"Butterfly Girl" was painted in Carlisle, UK in March 2018. What many dont know is the story of how it was supposed to have been painted in December 2017. It is now July 2021 and the building it was painted on will be torn down any day now, so it seemed like a good time to revisit its creation.
It is easy to overlook all the work that goes into getting a new piece up, especially one where travel is involved. "Its a stencil, how long could it take, 5 minutes...?"
Some times everything goes as planned, often there is a small unexpected issue or two, but some times the stars align in just the right way to make sure everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. This was the case with attempt #1 for "Butterfly Girl".
Everything began when Ben Heslop from Landmark Street Art reached out to me in November 2017. He wrote that he was expanding his gallery and was interested in working together. To be honest I was currently distracted by other things, but I mentioned that if he had any walls to paint, then that would get my attention.
I didnt think much of it, but to my surprise he came back soon after saying he was able to secure a nice wall to paint.
This would be the city's first introduction to street art, so we both agreed it might be best to paint something that most people could enjoy. Maybe avoid painting a giant controversial penis holding a machine gun in one hand and an anti government sign in the other. Save that idea for next time...
Long story short, I sent a suggestion of the butterfly girl, we decided to go for it and I quickly booked a flight to Carlisle for the 11-13th of December.
Everything was prepared, the stencils cut, paint ordered, the day for travel came and spirits were high. This is about the time everything started to go downhill.
The trip was Vienna to London and then a transfer flight to Newcastle. When I got to the airport I checked in my suitcase, containing all the stencils, and marched towards my gate. This is when I learned that my original flight was overbooked. Not to worry they said, I could take a flight through Paris instead, arrival would be the same time and you will get a 50€ voucher for your trouble. I thought to myself "fine, whatever" and boarded my new flight. In Paris I had enough time to eat a pretty decent croissant and got in line to board the next flight.. and waited.. and waited. It ended up being delayed by about 2 hours, which can happen, but since they didnt tell anyone, we were all standing in a line waiting as the boarding in 5 minutes sign kept updating to say 5 minutes again. Whatever, on with the journey.
We board, the plane pulls back and makes its way towards the runway. In the distance there are several fire trucks flashing their lights and sounding their sirens. Theres just enough time to wonder what theyre up to, as they start coming closer and closer. Eventually it turns out they are speeding towards, and now following, our plane. This cant be good? Plane stops and soon after a firefighter appears onboard and talks to the pilots. Nothing happens for ages and things stay this way without any information on what is going on.
After 2 hours its announced that we are now taking off. Was there a problem, was there smoke coming from the plane, is the plane still on fire..? No time to ask, we're already speeding down the runway and becoming airborne.
We land, very late, but at least the ca 10 hour journey has come to an end. I wait at the baggage claim to collect my suitcase, the one containing all the stencils. And wait, and wait.. The airport, rather small, is already half closed, we're the last flight in and Im the last one standing at the empty carousel, no suitcase in sight.
Im pointed in the direction of a service desk, but because its so late the employees have gone home. Eventually I find someone and get some answers. It turns out that my suitcase was "lucky" enough to catch the original flight to London, you know, the one that was overbooked and I wasnt allowed on. Because I wasnt on the 2nd flight from London to Newcastle, the crew in London thought I was a no show and the suitcase wasnt allowed to continue on its journey.
"So where is it now?"
"We dont know, must be somewhere in London"
Im told they will try to track it down, send it on another flight the next day and deliver it by taxi (It might also be worth mentioning that Carlisle is a 2 hour drive from the airport). Im handed a claim # and sent off into the night. No stencils, no extra shirts and no extra underwear. Well Ill manage, Im here for 2 nights and guess I know how to wash a shirt in a sink.
Ben Heslop is there to pick me up and we head off. We were originally going to paint the day of arrival, but we'll get the stencils tomorrow and have it painted in no time!
The next day comes and theres no sign of any suitcase. We call the airport hourly but theres no update, theyre still not sure where it is. Fan-tastic. I have a good time, good food and good chat with Ben the whole time, but both of our focus is on that suitcase.
Evening comes and with it a miracle. We're told that my luggage will soon be on a flight heading towards Newcastle! Ben and I begin to discuss and come to the conclusion that instead of waiting for them to process the bag and send it in a taxi, we would go for the 2 hour drive to the airport, pick it up ourselves and then take the 2 hour drive back again.
Spirits are high, as is our speed, as we race towards the airport. Once there we are greeted by a wonderful sight. My suitcase! Rainbow belt for easy detection and all!
Spirits are now even higher, its getting dark and we start speeding away, back towards Carlisle. In this moment, the weather starts to shift and rain begins pouring down...
Rain is pretty much the arch enemy when painting outdoors, especially when using large paper stencils. During the drive we have about 2 hours to let our luck sink in. Partially talking about what our options are and partially just sitting in stunned silence.
I think this is also about the time it started to become funny. If things go a little wrong its annoying, if things go really, really wrong at every possible turn, its funny. You almost look forward to seeing what could happen next.
At about 7PM we're back in rainy Carlisle. We're looking at the weather forecast, checking for any dry windows of opportunity that evening. Its looking pretty bad, but at around 10PM its only like 30% chance of rain for an hour or two. Ah ha! A slight chance of success, we'll take it! We head to a pub for a pint and wait it out for a couple of hours, constantly glancing out the window.
At around 10PM, the rain retreats to a slight drizzle. Its now or never. We hop into his truck, ladder strapped on top, supplies in the trunk, and head to the wall. This is our moment to shine!
Yeah right... We thought we were clever bringing a towel in order to dry any spots that might still be a little wet. Except it turns out that water was just pouring down the wall, even though it had momentarily stopped raining. If theres one image that is burned into my mind from this trip, its trying to wipe down a giant soaking wet wall, with a soaking wet towel, in the soaking wet, dark, cold December weather. This was it. This was the moment I realized there was no chance.
We had tried everything and it just wasnt going to happen. Call it fate or bad luck, but theres no way this wall was getting painted any time soon. Of course it had also started raining again, rain that wouldnt stop until after my flight the next day. We were done for now and called it a day.
The next day, before my return flight, we did the only thing possible and started planning the 2nd attempt for early spring. After another 2 hour drive to the airport (in total Ben will have taken this trip 6 times in 3 days), we said our good byes and off I went on my flight. It goes without saying that this flight was delayed for several hours, something about bad weather..
The funny thing is, as we were finally about to land and Im checking my watch to see if theres any chance of catching my connecting flight (Newcastle - Amsterdam - Vienna), the person next to me asks a question. Its his first time flying and wants to know if he will make his connecting flight. I ask when his next flight leaves and he says in about 5 minutes. While we are still in the air landing I tell him that his chances dont look good, but mine wont be working out either so he can follow me and we'll both work out our new flights.
Hes on his way to meet his girlfriend in Norway and its turning out to be a rough first time flying, especially alone. On the ground we find out that there are no more flights that evening and that at a certain booth we will get a voucher for a hotel and dinner. I bring him to the booth, he gets his voucher and then its my turn.
"Sorry sir, system tells us you could have made your connecting flight. We cant offer you a hotel room". Wonderful! Something about having landed 15 minutes before the next flight and that it should have been possible to make it, even though we didnt dock until 5 minutes after the connecting flight left.
Well I wasnt going to leave my new stranded friend, so our plan was that I would spend the night in his room on the floor. We take the shuttle to the hotel and this is where the first bit of good luck finally revealed itself. When the hotel heard of what happened they upgraded the room to a double bed and also extended the dinner voucher to serve both of us. Jackpot! Again I was left without a suitcase for the night, but by now I was an expert in washing underwear in the sink.
(An evening with my new friend outside of Amsterdam)
The next day we had similar boarding times. I brought him to his gate, we said our good byes and soon after took my flight back home as well.
And that is the story of how I spent 4 long days without having anything to show for it. To add insult to injury, I never got my 50€ that was promised for the overbooking of the first flight. I also didnt get a refund on the almost 4 hour delayed trip to Carlisle, because only delays over 4 hours get a refund. Of course there was also nothing after they lost my luggage, but who's keeping count.
I did, however, learn a valuable lesson. There will always be unexpected hurdles and all you can do is power through and find a way to overcome them. Of course some times things are just out of your control and all you can do then is sit back and enjoy the ride. I also now always keep my stencils as carry on for flights and always keep an extra pair of underwear and shirt in my backpack.
Even so, theres always good that can come from the bad. It was great meeting Ben and during the first visit I was able to look at other new walls. I did come back in March and finished the Butterfly Girl. In total I visited Carlisle 3 times within 12 months and there are now 5 larger TABBY pieces to be seen. We have also traveled to the US two times to paint and done two art fairs in London. The Butterfly Girl had the positive reception we hoped for and the city became very open and welcoming to invite more street art. Ben ended up getting several more artists to paint the city and at the moment they are up to 16 pieces.
So thats a day in the life, or 4 in this case, of what goes on in the background. Some days are easy and some are hard, but they are all pretty good in the end. If you can enjoy the bad days then youve already won and I always look forward to the next project.