My mother, my aunt, and my grandmother were all artists, and their chosen medium was painting. On long road trips, I could often be found toting a sketchbook, caught up in sketching the many images I would perceive in the clouds. In the city of Fremont where I grew up, the schools I attended really fostered creative projects. In third grade, I felt a sense of pride when noting that the kinds of creative projects I was turning in, were different from my peers. By sixth grade, I had won a prize for a Mother’s Day card I created for a contest sponsored by the Fremont Hub, the local shopping center. When choosing to further my education in art, I focused on illustration and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Academy of Art in San Francisco in 1985. Back then, it was a small three-building facility where 40 students would gather inside an auditorium, sketching a live model in the middle of the room, while classical music played.
While in school and living at home, I took a part-time job in retail at a local grocery store that paid well, while I built up my career with freelance work. While I was there, I witnessed artists come in each holiday season and decorate the windows in a lively scene, inviting the public in with animated holiday images. I let my superiors know right away that I would be interested in doing those windows myself. By 1982, five grocery stores enlisted my services to create elaborate, holiday window scenes. That number grew to 30 stores before the program was cut. I still do windows for businesses. A vibrant mural spread across the entrance of a business and welcoming shoppers, is an integral part of the celebration of the shopping season for many! One of my clients spanning over 30 years is a convalescent hospital. It’s a joy to see the residents’ eyes light up as I swash a bit of cheer across their windows each season.
“MY PASSION FOR CREATING THESE VIBRANT LANDSCAPES, REPLETE WITH ALL THE SPLENDORS OF THE WILD, IS FUELED BY THE BIT OF SOLACE THEY PROVIDE FOR YOUNG PATIENTS.”
In 1995, I launched out on my own with my company called June Workman Illustration in Vacaville. While at a Vacaville Chamber of Commerce mixer, a designer friend of mine, Robert Boccabella, asked if I would put in a bid for a mural in Antioch. The mural was to adorn the waiting room and treatment area walls of the children’s dentistry office of doctors Bonnie Hillman, DDS and Shelby Smith, DDS. That one interaction led to a future that has been ultimately fulfilling. From that initial proposal acceptance, I went on to paint murals in countless children’s dental office and family practice waiting rooms. In 1859, Florence Nightingale recognized the importance of art in medicine and raised issues that are still highly relevant today. In Notes on Nursing she wrote, “The effect of beautiful objects, of variety of objects and especially brilliance of color is hardly at all appreciated… Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.”
My murals start with a simple meeting with the client. “What do you want to see? What do you want conveyed?” I start just sketching on my sketchpad. I then incorporate specific elements inside of rooms and work them into the mural landscape. I like to take the mundane clinical pieces and turn them into something fun, visually. For instance, I did a mural of a monkey seemingly perched upon the cabinet underneath him that houses the gloves. The monkey in my mural has gotten into the glove cabinet and is wearing a glove over his head, with the fingers positioned to sign “I love you.” It really makes the art come to life to animate the animals in such a manner. I painstakingly transcribe what I have sketched on paper by hand, stroke by stroke across a wall or glass, to create the large-scale murals I have grown to love creating. My passion for creating these vibrant landscapes, replete with all the splendors of the wild, is fueled by the bit of solace they provide for young patients. Waiting in a room, prior to an exam or a procedure can be a potentially stress-inducing moment. If they can get lost in my dream-like murals and concentrate on the lovely art, for just a moment it may ease their mind.
Doctors from the International Association for the Study of Pain conducted a review which has actually proven the beneficial effects of visual art on health are due to positive distraction. Positive distraction is a term used to describe the belief that environmental features can elicit positive feelings, hold attention and interest, therefore reducing stressful thoughts. Authors of the study regard a typical treatment setting as one that lacks any positive distraction and argue that environmental stimuli, including visual art, may enhance patient control. Conversely, environments that lack positive distractions may cause patients to focus increasingly on their own worries, fears, or pain. This can increase the perception of these emotions, and in turn increase levels of stress. Additionally, in 2006 a Department of Health Working Group on Arts and Health reported that the arts have “a clear contribution to make and offer major opportunities in the delivery of better health, well-being, and improved experience for patients, service users, and staff alike.”
My path for lending my talents toward positive, healthy outcomes brought me to illustrate a book with a message of hope for young cancer patients, with a percentage of the profits going to Benioff Children’s Hospital. The book is called What if Strawberries Had No Hats? It is a light-hearted, full-of-puns approach to illustrating the effects of cancer. Animated fruit characters help convey the positive message the book provides, and I so enjoyed creating them. From this initial experience in the world of publishing, I have derived inspiration to flesh out more ideas for books centered around kindness, morals, and active caring. I have three sons of my own and have witnessed the effects of technology restricting their generation’s social interactions. My hope is to address this in a fun way, that children and parents can relate to each other. I’m toying with the idea of deeming the series I am concepting, “Granny Manners,” as it will concentrate on old-fashioned polite social skills.
Working with Carol Jensen of Byron Hot Springs Publishing, was a fateful event brought on by one simple phone call. I have worked at Trader Joe’s for over 13 years as one of their “in-store artists.” Trader Joe’s prides itself on featuring store displays and decor made of handcrafted art. When doing research on local history for a mural I was assigned to do in the store, I reached out to Carol who works for the East Contra Costa County Historical Society. She gave me a well-rounded full history of the Byron Hot Springs and John Marsh House, which I used to bring their imagery to life inside of Trader Joe’s. Carol then brought me on board for the book project, and the rest is history.
My talents have been called upon to mask local utility boxes, the Travis AFB museum, many kids rooms, local rap artist E40’s home in Blackhawk, and even entire walls at schools, specifically the Edna Hill Bobcat Mural which is my favorite. I have Bob Brown from the Brentwood Unified School District to thank for recommending me as the artist to bring their beloved mascot to life for the kids. Going forward I intend to join the Delta Gallery and share my love of large-scale artworks with a new crowd. I was trained to hone my craft on small paper, but it’s hard to focus on small scale detail, when you’ve had the freedom to go large!
Photos By Melissa Van Ruiten