Artists putting finishing touches on scenic mural in Vienna

Artists Eleanor Doughty and Emily Herr strike a pose Nov. 14 while painting a mural on the Vienna Shopping Center's rear wall. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Despite crummy weather and vehicles and pedestrians passing close by, two artists nearly have completed a panoramic mural of Vienna landmarks on the Vienna Shopping Center’s rear wall.

The mural was designed by illustrator Eleanor Doughty, who is executing it with the help of a college friend, artist Emily Herr. It is their third joint project.

“This one is cool because it’s the first mural at this scale that’s been completely my vision,” Doughty said. “The other ones have been kind of a meeting point between my and Emily’s styles and our subject matter, but this one is all me. It’s pretty awesome to have a canvas this large.”

Doughty produced an 8-by-20-inch mock-up of the painting and submitted it electronically to town officials, along with her and Herr’s credentials. While she was on vacation in May, officials informed her they had chosen her design.

Doughty’s design features many Vienna landmarks and centers around the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail.

“Since it runs through the center of town, I thought that was a good starting point for this kind of mapped landscape of Vienna,” she said.

She put in some of the town’s significant landmarks, including the Freeman Store and Museum, original library, vintage red caboose and a recent favorite, Caboose Brewing Co.

The project is being coordinated by the Vienna Public Art Commission. Town officials largely kept their hands off the mural’s design except to request that the artists not list a famous structure on the Vienna/Tysons border as the Toilet Bowl Building (it’s actually called Tycon Courthouse).

The project tentatively is on schedule to be finished by Nov. 19, but the firm deadline is Thanksgiving, because Doughty has airline tickets for the following day.

The mural is about 200 feet long, counting indentations for eight alcoves, and between 14 and 19 feet tall. It covers the wall along the service drive of the shopping center, which is located at 180 Maple Ave., W., and owned by Rappaport. The mural area used to be the back of Magruder’s grocery store, but restaurants and an health-care center now occupy that renovated space.

The rear wall already was covered with paint, so the artists did not think it was necessary to prime the surface (except for a few metal pipes) before setting to work.

A limited palate of six colors (blues, greens, yellow and white) of exterior latex house paint kept things simple; the artists only had to mix one color, Herr said.

Working out of a multicolored panel truck, the artists set about their work in old clothes that wouldn’t suffer from being splattered with paint. A steady stream of toe-tapping pop hits kept them upbeat.

A small stepladder allowed them to paint areas just out of reach, while an orange mechanical lift hoisted the artists higher to access the mural’s tallest portions.

Doughty and Herr were supposed to paint the mural this summer, but inclement weather struck and scheduling conflicts caused them to bump back the work until fall.

“I was going to Asia in August and Emily had a big commission in Utah,” Doughty said. “It would have been pretty miserable to paint half the wall and then have to leave.”

Work began in earnest Nov. 7, said Herr, a full-time muralist based in Richmond.

“I do custom designs for my own work, but in this case, I’m facilitating,” said Herr, who met Doughty when the pair were attending Virginia Commonwealth University.

Herr and Doughty measured the building, created an elevation and then mapped the design onto that.

“We’ve been transferring the design [onto the building] based on fixture points like the alcoves for each of these doors and the gutters,” Herr said. “So we can kind of roughly place all the elements involved, but it’s not precise enough a design to require projection or true gridding.”

Herr, who estimates she has painted more than 75 murals, said each project is different and has its own quirks. Challenges with the Vienna mural include people frequently using business doorways throughout the painting’s length and a sidewalk blocking the distance between the wall and the lift.

The artists over three days also welcomed help from community volunteers, including about a dozen James Madison High School students, senior residents and a home-schooled girl and her family.

On Nov. 14, one of the helpers was Madeleine Dauer, an actress and hobbyist painter who lives in Connecticut. She met Doughty in New York and is a fan of her work.

“This is actually my first large-scale painting ever,” said Dauer, who normally paints watercolors or small-form acrylic works. “This has been a new experience for me, but it’s been great . . . The clouds are really satisfying to get done and also using the paint sprayer is extremely fun.”

Doughty, a Seattle resident who graduated from James Madison High School in 2009, thanked that school’s art teachers for their support and inspiration.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today as an artist without the teachers as the Madison High School art department, who really encouraged me to be curious about trying different media and gave me a lot of freedom to try a lot of things with art,” she said.

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