Where Art Hits the Wall
Feature Article in The Kitchener Record Newspaper - January 12, 2008
COLIN HUNTER - RECORD STAFF - KITCHENER


Art usually hangs on the wall. Occasionally, art is the wall. Behold the peculiar wall that spans the entire foyer of Sandra Howard’s fifth-storey condo in Kitchener’s Kaufman Lofts building. It is a swirling, swooping, loop-de-looping feast for the eyes that spilled from Howard’s brain onto the wall in acrylic black paint during a weeklong creative frenzy that ended a few days ago. “It is (long, thoughtful pause) something,” says 23-year-old Howard, admiring her finished masterpiece, which also happens to separate her kitchen from her bedroom.
“It just sort of came to me.” Howard can be forgiven for not having a profound artist’s statement on the tip of her tongue about the underlying meaning of the abstract mural. She is not a professional artist. Nor does she aspire to be one. She is an account development representative, whatever that is, who spends her working hours penned-in by the unartistic faux-walls of her cubicle at a software firm. “I just wasn’t fulfilling any creative urge at work,” she says.The creative urge has been percolating inside Howard since childhood and flourished during her high school days in Burlington. 

She was one of the top artists at her school but, like many university-bound teens, she opted for a somewhat more pragmatic course of study - media and communications at Laurier - to avoid the fate of starving artist. When she and longtime boyfriend Stephen Pell bought a loft in the Kaufman building last fall, though, her inner artist began to stir. The couple had previously lived in a drab basement apartment with head-high ceilings, so the new loft felt like a beautiful blank canvas. At first, she and Pell figured the monolithic off-white foyer wall could use some wallpaper to spruce it up, so they found a style they liked and got a price estimate. That estimate: 450 bucks. So they bought a tube of black paint instead. Total cost of materials for the mural: $2.99, plus tax.
“I had the paintbrush since I was kid, so that was free,” Howard says. “And the paint would have cost six bucks but we had a coupon for 50 per cent off.”The mural was originally intended to be a joint effort that Howard and Pell could work on together. But on New Year’s Eve those best laid plans went a tad awry. Their artistic visions clashed - Howard is something of an abstractionist, Pell an illustrator - and by the next day they had completely covered their failed mural in a fresh coat of off-white paint. “Version one was a screw-up,” Howard says. When the wall was dry enough for an attempt at version 2.0, Howard assumed complete creative control. It was only fair, since her boyfriend, an interior decorator among other vocations, had made nearly every previous aesthetic decision about the look of their loft. Howard got to work, spending at least six hours a day, sometimes up to 12, swirling and swooping and loop-de-looping with her paintbrush. 
She lay on a yoga mat to work on the sections near the floor, often with Willow the cat dozing on her hip. The more one stares at the finished mural, the more Howard’s visual inspirations become evident. The polka dots match those on the rug under the kitchen table. The stripes jive with the placemats on the table. The top border of the mural mimics the patterned pillows on the sofa. “Work with what you’ve got - that’s my motto,” Howard says. She has no delusions of grandeur, no artistic aspirations loftier than her own loft. If anything, she hopes her mural will inspire a few other people to create something beautiful simply for the sake of creating something beautiful. With her inner artist now appeased, her inner musician is jockeying for attention. “Now that the wall is done, I think my next goal is to learn to play the guitar properly.”