Fresh Paint with Maria Rodriguez

In a city known for murals, how do you get your foot (or art) through a door when you’re an emerging artist of color? Fresh Paint, a partnership between RACC’s Public Art Murals program and Open Signal, offers that door to have artist work in the public realm.

In this 2019 cycle of Fresh Paint, a selection of new emerging artist have the opportunity to paint a temporary mural on the exterior of the Open Signal building facing the highly-visible Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Each mural is up for a period of months until it is painted over in preparation for the next mural. But what’s unique about this program is that it doesn’t just provide a wall for a mural – the program offers resources to emerging artists that would not typically have access to, which then gives them space to explore working in the public sector and incorporating new approaches and skills in their artistic practice and experience.

Maria Rodriguez AKA Sparkykneecap (one of three collaborators of the current mural “Let’s talk”) is a Mexican-American artist living in Portland, OR getting her BFA in illustration at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Through shape and color she often explores themes of identity, culture, and nostalgia while also creating work that is playful and lighthearted.

The trio’s mural is currently displaying through September 30, 2019. We caught up with Maria after the completion of the mural to talk about the work and experience with Fresh Paint:

Tell us about the collaborative mural you created for this program. Can you walk us through your process of conceptualizing a mural and bringing it to life?

We are all artists of color and some of us queer so it was important to use this opportunity to create something that spoke to not only our experiences but the importance of having a conversation across different groups of people. And most importantly being empathetic and understanding when talking about the ways we experience the world. We agreed from the beginning that we wanted to do a piece about that. At first I was hesitant about collaborating because of how different our work is but we made it work. All of our styles are quite different and I think it’s safe to say that we all enjoy the conceptual part of illustration so once we all had our pieces and put them together we created this beautiful Frankenstein of a mural.

Abuelita’s Heart, illustration

What was it like to paint your first mural on the Open Signal building?

I don’t think I anticipated how hard it would be. The first couple days were rough. We had to grid our image and because we were so excited, not being able to lay down big blocks of paint was discouraging. Once we got the ball rolling and it started taking shape it was so cool to see and the responses from people walking by was also really encouraging and I’m so glad we had the opportunity. I also love that I got to work with two of my closest friends.

Ramen Alley, illustration

Since your Fresh Paint mural, what have you been up to? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way since your first mural?

I’m still a student. I’m in my final year at PNCA and I’ve been working on my final thesis project. I was working on my thesis while we were painting this mural so time management was key. It continues to be something I work on.

As an emerging muralist, what thoughts or words do you want to offer emerging muralists/artists?

I’d say to invest in some nice brushes cause it makes all the difference and it feels so nice when you make a clean stroke. I’d also say to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it cause murals are hard work.

What are you up to now? Where can we find you and your work?

I’m just entering the professional art world so I’m trying to look for work and maybe thinking about another mural. But while all that unfolds you can catch me doodling in my sketchbook. You can follow me on Instagram @sparkykneecap or check my website at .


Fresh Paint is a professional development program, now in its second year, that provides emerging artists of color the opportunity to paint a mural in a high-traffic setting for the first time. The goal is for each artist to learn new ways of creating art in a public space, as well as to build their portfolio. To learn more about the program, contact Salvador Mayoral IV (RACC)