as possible so that clients experience minimal anxiety as they wait for the final product to emerge.

I learned my lesson about the importance of this sort of communication long ago, and now, I will tell you the story of how I came to appreciate this part of my work because I have reached the point in my life where it seems quite funny, given the many years that have passed.  

I still vividly remember a phone call I got from a new client back in the 1990s, not long after I had established my decorative painting business in Cincinnati, Ohio.  She was very upset and it took a moment for me to understand what she was saying but very soon, I understood that her husband had just returned home from a business trip, suspected me me of doing acid while painting their walls, and was furious at her for letting me vandalize their home while he was away.

Brian had been in Florida for Spring Training when I began painting their dining room, on a Wednesday.  I had been hired by his wife, Robin, to create a soft, delicate, sophisticated wall finish to complement the ethereal pale lilac linen window treatments made from fabric embellished with tiny mirrors and delicate embroidery and exquisitely trimmed with pearl and crystal beading, all handiwork of artisans in India.

The goal was to create walls that were not only beautiful, but also, sophisticated and luxurious enough to share space with these gorgeous window panels.  To prevent the walls from looking like they belonged in a baby girl's pastel nursery, they had to have depth.  To create the illusion of depth, I decided that I would use a technique I had originally learned for imitating natural stone:  first, sponge the walls, creating "continents" of deep color - charcoal grey, crimson, plum and midnight blue and then, obscure the dark layer with multiple, semi sheer sponged layers of lilac, ivory and white.

It was a rather large room with high ceilings, so the first 6 hour long workday was devoted to energetically sponging on two deep, intense colors in long, puffy cloud shapes that sort of snaked around one another.  On the second day, I added two more colors and filled up most of the negative space.  On the third day, I stippled dark grey into every white space that remained.  I added more paint in all four colors wherever it wasn't dark and dramatic enough, and when I went home that day, I was exhausted (imagine how you would feel after taking a step aerobics class for several hours a day, three days in a row, while moving a small, lightweight dumbbell through the air with alternating hands) but I also had a great sense of satisfaction. I was very excited to return to work on Monday and begin the process of obscuring the now dark walls, transforming them into light, delicate walls that would harmonize with the beautiful curtains.

But first, I had to survive this phone call.

I do not remember Robin's exact words, but the point was this: Brian was freaking out, and blaming her for allowing me to do what I had done.  He had come home from the airport to his beautiful new house and found his dining room - which he had already loved when it was builder's beige - looking like it had been attacked by a gang of hoodlums.  He actually asked if she thought I had been taking drugs.  Like, hallucinogenic drugs, because I guess the walls reminded him of a bad acid trip, or anyway, what he imagines an artist would paint if they were on a bad one.  For the record, I have never done acid, or taken any hallucinogens, for that matter, so I do not know how accurate that impression was, but never mind.  I got the message.  

I had failed to communicate effectively about the creative process with my client.  I think I was so excited to get started that I did not take the time to walk her through the steps that would lead to the result I had promised, and as a result, she had not been properly prepared to be left with dramatically colorful walls for the weekend.  Either she'd had enough faith in me to give me leeway to make a dark, scary mess on her walls for three days, or she had just been too nervous and afraid to express her fear and horror to me, and was just waiting for her husband to get home.  I still do not know which was the case. 

In any case, she did not feel confident enough in my process to be able to reassure her husband without calling me to tell me that he had accused her of having hired a crazy drug addict (me) to destroy their home.  I scrambled to reassure her, but I wished that I had done a better job preparing them both.  It didn't feel good to know that even for a moment, I was seen as a malicious vandal, a miscreant, by parents at my son's preschool.  Yikes.  I had to turn this situation around, and do it fast.

The story ends well, I'm happy to say.  Brian and Robin both adored the finished dining room walls so much that they commissioned me to marbleize the columns that lined their foyer, and then I went on to do two larger projects, later the same year, erecting scaffolding to paint a huge wall in their two story great room and then, transforming all the walls of their entire, sprawling lower level.  The couple grew so fond of me, and were so appreciative of my work, that when I became engaged to marry my husband, they offered to host my bridal shower, and I got to celebrate my good fortune and happiness surrounded by my friends as well as by four walls I had made more beautiful.

Twenty years later, I now paint murals, and share about my process, in the Washington DC area.  If you'd like to meet me, please give me a call.  513-259-4842