He-ART-warming: Family mural brings neighbours together

A photo of the Thomson family and their painted tree mural in Hintonburg.
The Thomsons stand in front of their finished family mural in Hintonburg. Mom Heather (left), and daughters Miriam and Sylvia (centre and left, respectively) painted their colourful art work on the back of their neighbour’s garage. Photo courtesy of Linda Collette.

By Maureen McEwan

This spring, a Hintonburg family found a creative way to pass time at home during the pandemic. The Thomsons mom Heather, daughters Miriam and Sylvia — decided to paint a mural in their backyard. 

Their canvas? The back of a neighbour’s garage on Carruthers Avenue. 

Heather said that her family moved into their house last summer. For a year, the cinder block wall had been the main view from their yard, kitchen and upstairs bedroom.  

“It’s just not as nice a view,” Heather said. “And so, with COVID-19, when we were home, we were looking for some activities to do and we thought ‘Hmm, maybe there’s an option to make that nicer.’”

The Thomsons left a note for their neighbour in the mailbox pitching the mural idea. The rental property’s owner, Linda Collette, was supportive of the painting project from the start, even though she had never met the Thomsons.

“I said ‘I think it is a great idea!’” Linda said. “And it will just beautify the area, right, instead of looking at a brick, grey wall.”

The Thomsons had painted bird houses before but they had never painted anything on a larger scale. Heather said she and her daughters researched murals online, learning about different types of paints and processes. They developed a few artistic concepts, eventually landing on a tree design. 

Together, the three ladies ordered their paint and began the project in late April. Heather said they organized a painting schedule around their work, exercise and other daily activities. They also had to navigate the fickle spring weather. 

“We always had to take advantage of nice weather and go out and paint!” Heather said, laughing. 

As they worked, they used a “mock up” — a smaller, household-sized canvas to test the concept as it was developed in stages. 

“It was a little bit organic, where we just kind of added little bits here and there every time,” Heather said. “So we had a basic concept that we used for the mock up but it evolved as we painted it.” 

First, they began with white primer across the garage wall as the base.

Then they worked with spray paint to layer in the sky. It was Miriam’s idea to leave some of the background primer exposed to create clouds. 

“We thought it might look nicer with little clouds poking through, instead of just blank blue at the back,” Miriam said. 

Next, they used painter’s tape to mark the tree placement and painted that larger section. With stenciling, they then began the intricate part of their painting work: The leaves. 

“Every few days, we would take a few colours of paint and we’d go outside and then each of us would take a colour or something and we’d see where there [wasn’t] enough of that colour and we’d keep adding and adding,” Miriam said. 

This month, once the mural was completed, they invited friends and family for a physically-distant unveiling of their work. Both Miriam and Sylvia said it was their favourite part of the process. 

“At the beginning, I was kind of excited because I wasn’t really sure what we would do with it (the project),” Miriam said. “But then at the end, when we had a little unveiling and invited our friends and family over, it was really fun.” 

A photo of the colourful tree mural painted by the Thomson family in Hintonburg during the pandemic.
A close up of the Thomson family mural in Hintonburg. Can you count the birds? Photo courtesy of Linda Collette.

On the tree, the Thomson ladies painted in something special.

“We hid some birds in the tree that look a lot like the leaves,” Miriam said. “So there are eight birds hidden in the tree.” 

“One of the people who came and saw it sent us back an email saying that it (the unveiling) was fun. But they also said ‘Oh, some birds would be at home in your tree!’ And then we were like ‘Well, if you look closer, there actually are birds in our tree!’” Sylvia added, laughing. 

Linda attended the unveiling and Heather said she seemed very pleased with the final artwork. 

“It was really nice of her to be so enthusiastic about the project from the beginning,” Heather said.

The birds were a big hit with Linda as well. 

“I do love landscapes, in terms of art work, and I do love fall and all the colours,” Linda said. 

“It was just really inspiring — all the thought that they put into it,” she added.

During the pandemic, the project was an opportunity for a few neighbours  — Linda, the Thomsons and others  — to meet one another and connect over the creative work.

“It was just a very heartwarming, positive experience in the ‘hood,” Linda said. “And I’m sure they will be future artists!” 


“And I guess I’m just happy that I’m their neighbour,” she added.

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