By New York Times best selling author Michael Levin
When Amber Gabriel was five years old, she found that she loved nothing more than painting on the walls of her childhood home.
She’s hardly the only child to have discovered the joys of this form of youthful artistic endeavor.
It’s just that while all the other kids were quickly socialized out of such inappropriate behavior, Gabriel has made a career out of it.
In Temple, Texas, a town located in the central part of that state, Gabriel is a professional muralist and portrait painter, although in her heart of hearts, she prefers doing murals.
“When you do portraits,” she says, “people have a lot of expectations. They want you to make them look younger and thinner. They’ve got very precise ideas about how they want to appear. When you do a mural, by contrast, you have a lot more freedom.”
Gabriel does murals – everything from bedroom and bathroom walls to a wall downtown in Temple, 110 feet long and 21 feet high. She also paints murals for commercial establishments, as well as family homes, counting local restaurants among her clientele.
Gabriel teaches 4th grade math and science, so she had to do that big outdoor mural, visible on her website, PaintbyAmber.com, over nine weeks in a hot Texas summer.
“People were bringing me water and lemonade,” she recalls. “That was hot work.”
Part of her clientele includes parents who bring her in to paint murals on their children’s’ bedroom walls, a task Gabriel embraces.
“Boys typically want sports scenes and girls typically want castles,” she says. “Girls also special request unicorns, for example. I’m happy to oblige, of course.” Gabriel says that she is enduring a “midlife crisis,” during which she has published the first two of at least three fantasy novels, as well as taking up the violin and the piano. (books available on Kindle)
“With the violin,” she says, “my goal was to become good enough to play in church. We do a lot of improvising as part of the service, so that’s very satisfying. It’s a nice counterpoint to the painting.”
While most of Gabriel’s work takes place in and around central Texas, she is willing to fly pretty much anywhere to do a mural.
“It’s so satisfying,” she says. “You’re working with a really big canvas, as it were, and you’re creating something that people will live with and cherish, whether they are children or adults.
“Don’t get me wrong – I love doing portraits. It’s always a wonderful challenge to create something beautiful that meets the expectations and desires of the client. But at the same time, murals are my first love. There’s just something about working on a project that big that’s extremely enjoyable for me as an artist.
“Not to mention that I still get to do the same thing that I loved to do when I was five years old – paint on the walls. There aren’t too many kids who get paid to do what I do, and there aren’t that many adults, either.”