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At DoodleHATCH in Columbia, wild creatures take over 140-foot parade mural

Lee Andersen has an imagination like no other.

In an abandoned storefront in Long Reach Shopping Center, she has created an interactive art museum where giants can buy beds, unicorns can have their horns polished and aliens can land to visit. A nonprofit, DoodleHATCH is an interactive fantasy world, where youth — and adults — can visit over 30 different fantasy stops.

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It is a place bursting with color, silliness and wonder.

Now, Andersen has her eyes set on DoodleHATCH”s’s exterior walls.

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On April 1, she plans to reveal a 140-foot parade mural featuring a mix of aliens, cyclopes, dragons, unicorns, zombies, fairies and more, marching toward DoodleHATCH’s entrance.

Designed by Justin Nepomuceno, of Baltimore, the mural is being painted by Nepomuceno’s Art Goblins team — volunteer artists — on 35 panels set up in the backroom of the museum.

It is not an easy task.

Working off a storyboard, Nepomuceno uses a projector to cast his drawing on a panel so he can sketch it. Volunteers then paint the individual panels.

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“it is such a huge project,” Nepomuceno said. “It is so big, it is super hard to see things at once.”

The biggest creature in the mural is a dragon, whose body and tail wind across all of the panels. While easy to see in the completed storyboard, on individual panels, the angle of the dragon’s body can easily disappear.

“It gets confusing; you have to know what it is,” Nepomuceno said. “He is the whole background. I wanted everything to fit all around him.”

Nepomuceno also notices “white spots” — or empty spots — in different panels as the artists paint.

“Oh, I can fit a creature in there or add three more fairies,” Nepomuceno said. “Everything in the mural is not just standing. They are all interacting together.”

A community project, everyone is welcome to help paint the mural, Andersen said.

Volunteer artist-painters, from left, Dasia Leonard, of Cockeysville; Alexis Sands, of Reisterstown; Meredith Wheelock, of Silver Spring; designer Justin Nepomuceno; Stephanie Smith, of Columbia; Karen Jack, of Columbia; Michelle Kopp, of Columbia; Theo Jack-Monroe, of Columbia; owner Lee Andersen; and Tony Adams, of Owings Mills. Over 40 artists are creating a 1,120-square-foot mural of mythical creatures for nonprofit DoodleHATCH's entrance. Characters in the mural were inspired by several displays in the interactive art museum.
Volunteer artist-painters, from left, Dasia Leonard, of Cockeysville; Alexis Sands, of Reisterstown; Meredith Wheelock, of Silver Spring; designer Justin Nepomuceno; Stephanie Smith, of Columbia; Karen Jack, of Columbia; Michelle Kopp, of Columbia; Theo Jack-Monroe, of Columbia; owner Lee Andersen; and Tony Adams, of Owings Mills. Over 40 artists are creating a 1,120-square-foot mural of mythical creatures for nonprofit DoodleHATCH's entrance. Characters in the mural were inspired by several displays in the interactive art museum. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

“People with less experience can do the background,” Andersen said. “Those with more, can do more detail work.”

Karen Jack and Michelle Kopp, friends from Columbia, have been working on a robot panel together, with Jack’s son, Theo Jack-Monroe, joining them on occasion.

“She [Lee] sent out a flier looking for artists to help,” Jack said. “It sounded like a great idea.”

For Stephanie Smith, of Columbia, the ability to help with the mural has been a “saving grace.”

“I had just moved here and did not know anybody,” Smith said, who first heard about the mural through a mom’s group post. “I don’t know how to explain this place. It is such an amazing, magical place.”

Nepomuceno, Smith said, gives them “a lot of freedom” to add details to the mural.

“I’ve been working on these guys and the dragon, the cyclops,” Smith said, as she painted a mermaid. “I go wherever they want to put me.”

All of the volunteers are listed in a journal Andersen is keeping, with the day, time and panel the artists painted recorded.

“We keep track of what everyone is working on,” Andersen said. “If they’re fond of working on one character, we try to let them.”

Nepomuceno works full-time as a website and graphic designer for Andersen’s company, Andersen-Becker, which designs and manufactures Lee Andersen Art Clothing line. With a background in animation from Towson University, Nepomuceno had always dreamed of doing a big art project. He admitted it wasn’t easy to let others work on it.

“It was a big struggle,” Nepomuceno said. “I spent so much time on the drawing. I’m thankful [the artists] would come to me and say ‘I think I want to make this change.’ The team is great.”

After many young people expressed an interest in helping, Andersen devised another mural for DoodleHATCH’s other exterior wall.

The 80-foot Undersea Mural Painting was painted by youth ages 8 to 12 years old and by 30 at-risk teenagers. It was sponsored by the United Way.

“They just did whatever undersea paintings they wanted,” Andersen said. “The kids did the bottom. The teens on the top.”

Nepomuceno received a stipend from the Maryland State Arts Council to create the DoodleHATCH Parade Mural. Andersen-Becker Inc. is also supporting the project, Andersen said. Work began in September 2020, when Nepomuceno first started working on the drawing. Painting began in November.

“It feels like I have been doing this a year,” Nepomuceno said. “It’s been an adventure.”

For Andersen, the mural will be another unique addition to her creations. Her clothing company, Lee Andersen Art Clothing, has been in business for 27 years and recently relocated from its site in Laurel to join DoodleHatch at Long Reach. She is the founder of ManneqART, a nonprofit that specializes in sculpture on the human form and hosts an annual competition, workshops and public art displays. In 2019, she was the driving force behind the Fantasy Wood Festival at Merriweather Park in Columbia. While the pandemic canceled the 2020 event and the 2021 event, plans are already in motion to hold the festival in 2021.

“DoodleHATCH is always changing,” Andersen said. “There is a lot to see. The mural is by the community, for the community. We hope it will also become a new tourist attraction for Maryland when it is finished.”

The unveiling of the mural will take place at 3 p.m. April 1 at DoodleHATCH, Long Reach Village Center, 8775 Cloudleap Court, Unit #1, Columbia. For information, call 301-725-5555.

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