The Student News Site of Saratoga High School

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

English 11 Honors students finish ‘Beloved’ mural in summer

Isabelle Wang, Lynn Dai, Carine Chan,
The completed mural on the backside of the 700 building.

As the hot summer sun beamed down onto senior Carine Chan’s wrist, she repeatedly blotched the rough, checkered school wall with a gradient of orange, yellow and red. Nearby, chattering of her group members floated in the air as they debated the colors and design of the waves that would ultimately span the 8.7 feet tall by 48 feet wide.

Over the course of four months starting in May, seven rising seniors — Sam Bai, Carine Chan, Lynn Dai, Andrew Lin, Victoria Lin, Eric Shi and Zitong Wang — completed their English 11 Honors final project: painting the school’s newest mural on the backside of the 700 building in the back parking lot. 

“[We] spent a lot of time on the project,” Victoria Lin said. “Each member probably spent at least 50 hours on the project, while some people definitely spent closer to 200.”

The mural’s visuals are an ode to Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” an English 11 Honors curriculum novel about a family of formerly enslaved people. The mural incorporates significant themes and characters from the novel to illustrate an overarching theme of community and hope. 

The community members in the book, the sisters of 124 Bluestone Road, appear as water figures in the rushing waves that surround and uphold the boat, representing the denouement of the plot and symbolizing the strength that community can provide. 

“We incorporated some ideas [that relate to] school as well, [to send a] more hopeful and happy message,” Chan said.

The poignant moment in the novel where the protagonist Sethe crosses the Ohio River, a boundary between freedom and slavery, is also referenced: Across the river, Sethe is depicted leading a boat of people, who represent the school’s staff and students. As a nod to the school’s mascot, the falcons at the front of the boat guide it to safety, indicating hope and persistence for a better future. 

The project began in May when the English 11 Honors final project was started in class. The students created their group by their shared interests in art: Many were taking AP Drawing, submitting to art competitions or drawing in their free time.

Afterwards, they designed multiple versions of the drawing: digitally, on paper and on the whiteboard. The team began with rough drafts on the whiteboard to sketch out different compositions of their ideas. While the original idea didn’t include a boat, the group decided to add one to better symbolize the movement made by Sethe and the community. Once the idea was finalized, they sketched another draft on paper and colored it digitally.

Two of the selected drafts made throughout the group’s planning process

After earning approval from principal Greg Louie and their English 11 Honors teachers Amy Keys and Natasha Ritchie, they began preparing the wall by power washing it to get rid of dirt, putting on a primer for the paints and drawing the composition with charcoal pencil before painting the surface. The group used over 15 quarts of paint in total: a mixture of red, orange, blues and gray.

After priming the surface and drawing on a sketch with pencil, the group begins taping lines as a reference.

The group communicated with Keys and Ritchie about the developments of the mural and reached an agreement that the project would go into the summer. At the end of May, roughly one-third of the mural had been completed. After continuous work for 15-20 hours per week over the summer, it was varnished on Aug. 15.

Due to the large amount of time commitment required for the project, Chan said the group frequently ran into scheduling conflicts as members weren’t always available at the same time. Since they were also going into their senior year, many were preoccupied with summer camps and college applications, a factor that caused the project to continue as long as it did.

Another difficulty was working with a variety of artists who had differing individual art styles. The group worked to make sure the whole mural was cohesive while each person expressed their stylistic flair in their part.

“Despite having so many people, there were some that specialized in certain elements like drawing people, birds or waves,” Chan said. “We wanted to make sure that everyone got to do a piece of the mural since it was a collaborative project.”

Even after scheduling a time for everyone to meet, however, the meetings weren’t always spent on painting. With the large size of the mural, disagreements over changes and additions incited many debates among members. While the overall composition of the waves, sky and birds stayed mostly the same, the group found more problems in the small details.

“One of the largest contention bits we had were the clouds,” Chan said. “We wanted to keep some parts [of the mural] realistic and the other parts flattened [and more cartoon-ish], which conflicted with the 3D details of the clouds.”

The group begins painting the gradients of the light and the clouds after blocking in the colors.

The struggle of keeping the mural cohesive also applied to the water, which was finalized as vague shapes of people holding up the glimmery, watery waves — a decision which was made to prevent taking attention away from the other elements. Over time, the group worked out several problems by trying different techniques digitally first, such as adding stakes on the boat, making the fire from the torch bigger and brighter, adding more people on the boat and adding leaves into Sethe’s hair for a pop of color.

“Since we’re all art people, we have our own styles and opinions and we think some things look better than others,” Chan said. “We also didn’t know what would look good or what wouldn’t, since we were drawing on a wall, and if someone tried it but it turned out bad, somebody else would have to go over and cover it.”

The students work on the mural over the summer.

“It always makes me happy to see the existing murals on the walls, they help me find my way around,” Chan said. “There was a feeling that we wanted to do something to make a mark on our school and contribute to it in a similar way.” 

Donate to The Saratoga Falcon

Your donation will support the student journalists of Saratoga High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Saratoga Falcon