Creating “7 Habits”

Posted on March 20, 2013

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When I was first contacted by Ronald Harvey Elementary School in St. Albert about painting a mural in February incorporating their “7 Habits” educational program I had no idea what to expect. After meeting with the cheery staff I quickly found out that they wanted murals–that wouldn’t compete with each other–showing “the 7 Habits of Happy Kids” on six different walls confined to the school foyer. And a tree with an owl in it on the other side of the foyer.

The project was a challenge, but it was a good challenge for me in a totally new genre: educational children’s murals.

You can read the article in the St. Albert Gazette about the mural here.

I always try to utilize visual storytelling, but an educational picture is different–all aspects of the image should illustrate the lesson (or seven lessons in this case), which leaves little room for secondary items without purpose.

The next step was to conceptualize the murals. I showed the school staff a digital illustration I had done for a website and they decided they wanted a more graphic style for the mural as opposed to my usual semi-realism.

After thinking about it (too much) I realized I should look at this like an educational kid’s book. The foyer direction went from left to right, so I figured step 1 on the left and step 2 on the far right, reading like a book.

To unify the mural and keep the eye moving, I Created a narrative arc using a path with an ultimate paradise-like destination. The path moved through the town of St. Albert with cloudy unpleasant weather towards a sunny tropical scene with a rainbow, symbolizing a final ultimate goal.

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Educational school mural of the 7 Habits of Happy Kids

When I was about to start the mural, the school staff asked if I would come for an interview with two students acting as reporters for school media. The students soon went from being cute kids to asking some of the best reporters I’ve been interviewed by, asking questions like “Do you ever go back to your work and wish you did something else?” to which I answered: “All the time, that’s how I learn!” It was interesting to see these kids figure me out in a more efficient way than most adults have.

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Painting the mural was a challenge and a treat. I was pleased to work in a controlled environment with a smooth, clean painting surface. However, since I had to work around the children’s schedules,  I chose to work at night. This project was the longest stretch I had worked graveyard shifts in years.

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After feeling like a painter zombie I decided I’m to old for more than a week of nights. At an assembly the students were told that an artist would be painting their new mural at night when they were asleep, and one girl asked if I was nocturnal like a bat. So I’m Kris Friesen, a zombie bat painter.

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Near the end of the mural I was asked to continue painting until lunch so each class could visit me and ask questions while I worked. This was the first time I actually saw the school during regular activity.

I became extremely impressed with the genuine good nature of students and teachers together. Education is something I have always thought important, but I now have a real idea of what that should look like as opposed to ideas formed from statistics.

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The students and staff were striving to be the best people they could be. They often used words like compassion, feelings, well-being, and empathy. I don’t remember hearing these words when I was in school. Not only that but the teachers weren’t soft; they used fair discipline and didn’t let things slide. This is Alberta after all.

The mural project had to be finished in time for a February school assembly that included the mayor, so I worked until the last minute before taking part in the unveiling ceremony. As often happens I become focused on finishing the work to the best of my ability and don’t really see what I’ve created until I step back and get the opinions of others.

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I knew the mural should work because the preliminary sketch worked, but I didn’t really know for sure if people would get the narrative arc until that day when the students and visitors showed that they got it.

I am very honoured to have created something that children can use everyday as they work on continually bettering themselves and growing into our future society buoyed by the “7 Habits of Happy Kids.”

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