For These Artists, Every Wall in the House is a Potential Canvas

For These Artists, Every Wall in the House is a Potential Canvas

See how local creatives transform their own spaces.

colorful floral mural by Abigail Hanks


Sidelined with Covid early in the pandemic, Abigail Hanks queued up YouTube videos on how to paint with watercolors and posted her creations on social media. “My friends still pick on me because I took a watercolor class in college and I was . . . not good,” says Hanks, who has degrees in neuroscience and biotechnology and works remotely for Westbrook’s Abbott Labs. “But this time, something clicked.” A rendering of her Lab mix elicited pet-portrait commissions and, in May of 2020, she launched an online shop stocked with her animal and nature prints. Some works also comprise a gallery wall in her Poland home studio, prompting her husband to ask, “Why don’t you paint on the wall?” Taking inspiration from Trader Joe’s bouquets, she created an acrylic sunflower-and-anemone mural above her drawing table, then a gargantuan garden in her basement family room. Her third effort, above a dining-room sideboard, effects a china cabinet bursting with wispy blooms. On days spent poring over spreadsheets, the murals are “a fun reminder that I can be creative,” she says.

Abigail Hanks in front of a blue and white flower mural


mural of stylized flowers over gray-blue paint by Abigail Gray Swartz

Natural Selections

In her childhood bedroom, artist Abigail Gray Swartz saw creatures on the walls her mom sponge painted “the way people see animals in clouds.” She enhanced them with pencil, “creating little critters with weird, sponge-painty hair and funny features.” Now, her Freeport home is a canvas. She started with a star-filled sky above a bank of clouds in her 9-year-old son’s room, then installed sinuous trees in the stairwell. “I wanted something that felt old-school, like an oil painting, that I wouldn’t get sick of,” she says. Last winter, she layered stylized white flowers over gray-blue paint in her sewing room, creating a wallpaper effect. “It’s graphic and simple, so if I redo the curtains or chair with more detailed patterns, there will be a good balance,” Gray Swartz says. Currently, her 11-year-old daughter likes to sew clothes there. But if she wants to try her hand at murals, Mom’s on board. “It hasn’t come up for my kids yet, but if they express an interest, I will absolutely allow it.”

Abigail Gray Swartz and her staircase mural


playroom mural by Ryan Adams and Rachel Gloria Adams

Team Effort

Before Christmas last year, Portland muralists Ryan Adams and Rachel Gloria Adams took stock of their daughters’ toy piles and realized, “the idea of buying more felt so wrong,” Rachel says. So they decided to give them a playroom in their townhouse’s basement instead. Acting as “Santa’s helpers,” they solicited design ideas from the girls — “strawberries, butterflies, poop emoji” — and worked in secret, Rachel painting whimsical motifs above scalloped “wainscoting” on three walls and Ryan creating a graffitied mash-up of their names and interests in the stairwell. Some of Rachel’s shapes serve as frames for art that can change as the girls, who are 2 and 5, grow — “because we’re not going to keep taking them on as clients.” Seeing the toys rearranged in the new space on Christmas morning made them feel novel, Rachel says, “and launched a really fun day.” For Ryan, who, as a teenager, graffitied his name on the basement walls of his mom’s townhouse here, “it was nostalgic, coming full circle and painting my kids’ names.”

Rachel Gloria Adams, Ryan Adams, and their daughters with their staircase graffiti