BOZEMAN — There’s a new mural near completion in Bozeman, capturing all of the colors and grandeur of the Treasure State on the wall of the RSVP Motel. MTN’s Holly Brantley talked with the two illustrators who created the design - a work of art inspired by all the beauty of Bozeman.
When you meet Gabrielle Lewis there’s likely a paintbrush in her hand and a creative spark in her eye.
“I am an illustrator. There’s a lot of things that go into that. I do digital illustrations. I do cartoons. I have freedom while having an identity,” she said. “Plus,” she laughs, “Illustrator is a bit more of a ‘posh’ term than artist.”
As she created her current masterpiece, her third mural, on Bozeman’s RSVP Motel, she says her goal is to share something with the community that embodies the area, embodies Montana.
“To be able to create something that identifies the motel, this street, with Bozeman itself is wild,” said Gabrielle. “I don’t have words for it yet. I don’t think I fathom it. I want people to feel like they’ve experienced Bozeman when they walk by this wall.”
She’s a graduate of MSU and she’s made Bozeman her home. After completing two murals near Seattle - “Cows in a Forest,” and “Jimmy’s Dragon” - she landed this job through networking and good connections. She hardly sees it as work, though, using her talents to preserve the most colorful parts of the city on the motel wall.
“There’s probably 12 to 14 wildflower species all native to Montana on this wall,” said Gabrielle. “Sunflowers are my favorite, so I had to include a bunch of those.”
“This is Charlotte,” she said as she crouches next to the creature, explaining animals are her favorite thing to draw. “She is our female buffalo. She’s here to take pictures with anyone visiting,” She smiles, “We prefer you take pictures with Charlotte instead of disrupting the Bison at Yellowstone.”
So far the bear is nameless (watch her Instagram account for helping to name the animal @brelseillustration) and so is this mural, but she says the current project is her favorite.
If you ask her why, she says there’s just something about Bozeman that people here simply 'get'—like a beautiful secret.
“There’s something about this area we understand, there’s something about the state, the adventure that happens here,” Gabrielle said.
She’s not conquering the 2200 square-foot canvas of sorts alone. Her best friend and partner in creation Candis Nohl is always close by.
“It’s the best,” said Candis. “Even when we work long days, we love it. It is great. I feel like it embodies Bozeman with a quintessential, but a modern take. The nature, the flowers, but really it’s a feeling of home I think.”
A home here in Bozeman they’ve felt even more connected to since they started spending six days a week at the corner of Peach and 7th Street on scaffolding, in paint-covered clothes, with smiles on their faces.
“So we get a lot of interesting interactions,” said Gabrielle. “I joke with Candis we’ve met half of Bozeman on this street.”
New friends like the kids who stop by and want to lend a hand: “I live for the little kids in the back seat that are like ‘GOOD JOB!,’” Gabrielle said.
And then there’s the honking, Gabrielle explains: “There’s this honking system we’re trying to figure out. It’s definitely like a morse code. One honk Is like ‘my first time here’… ‘hi’…’test the water.’ Two honks is like ‘I’ve been here, or ‘HELLO!’ Three honks is a seasoned vet to the area.” She giggles, ”Ya gotta let us know people. We love it.”
Indeed, we heard plenty of it during our interview. Honking, and the screams from young and old alike who simply want to say ‘thank you’ for bringing the artwork to their street. From a design carefully marked through a grid, they have it all planned through strategy, daily inspiration, and a bit of guesswork—starting with the first gallons of pink paint: “We bought five gallons at first,” said Candis. “We went right back and bought 20 more.”
“For the most part it’s really specific,” explained Candis, showing the smaller version on paper they are following.
They put blue chalk on the wall to map it all out, but those lines have since come down as they near completion.
“It’s really great to see it take shape,” said Candis.
She said it’s hard work, this labor of love, and they have the calluses to prove it. “Oh my gosh...I have calluses, I’ve got cuts, all the evidence of a good time,” Candis grins.
Two women, dozens of paint cans, and thousands of brush strokes weaving together the tapestry that makes Bozeman, Montana so unique: The people, the wildlife, the wildflowers.
“If guests to our state start identifying Bozeman by this art, that would be an honor,” said Gabrielle. “It’s our goal for this to be the essence of Montana.”
As for when the job is done, Gabrielle says she’ll just know: “Art definitely tells you when it’s done."
Gabrielle and Candis will be creating two more murals in Bozeman in the weeks to come.