The Renaissance Programmer

James painting the old North Plains schoolhouse


So I took the summer off from coding and job-hunting.  TLDR:  According to trusted media outlet The Hillsboro Tribune, you can now refer to me as “Portland artist James Nielson“.  Add to that painter’s model / hay-pitcher.  But still full-stack developer.


A mural featuring me, James Nielson, as a lazy farmer not pitching hay.
Painter, Model, Farmer, Full-Stack Developer


I wanted my summer to involve a little sun, fresh air, and fun, so I let myself get recruited to help paint a gigantic, county-sized mural out in North Plains, Oregon.  (IN North Plains?  More like ON North Plains! )  Between 1-hour commutes, the project kept me slaving away in the sun for 10 hours a day for most of the summer, so I got that sun I wanted.  Unfortunately, the warehouses we were painting were full of fish food, so fresh air?  Not so much.  And let me tell you, if you think painting murals is the work of finicky, fragile prima-donna artists… it is not, but I did it anyway.  Examine my sunburn to see what happens our type.

Allison and James painting the North Plains Mural
For the record, I’m the wimp that was normally hiding in that sun-shelter.

But look at those results!  I’ve never really painted before, so yes, I’m pretty darn proud that I could manage something that resembles a thing that actually exists somewhere!  As I always say, what’s the worst that could happen?  Heat stroke.  Who knew.  Well, I learned a bit about painting, and I even learned something to apply to programming.  Allison passed on the advice of her mentor:

Always paint with the biggest brush you can.  ~ Larry Kangas

I sometimes expect projects I take on to spring into being like Adonis, fully formed and perfect. Know the feeling?

How to draw an owl: step 1, draw two circles. step 2, draw an owl.
How we think “the pros” do it.



The reality?  Here’s (roughly) how you paint a mural:

  1. Spend a long time turning ideas into a vision into details (kinda like a User Story).
  2. Sketch out a mockup and compare to your ultimate source of truth, the wall.  Adapt accordingly.
  3. Clear, clean and prime your wall.
  4. Grid your mockup and wall.  (break things into manageable chunks)
  5. Break out your big brush and start applying theory to reality.  It’s practically tracing now.
  6. As reality allows, graduate to smaller brushes.  Revisit step 1 as needed.

Okay, so this isn’t the perfect flow-chart, but you get the picture.  So there you go.  If you want to see it in person, stop by North Plains next time you’re headed out to the coast or berry-picking.  It’s also home to the famous Elephant Garlic Festival 🙂

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