"We've Got This" - Zebra Centre's new mural inspires bravery and support

Imagine yourself as a child. Something really bad has just happened to you – something you were told had to be kept a secret. You have other secrets too - fun secrets like that time you had a cookie before dinner. Except this secret doesn’t feel like those ones, it makes you feel sad and uncomfortable. You’re afraid you did something wrong and you wonder if anyone will believe you. Your gut tells you this isn’t a secret to keep, so you tell it.

You’re told you have to visit a place where safe adults are going to ask you questions. You know that in this place you’re going to meet some police officers, social workers and some other people who are supposed to be really nice too. It’s named after zebras and you think they are pretty cool because of all their stripes.  

It’s a pretty tall building and there were a lot of cars and red lights to get there. You cross your fingers that the elevator stops on every single floor on the way up because all of a sudden, you don’t feel quite ready.  

The elevator stops of the seventh floor. You’re seven too. You take a big breath and step out. You look ahead and see a beautiful picture, just like the ones you see in the books at school, but maybe a thousand times bigger. It looks like a really warm and nice day in the picture. You see the pink flowers and the bright blue sky and the zebras and your favourite colours and think “maybe it’s going to be okay”.

"We've Got This" - Zebra Centre's new mural by artist Crystal Driedger

"We've Got This" - Zebra Centre's new mural by artist Crystal Driedger

The children and youth who come to the Zebra Centre have a big job – to tell us their stories so that justice and healing can begin. We have a big job too – to provide a welcoming and comforting space where kids can feel safe to just be kids. 

Creating a child-friendly space is just as important as any other step in the process – it helps a child feel relaxed, welcome and wanted. Everything is here just for them. From the carefully set tea party waiting on the table, to the trucks on the shelf ready to be driven, it’s all intentional. 

In late 2016, we recognized a need to extend that warmth to the other side of our front door. In partnership with our partners at Ladies on the Green, we developed a Call to Artists that would encourage local artists to submit their proposals for a new entrance mural.

We unanimously chose Crystal Driedger – a Sherwood Park based artist who specializes in whimsical illustrations and hand-carved designs. Her passion for Zebra Centre and immense talent was obvious – our empty wall would be her blank canvas. After several months of choosing colours, painting, consulting and measuring, our entrance is no longer void of colour and fun. It has come alive with a scene that inspires comfort, bravery and support.

Crystal tells us how the mural came to life.

What inspired the mural “We’ve Got This”?
Honestly, I was inspired by the Zebra Centre logo. I love the simplicity of it – an adult zebra with a young zebra, united. The people within the Zebra Centre are exceptionally caring and compassionate individuals and they look after our most valuable citizens – children. I designed the image so the children and families coming into the Centre would feel welcome, but also safe and full of hope too. I can only imagine how the initial trip to the Zebra Centre might be daunting, but if the children open the elevator doors and see an image that gives them the feeling of being strong and cared for, that’s going to help a lot.

All of the colours in the mural match the Zebra Child Protection Centre brand, the ones you’ll see in their brochures and on their website and I utilized them in a way that would keep the landscape behind the zebras light, bright and cheerful. Nothing threatening. The simple gesture of the zebra putting their tail around the young zebra and them reciprocating that move is where I got the title “We’ve Got This”.

What was it about the Zebra Child Protection Centre that made you want to get involved?
I have two sons and while we have never had to use the Zebra Centre supports, it’s vital the Centre exists. For the past few years I’ve been donating a large carving that I paint live and auction off during ZooFest (a joint charity event where proceeds are shared by the Valley Zoo Development Society and Zebra Child Protection Centre) so I’ve been involved with the Centre for a little while already. I jumped at the chance to submit a design for the entrance when I saw the call. A chance to make a maybe-not-so great experience for children a little better and paint a zebra? Absolutely!

What is your process for conceptualizing a painting for another organization?
I first research the organization. What do they do, what is their mission and their goals? What purpose will the piece serve? There’s always a message that needs to be conveyed, whether it’s illustrating a concept behind something more scientific or conveying an emotion that you want the viewer to feel. I look at the space the piece needs to be in – what colours will work here, are there already company colours at play that could be used to further the branding/message? What imagery has been used in the past (was it successful and why). Then sketches. So many sketches. In the Zebra Centre case, I provided three final concepts in my proposal, but before they got to see the ones I selected, there were dozens and dozens of drawings that got tossed. After the Zebra Centre notified me that they’d chosen one of my designs, we met and I asked them if they felt the drawing could use some changes. Working closely with an organization and taking their ideas into consideration is a vital part of the process. For commercial work, I never view the painting as “mine” – I want it to belong to the Centre. I want the people who work there to feel like they have had a part in making it theirs. One of the changes we talked about was “aging up” the drawing a little (the initial sketches were a little more geared towards a younger audience) so that the mural would appeal to a wider range of youth who came into the Centre. This was a valuable insight and something I hadn’t thought of. We carefully selected the little “critters” hiding in the painting to make sure they were culturally sensitive and appropriate for everyone. When working with a client who deals with sensitive subject matter, every detail is on the table. It’s all important.

What was your process for painting and completing the mural?
The Zebra Centre wanted to have a mural they could move with them in the event the Centre needs to relocate or expand. So, I researched and purchased light panels that would be easy to install and re-install if need-be. The panels were delivered to my studio and I prepped them to be painted. This requires sanding & a special primer. Using a projector, I projected the approved sketch onto the panels and traced out the lines. Then, using a brochure with the Centre’s colours as well as a coloured digital proof I had made as a guide, I started painting. Working from top to bottom (so paint drips wouldn’t ruin any work down below) I began on the tree leaves, sky and trunks. Once I could get off the step-stool I worked from right to left (I’m left-handed), always stepping back to make sure the shapes were coming together. Details came later. Then the mural endured several layers of protection so that in the event of a bump the paint should be protected.

Your mural will be the first thing children see when they step off the elevator. What does that mean to you?
It’s completely heart-warming, thrilling and exciting... I hope children stop to look at it and experience it. I hope it brings a smile. It’s a huge honour to have been selected and to know my art might impact the lives of children and families coming to the Zebra Centre. Not only that, I hope that the employees and volunteers coming into the Centre feel empowered, happy and ready to take on their day. Let’s not forget that they’re the ones who have to keep on a brave, cheerful, friendly face every single day. That’s difficult to do.

Where can others purchase your work?
My website is www.crystaldriedger.com. You can also find my work on Instagram/Twitter @crystaldriedger and Facebook @crystaldriedgerillustration.

I’m often at various markets in town and have shows in the Edmonton area too. It would be great if you saw the mural and if it impacted your life, even in a small way, you dropped me a line to let me know. Artist@crystaldriedger.com

Ladies on the Green
Our new entrance mural wouldn't be possible without the generous support of Ladies on the Green. A special and heartfelt thanks to the founding committee - Carri, Emma, Dawn, Christy and Hannah - and everyone who has supported Zebra Centre through the Ladies on the Green Golf Classic. Tickets for the Sparkle Party are still available!

StoriesLauren Andrews