ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe you’ve seen the murals of sunflowers around town — large, cheerful and bright.
They’re the work of local artist Alyssa Marie, whose intention is to “spread joy one sunflower at a time.”
She established The Happy Mural Project as a way to inspire people. And after years of painting them, Marie noticed the public’s interest in the process.
“I was like, I wonder if I can figure out a way to create the mural so that anybody could paint it,” she said. “I mean, all ability levels, all cognitive ability. I want everyone to be able to feel like they can be involved in this.”
She borrowed the model of the paint-by-numbers books she’d used as a child. The first paint-by-numbers mural, “Hands of Change,” was painted on the St. Petersburg City Theater (4025 31st St. S) in 2020. Marie used social media to spread the word that the community could come help paint, and 175 people came out.
Most recently, during the first week of June, she led a paint-by-numbers mural on a 90-foot wall at the Pro Karting Experience on 34th Street North in Lealman. Marie was approached by owner Bobbie Downs. The location’s ample parking and massive blank wall were perfect for a community mural.
While it was slated to be painted over five days, so many people came to help that it was completed in just three.
The process begins with a photo of actual sunflowers that she buys at Publix. Then Marie takes a straight-on photo of the wall where the mural will go. Using her iPad, she moves elements around on the photo until the composition is just right.
She sends that to Adobe Illustrator, minimizing her design to as few colors as possible while keeping the integrity of the design. The result is an image made up of solid shapes that get numbered.
Once it’s time to begin painting, she projects the outlines of the image on a wall. The lines are mapped out in black permanent marker and colors are assigned a number that’s written in the corresponding field. When folks come in to register, they get their number/color combination and a bucket of paint that’s numbered correspondingly.
Marie pointed out that most of the volunteers who come out to help are beginners, but quickly get the hang of it.
“It’s just magic watching people come out, and they just take such ownership of their job that day of whatever shape or color they’re filling in and they kill it,” she said. “They do such a great job.”
While her process has now been simplified, the first mural was ambitious color-wise, with 12 or so colors used for just one hand to emulate different skin tones. Now she has pared the palette down to about 13 colors.
Marie also led a paint-by-numbers mural during the Shine Mural Festival in 2022 at St. PetersBark (3001 Central Ave.). It was commissioned by the Florida Wildlife Corridor, so it features a large mother alligator with a baby alligator laying on her. The gators’ skin was a big undertaking, with so many colors in a camouflagelike pattern.
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“Finally we got done and people were just blown away,” Marie said. “It was like a magic trick because ... you don’t really know what it’s going to be until you fill in all the shapes. That was a really fun experience to witness during that mural last year.”
Marie often includes additional elements to murals to make them unique to their location. For the one at Pro Karting Experience, Downs arranged to include a Sasquatch as a surprise for the track’s manager, Allison Garris.
It represents Garris’ late son, Justin, who loved the mythical creature.
Garris said she watched as volunteers came to paint and even helped out a bit herself. While talking, she looked out of the window of the administration building across from the mural.
“I have the most beautiful view in St. Pete,” she said.
How to participate in a community mural
The next community mural will happen in November at the TampaWell Food Pharmacy. To sign up for email notifications for the next community mural or to submit a wall to be painted, visit thehappymuralproject.com.