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PROCESS / Mural - Asilo

The first 'professional' mural in my career, so to speak, was commissioned for a local art cafe in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, located somewhere in the north-east of Peninsular Malaysia, and best known for its cuisine, culture and the inimitable Bahasa Kelate. I was lucky enough to be given almost complete creative freedom by the owners of The Bold Lab (full disclosure: both of them are also my friends - one used to be a colleague from work and the other, her cousin) to work on an exterior wall. I had about 5 days to complete the mural, excluding the days I took off to explore the islands with my SO, who was also my assistant/expert colourist/photographer.

I admit I wasn't as stressed out as I thought I would be even though it was my first serious mural (I've done some murals back in high school but my role was more to assist) - and when you have 'first' and 'serious' both in the same sentence, you know things are going to be...well, serious. My SOP was (and still is, to be honest) pretty rudimentary, but I've broken it down below anyway if you're keen to know more about the thought process behind 'Asilo'*:

  • Artwork design One of the cafe owners once told me about the time her kois swam away during a massive flood in the state some time back. For some reason I found that rather fascinating (can't get the imagery of kois swimming in floodwaters out of my mind). So to commemorate the lost kois I had 8 of them swimming around a horizontally flipped B (for Bold Lab) to mirror the letter already on the wall right opposite the to-be mural, further embellished with coffee berries and a swirling yellow ribbon that (inconspicuously) spells out the cafe's name in Jawi.

  • From paper to wall Some experienced muralists would probably agree that traditionally, one of the better ways to transfer the artwork is via the grid method. But I was neither experienced nor traditional so I decided to just do it freehand (I was also quite impatient). It turned out alright, although I did destroy an eraser in the process and a couple of the kois looked fatter than they were supposed to be. On hindsight, it could've saved me more time if I actually went ahead ahead with the grid method, but alas there is no time for remorse.

  • Laying down the base colours I chose a rather subdued palette to complement the cafe's industrial tones - I experimented with different shades of white (lol) for the kois and finally decided on one with a slight grayish blue hue, while the rest of the elements was an easy mix of red, green, yellow and black. I used a combination of acrylic and industrial wall paints, although I did have a hard time working with the latter, partly because of the difference in viscosity. We managed in the end, after many tries and internal cries of frustration.

  • Detailing This is not only my favourite part of the process, it is also the most important, IMHO. Without the details filled in, it would have been just a huge mess of colour. I took time outlining with a size 2 brush on the kois for aesthetic reasons, and permanent markers on the other areas because markers are exponentially faster to work with.

And after about 4.5 days working on it, we were finally done.

The next time you're in town, do drop by The Bold Lab if you'd like to view it in its full glory, and while you're at it, order a slice of their burnt cheesecake to go with their A+ coffee. And if you're lucky, you might even meet the lady boss who would gladly brew a cup for you if you tell her I sent you (or not - only one way to find out).

*It took me a while to decide, but in Spanish it means refuge. Fitting, since the kois have now found a new home at TBL.

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