It all started with a sunflower.
Thirty-seven-year-old Alyse Benjamin and 32-year-old Carlos Rosales wanted to spread joy at the start of the pandemic, so they painted the happiest thing they could think of on the fence of their St. Petersburg home. Benjamin and Rosales had both been laid off — she an interior designer and he a dog trainer — but the flower that started as a way to pass time has turned into so much more.
“We’re traveling mural artists now,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin and Rosales work full time painting murals, first all over St. Petersburg, then as far away as St. Louis and Tucson, Arizona. Neither has any formal training in painting, and they didn’t set out to make this into a career, but they’ve been in high demand since they began posting their murals on Facebook.
Sometimes clients ask for a specific look to the mural, and other times they turn over creative control. Susie Cole of St. Louis gave Benjamin and Rosales 20 words “that just flew out of [her] head” and let them paint across a 24-foot, three-piece panel in her backyard.
Cole found the couple through Facebook, and their artwork reminded her of the kind of pieces her late mother would do.
“It’s kind of like having a piece of cake that’s missing,” Cole said. “They were able to put a sliver back in.”
Benjamin and Rosales have done the majority of their paintings in St. Petersburg. Kate and John Lilly commissioned the couple to paint a Hawaiian beach scene in their backyard.
“I was just so taken back by their talent and their ideas,” Kate Lilly said.
The Lillys liked the first three fence panels in their backyard so much that they asked for four more. The couple and the artists bounced ideas off each other before painting, and Kate Lilly was initially skeptical of Rosales’ idea to add native Hawaiian plants to the fence. But upon seeing the finished product, she was blown away.
Benjamin gets credit for the sea turtles, and Rosales used a fence post to make a tiki totem and add dimension.
Out of all the murals the painting duo has done, one of their favorites sits on St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue at the Veteran of Foreign Wars building. They ended up painting three walls at the VFW, doing the first wall for free. As they painted, people came by and told their military stories.
“As we were painting, we were almost done with the mural. This guy stopped, he was driving by and he stopped the car and he was telling us how much it meant … and he was in tears when he was telling us all this,” Rosales said. “The feeling that we’re doing something that means so much to so many people was by far our proudest mural yet.”
Benjamin and Rosales have now done about 80 murals, learning more and more along the way, so much so that they sometimes look at that very first sunflower and think of redoing it.
But they ultimately decided that the sunflower will remain, a reminder of all that’s happened since the couple embarked on their journey.
“The sentimental value means everything to us,” Rosales said.