It goes without saying that the past few months have been difficult for everybody. It’s been a time of uncertainty, of solitude and of despair for many people across the globe. But as it often goes with many unfortunate events, there is a silver lining for some among the grim. The latter goes for Jason Ertwine and his nine year old daughter Skyler, who is a longtime student of the Portside’s After School Arts Program. This experience has made it possible for father and daughter to spend more time together and create art!
The “art piece” that the two collaborated on is a giant mural that covers Jason’s rooftop, and is now one of three rooftop murals in the Kensington/ Port Richmond neighborhood, the Portside Arts Center rooftop mural being another!
The idea for a rooftop mural came to Jason (who is a Production Lighting Specialist outside of quarantine) when some friends of his were planning a social distancing drone flight/rooftop toast. Jason wanted his roof to stand out to those who were flying drones overtop of it! He lives next to the elevated train, and has always wanted to create some sort of “landmark” on his roof for passengers of the Market Frankford Line to see during their commutes. He began brainstorming ideas of what he could put on his roof, but none of the ideas stuck. It was his 9 year old daughter Skyler who brought the inspiration, and whose artwork would ultimately be featured on the giant rooftop.
“She showed me a piece of art she made for her Mom...That was the point of inspiration. when I saw the pic, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” said Jason Ertwine.
Directly after seeing Skyler’s drawing, the duo headed back to Jason’s house where together they got to work on a draft of what would be displayed on the roof. Skyler was the main artist, with Jason as a guide to help with conveying the message, and fitting the space. After about five drafts, they had their final copy. They covered the roof with white roof sealer paint to create their canvas. Jason then copied and laid a grid out as a mural artist would do. Following the grid, they were able to accurately scale Skyler’s picture up to the size of 18’x35’.
The final product features a girl, a prominent character in Skyler’s artwork that she has been drawing for years, wearing an unsure smile on her face and letting go of a heart shaped yellow balloon. Written inside the balloon is the year ‘2020.’ The release of the yellow balloon symbolizes the release of our everyday lives as a result of the pandemic, such as maintaining our daily routines, seeing friends and family, and other comforts and hobbies that have been abruptly halted for the vast majority of us. Jason explains his thought process of deciding to include the yellow heart, saying that “We live in a world of Emojis. I thought the yellow heart would best represent that. The original is the red heart. I didn't want to use that because it represents Love, and we still have that.”
When I spoke over the phone to Skyler about the experience with her father, she was humble at first, but you could sense her pride in knowing that she had created something special. “It was a little scary being up on the roof,” she said, but that did not stop her commitment to getting up there everyday and making her and her father’s shared vision a reality. The bubbly and personable Skyler has been attending Portside Arts Center since she was in kindergarten and has gained personal and artistic growth through the After School Arts Program. Since social distancing measures began, she has been missing Portside, especially “seeing friends and teachers everyday.” She told me that her friends were all very impressed when she told them about her mural!
It is evident that the physical end result of this impactful rooftop art piece is not the most important part to Jason and Skyler, but rather the process of working on it together. They spent over a week on the roof, working an average of about 5 hours a day on it. When asked what Skyler’s favorite part about the experience was, she said “spending more time with my Dad.” During that time, they spoke about the past, about Jason’s childhood and his life’s journey, among other things.
The two bonded during these long conversations and deepened their relationship through the POWER OF ART!