Jill Carter’s Projected Valentine Mural

by Alec Clayton

When the sun goes down and dark descends on downtown Olympia, the lights go up on Jill Carter’s projected mural that covers the second floor of the Goldberg Building at 4th Avenue and Capitol Boulevard where frisky bunnies and owls and other animals play amongst happy Valentine hearts inscribed with “True Love,” “Be Mine,” “I’m Yours” and “Love Oly.”

Jill Carter’s downtown mural projection. Photo by the artist.

The Valentine-themed mural was created digitally on a small tablet and projected in monumental size with a special high-powered LED light with the help of Dave Sederberg from Pacific Stage. “I just supplied hardware and did the initial install and helped with gobo changes,” Sederberg said. “Art-wise, it’s all Jill.”

This is the fourth projected mural project on the empty Goldberg Building that Carter and Sederberg have created. Sederberg has been instrumental in getting the projectors installed every year, donating much of his time. He said Carter is “awesome to work with, super talented, super nice. Always a pleasure.”

Carter was so delighted upon seeing the current finished projection for the first time that she posted on Facebook, “… the actual projections went live tonight! It looks so cool to see my silly characters so huge!”

Jill Carter in front of her downtown mural projection. Photo by Raoul Berman.

These mural projects started years ago when Todd Cutts from the Downtown Alliance (now called Love Oly) approached Carter and wanted some ideas on fun decorations that were anything but traditional representations of the winter holiday season. “I collaborated with Dave Sederberg, and we convinced Todd to purchase a couple of specialized high-powered LED lights that could project a large image to cover the sides of the building. That first year I projected some illustrations of salmon in silly winter hats that I called the Coho Ho’s. I was marking the return to downtown after our long hibernation during COVID, just like the salmon return to Oly every year. That year I had also created four large light box sculptures of these festive salmon that hung in trees around downtown. Those Coho Ho’s are still finding places around town to add a little holiday cheer, this year they filled several empty storefronts. Each year we have been slowly building on the capabilities to project on that building, buying more lights and better lenses. Last year I created some festive birds and this winter there were a bunch of critters all doing Winterfest type of activities like sleigh rides, an ice skating deer, and a raccoon getting all tangled up in holiday lights. We hope to expand and bring in more artists to design imagery to be projected there.”

Last year someone got on the roof of the US Bank and stole one of the two fixtures placed up there. To prevent that from happening again, Sederberg supplied locking cables this year. “We have cable locks on all of them now and (secret) GPS tracking tags. It will make it a little bit harder to steal and easier to catch. This year, so far so good! Fingers crossed.”

Carter said, “This January I was chatting with Todd and he asked if I had any ideas for a Valentine’s Day illustration, and if he could get some funding together, could we pull it off in a very short timeframe.” In short order, she came up with the idea of unlikely love matches between local animals, and was able to draw it in a week.  

“Todd Cutts has been great at coming up with the funding and creating the opportunity to create such a huge art piece right in the middle of downtown. I believe he asked for funding help from the PBIA also. The projectors cost about $1,000 each and each glass gobo costs up to $400, depending on the number of colors, and there are now four projectors.”

She said, “I pull my inspiration from the animals that live around us. We are often visited by raccoons, deer, and rabbits in our yard on the West Side of Olympia. This winter at the ‘lighting of the tree’ ceremony as part of the downtown Oly Winterfest, there was an owl that came down and perched in one of the trees right above us on Fifth and Washington and watched all the proceedings. I was surprised to see an owl so curious and seemingly unfazed by all the commotion downtown, so I knew I wanted to include an owl in the lineup of characters for this, someone who would be watching all the people walking around Oly having fun in the evenings.

“I tried to veer away from the stereotypical relationships often portrayed in Valentine’s imagery. I hope these unlikely romances represent Olympia’s diverse and quirky population. We have such a vibrant and creative downtown, I also wanted to emphasize how important it is to support our local businesses so I made sure all the accessories and activities in the illustration represent things you can buy or do in Downtown Oly. 

Jill Carter at work on drawing for mural. Photo by Raoul Berman.

“I tried to infuse this illustration with that high-contrast hand-drawn style. I try to avoid being too cartoonish when illustrating animals and instead use images of actual animals and accessories to base the proportions on. I am so impressed with how far technology has evolved and how these advanced tools can mimic the experience of drawing with pen and paper but make it so much quicker to get the finished product into a format that can be manufactured. I send the digital file off to a company in Italy that specializes in making glass slides called a gobo (a piece of glass or metal that goes inside the focal point of a lighting instrument to project an image, often used in theatrical lighting). They stack layers of dichroic glass for each color to create a highly detailed three-inch glass slide that can withstand the intense heat of the specialized high-powered LED lighting instruments that can project the image 20 feet tall from 60 feet away.”

Carter has lived in Olympia for more than 30 years, mostly doing theatrical scenic and lighting design. She was a scenic designer at Harlequin Productions for many of those years, and then for Olympia Family Theater. For the past 10-plus years, she has been a professional freelance graphic designer and illustrator. “Because of my background in theatrical lighting design, I am very familiar with various ways of using light and gobos to create dramatic effects. This project was a great marriage between my expertise as a lighting designer, my work as an illustrator, and my love of all things Olympia.” 

Jill Carter’s mural projection

through Feb. 19, possibly longer, best viewing after dark

Goldberg Bldg.
4th Ave. and Capitol Blvd., Olympia


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