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Less than a year after discovering her artistic talent, a Lompoc painter is set to take part in one of the world’s largest — and most unusual — art exhibits.

Melody Lara is putting the finishing touches on a life-size, 120-pound fiberglass cow that she is painting as part of the CowParade event being planned for this fall in San Luis Obispo County. CowParade is an international public art fundraiser that has been staged in more than 75 cities and drawn in more than 250 million spectators, according to organizers.

The 32-year-old Lara, who lives in her hometown of Lompoc, said she’s excited to be a part of the festivities this year.

“I had never painted on a cow before,” she said recently with a laugh.

The truth is, Lara acknowledged, that prior to this year she hadn’t painted on much of anything before.

She said it wasn’t until last December that she first decided to pick up a paintbrush and try to paint a picture as a Christmas gift for her aunt. That painting, of a gypsy and a horse, turned out much better than she anticipated and led to her working on several other projects, including a mural she plans to put up on the fence surrounding her home.

“I grew up around the murals and stuff and I was always super fascinated with them,” Lara said. “I always was like, ‘How cool would that be to paint something that awesome?’ But I never knew I had it in me, so I never tried it.”

It was Lara’s aunt, she said, that first saw an advertisement for the CowParade and suggested that Lara get involved.

In the CowParade, individuals or organizations can either submit their own artwork for selection or choose to sponsor an artist for the event, which bills itself as the world’s largest public art event.

For the SLO County CowParade, the cows — 101 of them, representing Highway 101 — will be put on display all around the region beginning Sept. 7. Many of them will then be auctioned off May 7, 2017 to raise money for various charities.

Lara said she quickly came up with a design and submitted it in February. She found out soon after that her design was chosen, and shortly after that, a fiberglass cow was sent to her home.

Lara has spent the past couple months working on the cow in her garage. She must have it finished by Aug. 23.

Her theme, which she titled “Moondrops and Moo-maids,” combines elements of the beach and marine life with aspects of outer space.

“I’ve always had a fascination with the ocean and the beach and also space, because they’re two really cool, undiscovered things,” Lara said. “I just thought that would be really cool to put on something.”

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Lara’s sponsor is the city of Cambria.

Lara said she had never visited Cambria until this year, when she went there to get some personalized elements for her cow art.

“I wanted to put sand on the bottom of the cow around the legs (as part of the beach artwork),” she said, “so I actually went to Cambria (in July) to get sand from the beach there.”

Each artist chosen for the event receives a $1,000 stipend. For the San Luis Obispo County event, each artist can opt for a $500 stipend, plus 10 percent of the cow’s auction price, according to organizers.

Lara, who is a stay-at-home mother for her four children, said she is looking forward to the exposure more than anything.

“My husband asked me, ‘Aren't you intimidated by all these different artists you’re up against?’” she said. “But I don’t feel like I’m up against anybody. I feel like it’s just a way to get your art out there.

“But it is kind of intimidating if you think about it,” she added with a laugh.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.