Drift back in time to October 2019. It was chilly, the sky was grey, and the term Covid-19 meant absolutely nothing to anyone. I was doodling on site at Bombay Brew, cross-hatching details onto my nautical-inspired mural. My phone rang, and I rushed to a quiet corner…
“Do you do murals?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I’m working on one right now!”
Fast forward a few days and I found myself clad in steel toe-capped boots, high vis, and a safety helmet, walking through the new Rochdale Riverside development. I’d been invited to take a look at a space within the development that needed some creative TLC.
If you haven’t visited Rochdale in the past five years, you should pencil it in as a must-do. The Town Centre has undergone an incredible transformation. The most recent addition is Rochdale Riverside, the town’s highly anticipated, ultra-modern shopping and leisure venue.
The designated area for the mural was located inside the leisure block – that’s the tall copper-coloured building, ironically placed next to the former cinema, now the Regal Moon.
Home to Reel Cinema and Hollywood Bowl’s Puttstars, the mural would extend from the lobby entrance, up the escalators, around the corner, and then down a corridor to the bottom of the cinema steps.
And I thought my Duke of Wellington mural was big…
Designing the Mural
The length of the mural wall is about 35-metres, covering the escalator and long corridor leading to Puttstars and Reel Cinema. It’s a journey, with a beginning, middle, and an end.
With that in mind, I decided to approach the artwork like a storyboard to make it feel like a story. On top of that, I wanted to make sure everything remained connected in some way – and that’s how the film tape came to be a core part of the mural’s design.
The first stage of the process was to create all the scenes for the mural on paper. Instead of creating rough sketches, I like to get the design as close to a finished quality as possible at this stage. When I’m standing in front of a big wall with a pen, it feels much better knowing exactly what I’m drawing.
Of course, the minute details are often too small to include on the sketches so I have to draw these directly onto the mural. These bits are up there in my favourite moments, so it’s no great stress on the old creative nerves.
Once everything was drawn out, I digitised all the sketches to arrange them, scene-by-scene and build the complete mural design. Scale was very important at this stage. With such a long piece of wall, I had to make sure everything was measured out perfectly. There would be nothing worse that getting to the last few metres of wall and running out of space!
Getting it on the Wall
The final process of getting the design on the wall took a little over three weeks. Step one was to get the design on the wall. I used a projector to do this, I didn’t need to punish myself and draw it all out freehand for a second time! Time was also pressing. The cinema was due to open in four weeks time!
I approached the mural, scene by scene. Draw it out, paint the first coat of colour, move onto the next scene whilst the first was drying, etc. To aid the process, Mr. Doodlher was on hand as my painting assistant. He did a stellar job filling out all those big blocks of colour.
Once the paint had dried, I could move onto the last stage – adding those signature black outlines. Time to crank up this mural’s Doodlher level to 100%.
Explore the Mural
A trailing film tape guides you up the stairs to the projector room, and into the cinema. It’s at this point you realise the adjacent wall is the movie being watched by the popcorn-hungry crowd.
What’s the movie about? Well, about 15 metres long… Jokes aside, I’ll leave the storytelling to you, that’s what art is all about isn’t it? Finding your own interpretation. Be sure to look out for the hidden film references along the way, though. How many can you identify?
The setting is, of course, Rochdale. It was very important to me right from the start to feature local references. Without them you could be standing in any lobby, in any part of the world. This place belongs to Rochdale.
Bringing the Riverside mural to life was an amazing creative experience. Riverside was due to open on the first weekend of April 2020, but we all know what happened next. As I write this in June 2020, the mural is yet unseen, and remains hidden away in the leisure block. I hope I’ll be able to share it with you in real life soon.