For lovers of color and art, the past five years have been so exciting as we’ve watched a slow progression of murals spring up around Orlando. Having gone through the stages of getting a mural created last year, I have so much admiration for those who put in the work to bring more layers of beauty to our streets.
I started noticing three individual women on Instagram who all were doing great artistic work separately and showcasing it online. Soon after I noticed that a new mural emerged in Thornton Park and I realized that the same three Orlando ladies had combined their creative powers to form a group called WISP Orlando. WISP stands for “What is She Painting”. Their first major collaborative effort has been the women's suffrage mural in Thornton Park. A large, vibrant piece that incorporates elements of nature along with two women who helped lead the movement here in Florida - Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and Beth Johnson.
So who exactly is WISP Orlando? Get to know these three local artists below.
Melissa Hurcombe runs the popular Brunchzilla Instagram account and owns her own creative business. She is currently in the running as one of Orlando Weekly’s nominated Best Instagram accounts in Orlando. It’s clear to see why as she enhances all her photos with her own fun artistic overlays that make them stand out. She instantly makes anything she photographs more unique. You can follow her @brunchzilla + @brunchzillacreative
Kristi Hamby is a local artist and muralist who has painted murals and storm drains for Thornton Park, a beautiful breezeway for the City of Sanford, local businesses and schools, all while selling her original pieces. Her work has been on display locally at the Massimo Gallery and she has sold her pieces to locals including Commissioner Patty Sheehan. She is also on the ballot for Orlando Weekly’s nominated Best Visual Artist in Orlando. A goal she said she made for herself a year ago and was so excited to have made it to the ballot this year. You can follow her at @kristipaintsorlando.
Sara Berlin works in Physical Therapy by day (check out @rootedbodyfl), but she is also an artist who has painted several murals in other countries, and locally inside the Thornton Park garage, and local businesses like Vivi Bubble Tea. Unfortunately she was traveling during our interview so I didn’t get a chance to speak with her about her work, but her colorful impact can be seen many places throughout Orlando. You can follow her at @sara_berlin_art.
Seeing how these three ladies, Melissa, Kristi, and Sara all came together to beautify the city led me to want to learn more. I got to sit down with two of them to learn more about WISP.
LH: How did the three of you meet and come together to form WISP.
Kristi: “All three of us met pretty much on Instagram. Sara and I met when we were both painting the Thornton Park parking garage, we hooked up on Instagram and we continued to support each other thereafter. Melissa and I were following each other for over a year and becoming each other’s cheerleaders online when we finally said hey, we need to get together. We all clicked. We didn’t meet up to collaborate, we just met up to become friends.”
Melissa: “Yes, and then Kristi said she wanted to get a group of other female artists together to paint and we got our little group together.'“
Kristi: “We’d like to see WISP become a revolving door, we’d like to eventually have other female artists come in and out while still having our core group. Our goal is to bring as many female artists as we can.”
Melissa: “We want to create a community, highlight artists, and have it be a purposeful group that can create together.”
LH: Tell me about how the mural in Thornton Park came to be?
Kristi: “When I first got the project in mind it wasn’t suppose to be a business, I just wanted to get a bunch of women together and paint a mural that speaks to feminism and female power and shows what women are capable of. I reached out to Lisa, the Thornton Park community director and told her my idea and asked her if she knew of any walls we could paint on. She got back to me a few months later and said they were sponsoring a wall in Thornton Park and we discussed the idea. They really wanted to honor the suffrage movement and she asked if we could find a way to do that and celebrate women in that way. It blossomed from there. Other than a few random comments from some passersby the overall message of the mural has created a positive response. Mayor Buddy Dyer even came out to see it. The reaction has been so amazing.”
LH: What is your advice to others who want to get more involved in bringing art to the city?
Kristi: “I’ve been able to reach out to the connections I’ve established within local cities and that has been helpful, but for someone who doesn’t have any connections yet I highly recommend submitting to Call to Artists, and following all the local Main Street districts. If you have an idea and you want to make something for the community you can find local and national grants to fund your project. You don’t have to have connections in the local community to make art happen, but it does expedite the process.”
Melissa: “I’d recommend putting the extra time and effort in to show people what you are capable of because it makes you stand out and makes them want to work with you. Especially with murals, its so open to interpenetration as far as what people are visualizing in their heads. Have the design to show people so they can see what you want to create and it won’t be difficult for them to visualize it.”
LH: How has art been a therapeutic outlet for you all?
Melissa: “I wish Sara were here, she could really speak to that. Just the other day I was telling her how much I loved a piece of hers and she told me she painted it during one of the worst weeks of her life. Painting can be such an escape and can heal every day while allowing you to just release what is in your mind is a positive way. It’s very powerful.”
Kristi: “Yes, it’s such a release. I honestly at one time use to be more of a crafter, and there was a period I went through some tough times that put me in a dark place and I started painting really happy pieces. I use to take chalk and draw positive illustrations on the sidewalks with sayings like "be happy”. It got to the point where if my fiance (now husband) saw me doing it he was like uh oh because he knew something must be wrong. The release really was something that could help pick you up and give you purpose.”
LH: How do you think having more public art in the city effects those living in it?
Kristi: “I definitely think it changes experiences and sparks happiness. It’s amazing to create something that is a great selfie background, but if it can make someone’s day better or spark a conversation that’s a great feeling.”
Melissa: “It changes everything. Just when we were sitting outside of Dexter’s in Thornton Park looking at our mural, before all you really saw was a laundry mat, and now there is this beautiful piece of art there. It creates environments that are more meditative and reflective. Seeing how happy it makes people and possibly motivates them to want to create as well means so much.”
LH: What is your favorite place to get art supplies in town and what tools would you encourage beginners go get?
Melissa: “Honestly I go to Michael’s a lot. I can spend hours in there. You can grab yourself a set of primary paints, a few brushes, and canvases and just start creating.”
Kristi: Yeah, and if that seems daunting or you need to start with a minimal budget, you can always just grab a sketch pad or honestly even printer paper and some ballpoint pens and just start doodling designs and get a feel for what you can create.”
LH: Is there anything you want people to know about WISP Orlando that we haven’t covered?
Kristi: The main goal of WISP is to show the community that we have talented female artists that can do anything. Female artists are often underutilized because large scale projects are hard work. It takes a lot of physical labor, but we want to show that we are capable of creating amazing work for the community.
You can visit their Thornton Park mural located at 801 E Washington Street and follow @wisporlando to see what she is painting around Orlando next! They just finished a motivational wall inside Oakshire Elementary School and more projects are coming.
If you have a mural project you’d like to hire them for email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out via their Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Almost all the photos in this article were provided by WISP Orlando. Support your local ladies!