Local students started off a new school year with a splash of inspiration after Solvang resident and Santa Ynez Valley Charter School art teacher Sabine Michael Ovesen brought her love of art to the barren walls of her campus and Lompoc Valley Middle School.

"It was a sad-looking space," Ovesen said, "but not anymore."

Before closing out the last academic year, Ovesen was given the opportunity to brighten up an otherwise drab outdoor space at Santa Ynez Valley Charter where students typically dine at lunchtime. With full creative license given by Principal John Dewey, Ovesen accepted the offer and transformed a large outdoor wall into a place where the campus's mascot — Charley, the fire-breathing dragon — lives in a one-dimensional world among its kind, in a lush forest during medieval times.

The mural, which Ovesen said was inspired by French artist Henri Rousseau, contains within it affirmations like "Exploration," "Collaboration" and "Make Learning Fun," as well as a small depiction of Dewey's puppy, Rudy, and a single-engine airplane flying overhead, pulling a banner that reads "Go, Dragons."

The project, however, did not come without its challenges.

"My biggest challenge was the wall's texture," said Ovesen, describing the wood-paneled wall which made it difficult to paint and required smaller, more focused brush strokes with a 1/2-inch paintbrush. A column also stood "in the way" of her sketch, which had been projected onto the wall — a method more commonly used by muralists to help ensure accuracy for size and scale. 

"So in some areas I had to do it freehand," she explained. 

Working on the project in July, Ovesen was only afforded a small window of time to work each day, and was careful to avoid hours of direct sunlight and any shadow being cast on to the wall in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Despite the workarounds, Ovesen said she was able to complete the mural inside of two weeks — having clocked a total of 44 hours.

Just a month prior, Ovesen led the charge at Lompoc Valley Middle School, where she organized a group of 100 students to design and paint a campus mural within six days. 

They completed the mural on June 10, the last day of school, Ovesen said.

The beach-themed mural features curling waves painted in campus school colors — blue and white — with a cheerful sun and rainbow peeking out from behind the water.

The projects bring her joy, and help her live out her childhood dream of becoming an artist, she said. 

"I have a big passion for art," Ovesen said. "For me, it means a lot. I put [my dream] on hold to become a chef."

Ovesen first got a taste of mural painting 10 years ago when she was asked to paint a school mascot — a cougar — at Crestview Elementary School, located on Vandenberg Space Force Base, where her young children were attending at the time.  

The experience encouraged her to reignite her passion and once again follow her dreams. 

"I'm a better person because I have a talent to share with the community," Ovesen said. "I want this to teach students that they can all find their special talent. They're all good at something." 

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record.