Town Paints Bridge by the Numbers


When a Denver neighborhood sought to paint a bridge to beautify the structure, increase safety and prevent graffiti, artist Michele Brown crowdsourced the effort, making it a fun and interactive community event.

To take it easy on the volunteer painters, she relied on a childhood favorite: a paint-by-number approach.

“Say people have an hour,” she told the local NBC affiliate, "and they just want to pick color 16, and they just want to come out here and work for an hour. It can be done in phases.”

About 80 participants joined Brown to work on Phase 2 of the painting project Oct. 14-15.

Fish, Flowers, Feet

The idea to enhance the area by incorporating art into neighborhood structures was raised at a meeting of the Overland Park Neighborhood Association (OPNA) last year.

The group secured a $5,000 grant from the Denver Arts and Venues’ Urban Arts Fund, which would allow them to paint the two sides of the bridge with colorful murals featuring the flora and fauna of Colorado. 

According to community newspaper Washington Park Profile, most of that money was spent on paint and primer that would both stand up to graffiti and the area’s weather.

OPNA brought on Brown, a local artist from La Mano Art, to craft the design. Brown’s mural theme centered on what she calls the “three F’s”: fish, flowers and feet.

The fish reflected the South Platte River that runs through the neighborhood, and the flowers feature the state blossom, the Columbine.

When it came to the feet, which Brown says is the most personal part of the mural, the imagery relates to the people who use the bridge on a daily basis. “It is meant to show the wide range and diversity of the people in Overland Park,” Brown wrote on her website.

Moreover, because the bridge has reportedly been the location of a number of car and pedestrian-related accidents, Brown and the OPNA hoped this theme might help draw drivers’ attention to the large amount of foot traffic sharing the roadway.

Paint by Numbers

When transferring the three F’s to the bridge itself, Brown focused on painting the outlines. The blank spaces were left for volunteers to fill with the specified colors.

Mural Outlines

Brown set up the mural in a simple paint-by-number format that would make it easy for the community's volunteers to pick a paint corresponding to a particular number and spend some time filling in the appropriate outlined areas.

“We started the process with the idea of keeping the art simple enough that the neighborhood could actually help paint,” Brown wrote.

“This was more than just a mural or a piece of art for Overland Park. This was a way to create a sense of place for the entire neighborhood and to brighten up a dull and industrial bridge in their backyards.”

Brown chose a color palette that she felt reflected the “quirky and whimsical” personality of the neighborhood. “This detailed color work also helped balance out the simple and clean lines of the design,” she explained.

In addition to enhancing the aesthetics of the bridge, the project partners anticipated that the mural itself could serve to prevent future graffiti in what is described as a heavily tagged area.

“Usually, murals hinder graffiti hence part of the birth of the mural idea on the bridge,” Brown told PaintSquare News.

“However, it still had a tiny bit (sadly),” she added.

Getting the Work Done

Brown told PaintSquare News that at the start of Phase I last year, they wire-brushed the surface to prepare it, used a primer and block filler, and then a liquid vinyl paint brand said to be made specifically for the Rocky Mountain and Southwest climates. They also added a donated UV water-based varnish.

Phase 1 floers

In addition to enhancing the aesthetics of the bridge, the project partners anticipated that the colorful mural itself could help prevent graffiti while also drawing drivers' attention to to the large amount of foot traffic sharing the bridge.

That first phase reportedly wrapped up Nov. 23 after two weeks of planning, permitting, stenciling the outlines and painting.

“We completed five 66-foot mural panels,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, Colorado's huge spring snowstorms caused the bottom two panels [at the bottom of the bridge] to peel.”

More research was in order before they moved on to Phase 2 this year, she said.

“We had the walls power washed and then used a Sherwin-Williams epoxy primer and decided to paint the tops of the jersey barriers as well,” she said.

They stuck with the liquid vinyl paint brand for the color and will likely use the same UV varnish as well, she noted.

“We have completed so much more in this phase,” she told us. “The full north side of the bridge walkway is almost painted! 4,000 sq. ft. of wall!”

The full project is expected to encompass four phases in total, which will require more permit planning and painting, according to the Washington Park Profile.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Coating Application; Graffiti; Murals; North America; Outdoor weathering; Public spaces; Sherwin-Williams

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.