A Banner Year

City of Laguna Beach Banner Robin Wethe AltmanFor many years now, the City of Laguna Beach, California has been commissioning local artists to paint colorful banners that hang from the light posts in town. They hang all along Pacific Coast Highway as well as down Broadway during the summer months. There are about 80 of these banners to date.

I’ve been admiring the banners over the years and would especially feel pleased when I recognized a certain artist’s work. Since I’ve exhibited in all three festivals and been in several of the local galleries, I’ve come to know and admire lot of the local artists in town personally as well as professionally. There are many stories between us artists.

This year, I decided to try again to be selected as a banner artist. I’d applied before, but wasn’t selected. This time, I was really motivated to accept the challenge, and I did my best to make it happen. I “visualized” my colorful banner up there, sparkling in the sunlight, making people feel happy as they passed it on the road. Since I live on my artwork alone, I knew I could certainly use what the city was paying to the chosen artists.

Bingo, it worked! I was one of four artists chosen from the 33 who applied. Then came the “uh-oh” … I’m a watercolor artist primarily, and working in acrylic would be different for me. The banners don’t look it, but they are four feet wide by 16 feet long! Many people think that the artist’s work has been reproduced and printed on these banners … nope. We PAINT every square inch.

I had to clear out my entire living room floor to lay the banner down flat and gesso it twice on both sides! In order to copy my design over correctly on the banner, I had to create a grid work of lines and match up the squares from my design. The design has to be painted on the opposite side in a mirror image, so that if light goes through it, you can still see the design clearly because it matches up.

I drew my design out on the floor on the first side, but since that left me with a very sore back, my partner Paul helped me rig up a way to draw the back side section by section on my drafting table by rolling up both sides of the banner and scrolling down as I went. I ended up painting the banner that way, too. It was such a thrill to me when we dropped the banner down from our deck and I got to see it completed, all at once. I’d never painted anything close to the size of the banner before.

I could hardly wait for the day the banners went up! For many days, I’d find an excuse to drive downtown and see if they’d been hung. Finally that day came. As I drove down the canyon road, I saw them. As I turned south on Coast Highway, I saw my baby! Right there between the lifeguard tower and the Hotel Laguna, she hangs in all her glory, just one of 80 lovely banners that so many great artists have created!

Thank you, Laguna Beach, for honoring the work that we artists do. The life of an artist can be tough. It’s a labor of love that sometimes only we can understand.

Every year, four new artists are chosen to hang their hearts out in the form of a hand-painted banner. The city maintains a book about these artists and the banners they have created at City Hall. Some of the artists are no longer with us, but their banners still are. So, when you see the banners, I hope you feel the love that was put into them. All of the artists hope that you’ll enjoy them for years to come.

Robin Wethe Altman
Robin grew up in Laguna Beach. Her uncommonly vivid watercolors have evolved over her 35-year art career. She attended Principia College with the assistance of an art scholarship from the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts and graduated in 1976 with a BA in Fine Art. Robin has exhibited her work in several prominent galleries in Laguna Beach and in all three summer festivals in Laguna as well. Her work is in private, corporate and public collections throughout the world. She has illustrated books and her work has adorned wine labels from Napa Valley and greeting cards. Her paintings express a special sense of fun and happiness that is often missing in a world that is "too busy". They illustrate her reverence for "the simple life" and are decidedly upbeat and idealistic. When someone looks at her paintings, they can't help but smile.
Robin Wethe Altman

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