Painting a Story with Kris Friesen, Canadian Artist and Muralist

I sat in the hot tub at the fitness center facility of my hotel in Vancouver, B.C. a few months back, mesmerized by an extravagant, detailed and whimsical double-story mural decorating the expansive wall of the pool area. My eyes drifted to the signature at the bottom right corner and I instantly jumped out of the water to fetch my phone. I had to capture this fortuitous coincidence.

A Stroke of Luck

On a random visit to Vancouver (from San Diego), I had just stumbled across a life-size mural by the exact NumberBarn customer and artist I’d been trying to interview. 

In my efforts to schedule an interview with Canadian muralist Kris Friesen I also enquired about his artwork in Vancouver, hoping to see a mural while passing through B.C. Sadly, he informed me, he had no public murals in the Vancouver area.

I gazed at the detailed depiction of a pair of unhurried orcas, curious giant squid, long-legged starfish, swaying sea anemones, happy sea lion pup, array of fish, crustaceans, etc. I envisioned myself as a character in this enthralling underwater journey.

Awestruck by each facet of the mural, the rays of light illuminating the turquoise water and the imaginative scenario the mural conveyed, when I discovered it signed “Kris Friesen,” I was speechless. (I eventually learned that the fitness center had commissioned Kris to paint the spirited sea life mural over a decade ago and as part of the private fitness center, it wasn’t publicly accessible.)

Kris Friesen Signature

NumberBarn supports over a million active telephone numbers across the U.S., Canada, U.S.V.I. and Puerto Rico. Getting to personally interact with our customers is an honor we don’t take lightly. As a company that champions “facilitating meaningful connections,” we relish unique moments like this, connecting us to our customers and the incredible things they do.

Needless to say, we’re indubitably excited to share more of Kris’s story. So with no further adieu, introducing NumberBarn customer and renowned Canadian artist and muralist, Kris Friesen.

Painting a Story

For some, art truly “runs in their veins.” Kris Friesen completed his first official mural in 1995, and he hasn’t looked back. Though he attended animation school for college, Kris can’t remember not being an artist.

“I just kind of tell people’s stories, or the story that they want, in a painting,” he says. “What I’m about is expressing what folks would like to have expressed, but also figuring out how to do that in a way that works for the public as much as possible. It’s taken me my whole life. But it was always there, always.” And it’s easy to recognize his intrinsic artistic talent with just a glance at any of his numerous murals and paintings.

As a muralist, he has “one page to tell a story.” His training in digital/commercial art and illustration helped him to hone his craft, improving his “drawing and craftsmanship to quickly create context and meaning, communicating painting by painting and piece by piece.”

“You really have to get to the point of what it is you’re trying to animate. Everything has to be in context. Otherwise, it can just carry on forever,” Kris explains. “What does it communicate? With each mural “the story changes at various paths and movements in the murals.”

Born in Chilliwack, British Columbia, he’s painted murals across Canada, primarily between Edmonton and Western Canada, with an occasional international venture for events like pop-up murals for a convention in Las Vegas and an artist residency in Peru.

The Art of Unpredictability

With every mural portraying a distinctively different story, Kris is driven by the diversity of the craft along with the opportunity to meet new people and paint their stories.

From “figuring out how to tell the stories of the Canadian military for a series of murals at a military legion (a community space for veterans) to illustrating a colorized version of an ancient Chinese scroll,” Kris’s content varies immensely.

Fascinated by the unpredictable nature of his work, Kris is compelled by the challenge of expressing what his clients want to convey to the public. Most inspired by nature, he asks, “What story do I want the painting to tell? How can I bring the viewer into the scene, for instance bringing a fox into an urban setting and inviting the viewers into the fox’s perspective? How can I influence the viewer’s lens to expand outside of humanity?”

A Sketchy Process

So how exactly does an intricate mural magically appear on that massive blank wall that’s graced your neighborhood bank for decades?

Unlike a mysterious Banksy, Kris’s thoughtful and methodical approach to his murals and commissioned paintings primarily involves listening. In some ways, Kris works like a counselor, sitting, talking and listening to a client, then paraphrasing, and listening some more in order to decipher a client’s underlying expectations and vision.

“What are they trying to express and include in the mural? What are the subjects and moods? It’s about discovering what’s at the heart of that.” Occasionally clients will give minimal information and leave the creativity entirely up to Kris, but more frequently he needs to determine what the client wants to see and what they don’t want.

“Then I’ll give a written version or summary, and then the second part is the sketch.” Planning a mural may involve multiple meetings and renditions of sketches. “Sketches can be changed” so it’s critical to get the vision clearly established in the sketch before it’s painted as a mural or commissioned art piece. Last in the process “is the painting, which sort of does itself,” Kris says.

Fine art paintings are a balance because it’s an opposite process, starting as a big abstract painting. All of my years of specificity go out the window,” Kris shares. “I use big brush strokes and throw the paint on the canvas in a matter of minutes, it can be a quick expression even with my eyes closed. Sometimes I leave it as is, and sometimes I see room for a scene or an animal, if there’s space that presents itself.”

Drawing In the Crowds With Performance Art

“Performance art is for entertainment, but with a mural left behind,” Kris shares, and it’s orchestrated within a set time parameter usually for an event like a convention, grand opening, etc.

A live performance art mural or painting usually takes about three hours on average, but he’s occasionally allotted up to six hours, depending on the event. Kris calculates the time for each aspect he paints, such as “an hour for a backdrop, an hour for some mountains, etc. There’s always something going on so the heart of it should be done in 2-3 hours, the opening and closing of the painting are usually both slower.”

Kris is given a prompt or concept beforehand and the artwork is generally for a specific purpose, contextualized to the event or the client hosting the event. “The convention in Las Vegas was oriented around health and well-being, so I painted a family hiking near Red Rocks Canyon outside of Las Vegas. Another time I did a single comic book page as a painting, and for a grand opening of an automotive shop I did a mural focused on cars.”

Performance art can also be “a bit interactive, even inviting the public to come and paint a small part of the image. If there are kids around, occasionally I will invite them to do a little paint stroke on the canvas, etc. I love that each event is different and has different needs. It makes it exciting.”

Adding the Community Into the Mix

Admittedly, some of us might find it terribly nerve-wracking to paint under a time constraint in a busy environment with crowds of people watching. “Nerves means it matters,” Kris relates. “But there’s no time for nerves.” And it’s all a part of the community experience, which Kris notably appreciates. Performance art involves an audience, so “you gotta be with the public,” he says.

Kris doesn’t shy away from inviting the community into his art fabrication. “The process of creating community event murals is similar but different,” he expounds. Usually 4-6 hour collaborative events, “it’s a bit like ‘paint by numbers,’ there’s an event behind it but at the start and end visitors are welcome to paint and fill in a section.”

The process caters to people of all skill levels. “Some people can do more advanced painting and some more basic,” so Kris creates an outline of the mural first so that the structure is ready for participants to jump in at their own level of comfort and confidence.

Kris leaves intentional segments for those who may “just want to paint a portion, or one color, or fill something in” along with space for those who prefer to try more complex sections. “I try to do two styles in the mural where it’s community-friendly and then a normal mural. I will often touch things up but I try to leave it authentic to those who contributed. And it’s just the craziest, coolest time I think I’ve had as an artist.”

Crafted for Legacy

So how long does a mural typically last? And how does Kris navigate when a mural inevitably gets removed or painted over, for instance when a building comes under new ownership? At the whim of the building, its owners and the city, landscapes and architecture changes. So, it really depends. Of course, I want them to stay forever, but that’s a part of being a muralist.” Kris prefers to paint on panels, typically using 4×8 sheets of aluminum and plastic mixed signboard, so clients can take them when they leave.

In the last fifteen years, Kris has painted longer-term larger murals. “I’d like to think they could last up to fifty years. But, again, it’s just unpredictable,” he reiterates. “You never know how long you get to share that piece with the public. You often have to be vulnerable in the moment and objective after the fact, you can’t get too attached to it. What matters the most is that people had the chance to bond with something. It might be gone but the impression is still there. That’s kind of the heart behind it. I mean, I would still paint if I was the only person in the world.”

NumberBarn Steps Into the Picture 

“NumberBarn isn’t a huge thing, but it’s an important thing,” Kris says. NumberBarn lets him utilize a local area code and phone number so he can better interact with his community, while NumberBarn forwards to his long-term number from a different province. It enables Kris to keep his long-term number while staying accessible via a local number.

A Google business number wasn’t syncing up with all his tech, so “NumberBarn saved the day, bringing all my numbers together.” Keeping a local number allows him to stay connected where he currently lives.

“It allows me to bridge different provinces and it includes texting as well, which is equally important. People can text or call my local number and it all kind of goes to the same place. I realized especially for my Google business and local number that the text wasn’t linking up and I had to change that immediately. NumberBarn has allowed that to all connect for me.”

Give Good Things a Try

If Kris had a message for the world, he would want “everyone everywhere to just give good things a try. What’s the worst that could happen?” For him, he goes back to nature and art. But “why not grab a snorkeling mask and see what’s out there under the water. Of course, be safe about it. If you can’t get in the ocean, try a lagoon or estuary in just a few feet of water for just a few minutes. You will see something. The water is alive. It’s kind of like painting, getting a canvas and just making some big expressions. What’s the worst that could happen? You have a canvas you can paint over.”

We love it. Why not give good things a try! You never know what extraordinary new experience awaits you, maybe even just around the corner.

Speaking of good things…why not give NumberBarn a try? (Yes, shameless plug here, but felt like it fit😊.) Does your business need a local number? Keep your communications connected and efficient, and stay accessible to your own community today with a local, toll-free, or custom vanity number from NumberBarn!

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Written by

Melana Preston

Melana Preston is a lead Copywriter for NumberBarn and ClearHello. With her background in marketing and humanitarian work, she loves working for “a company that truly values people and meaningful connections.” When she’s not pun-tificating clever copy or dad jokes, you can find her lost behind her camera lens capturing a mountain or sunset.