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April 26, 2012

By Louis Mitchell

The Making of a Sesame Street Mural

Ed. Note: Louis Henry Mitchell is the Associate Design Director of Special Projects. He was recently tasked with drawing chalk murals of the Sesame Street MuppetsTM on the 8th floor of Sesame Workshop’s offices. The drawings have become an office favorite, so we invited Louis to talk about his creative process.

When Sesame Workshop’s CEO Mel Ming asked me to draw murals on the recently opened 8th floor of Sesame Workshop’s offices, I was excited and intrigued. Despite having been a professional artist for 35 years and having worked with Sesame for 20 of those, the murals presented some real challenges. I had worked on a black background before but never to this degree of detail, and, except for Elmo I had never drawn such large versions of some of the characters.

I began with Elmo. When I first put the chalk to the wall, I honestly did not know what I was going to do. I wasn’t sure how the chalk would react to the surface. I knew how large I wanted to draw Elmo but didn’t know if the fur texture effect would work at that size. I made each stroke without knowing what would be next.

As the drawing evolved, I began to realize what was unique about both the surface and the chalk. I could use the black wall to shape their smiling mouths and to make their eyes pop. It also created natural shadows in the characters’ fur, giving it an especially textured, vivid look. The chalk was so cooperative. The drawing of Elmo became a model for the drawings of Grover, Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch with Slimey. But Big Bird was still to come and I did not know how I would accomplish the feather texture.

Each drawing has something unique about it. The drawing of Big Bird is actually life-sized: eight feet, two inches tall! It’s the first time in all these years that I’ve actually drawn a life-sized version of Big Bird and I learned how to create the feather texture as I drew him. I drew Grover upside-down, which I had never done before. And I was able to make Oscar’s trashcan look completely solid despite using a minimal amount of chalk.

It was a wonderful project to be a part of. After working with Sesame Street for 20 years, it’s a gift to continually find new ways to work with materials and portray our most beloved characters.

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