Design Case Study: Maddy Ritchie Collaborates On Gemma O’Brien’s Tiffany&Co Shanghai Mural

Can you imagine working on a huge mural project that millions of people will see every year? Sometimes, a dream opportunity comes along that lets us travel to cool locations and be immersed in bringing a project to life. This was the case for Shillington Sydney teacher Maddy Ritchie when lettering legend Gemma O’Brien invited her to travel to China with a team of creatives to work on a huge mural project inside Tiffany & Co in Shanghai.

Maddy Ritchie is a true all-rounder, a multidisciplinary designer who works across graphic design, photography, illustration and murals. Her dynamic career has taken her all over the world, before she joined the Shillington team as a full-time teacher. We caught up with Maddy after her return from Shanghai to hear all about her experiences working as part of Gemma O’Brien’s team in Shanghai. Read on to discover more about the intensive installation process, advice for budding muralists and for Maddy’s insights into the flavours and unexpected joys of beautiful Shanghai.

Two people painting a mural in a stairwell

You recently travelled to China to work on and photograph Gemma O’Brien‘s mural project at Tiffany & Co in Shanghai. How did you get involved in the project?

I’ve assisted Gemma on a few projects over the last couple of years after meeting her at Ladies Wine Design—an initiative started by Jessica Walsh. I’ve painted a few murals with her, photographed the process and have also helped her with design work as well. When Gemma emailed me asking about being involved in this project it was definitely a pinch-myself moment.

Woman painting mural from a scaffold

Who was on the team for the Tiffany & Co mural? Tell us about the people you were working with.

The team were so awesome, it was so great to meet such talented individuals from all over the world. Michelle Kesselman is a decorative painter living in NYC. She creates amazing painted effects like marbling and fake wood. You should check out her stuff on instagram—it’s incredible! Haley Badenhop joined us from Wyoming where she is a full time muralist and is starting to do projects all over the world. She stayed on after we left Shanghai and did two more murals by herself, so impressive. Will Lynes is a Sydney based sign-writer who joined us for the first week of the project and I am in awe of his work.

A large scale mural, featuring the word love, in a stairwell.

The finished mural is so intricate. Can you walk us through the process of creating the Tiffany’s mural?

Gemma creates the most beautiful and intricate designs, the amount of detail always amazes me.

The first step of any mural project is the transfer stage—so getting the initial outline of the design onto the wall. Sometimes this is done by projecting, I’ve often had to just freehand the murals I’ve done. For this project we ‘pounced’ the design, which is a sign-writing technique.

Once the outline was in place, Gemma delegated us to different areas of the design. Then we have reference images of the design and we paint by looking at those and staying within the outlines. There were seven walls in total so a lot to paint but the scaffolding made for some very hard-to-reach places, sometimes we were flat on our stomachs trying to reach spots. When you actually look at this design in detail you’ll notice that there’s a lot of line work so we all had to keep our hands very steady.

A person hand painting a a detail of a mural.

Tattooed guy using a mahl stick to paint a detailed mural.

Did you come across any unexpected challenges in preparing to work on this project?

Everything ran really smoothly but that comes down to Gemma’s planning and management of the project. There were a few little things with visas (Haley’s only arrived a few hours before she was meant to fly out) and paint not arriving but it all worked out fine. We were also really lucky to have an assistant in Shanghai, Jeriel, who helped us out with a lot during that time.

What was your experience working at the street art festival while in Shanghai? How were you able to find this opportunity?

So Jeriel turned out to be the most well-connected guy in Shanghai. He mentioned to us one day that he had a friend who was organising the Moganshan Road Street Art Festival and asked if we would like to paint one of the walls there. It turned out to be this huge event, with 99 artists from all over the world participating. Gemma designed the piece and Michelle, Haley and myself went to paint it. Was such a cool experience and so happy we could be involved in something like that.

Three women crouching in front of a mural of the word mystery.

Were there any other highlights from your time in Shanghai that you’d like to tell us about?

Honestly working with that team was such a massive highlight. It’s really amazing to have shared that time with such a talented bunch of people.

It was also my first time to China and I loved getting to explore Shanghai and some of the surrounding towns. Also, the food. We had some really great dining experiences but top of the list was when they offered us a tasting of the menu for the new Tiffany’s Blue Box Cafe. We were some of the first people to try it and it was insanely good.

Aside from teaching full-time at Shillington, what creative projects are you involved in at the moment?

I still maintain my freelancing business alongside my role at Shillington so I’m always working on a mix of graphic design, illustration, photography and mural projects. I always share my current projects on my instagram @maddy_ritchie.

The team at Shillington are so supportive of their teachers still being involved within the industry and I really love that. They were so encouraging when I found out about this project and I’m so thankful to them.

Woman painting the word true on a wall.

And to finish off, do you have any advice for people who are interested in working towards creating murals professionally?

I honestly learnt so much from assisting Gemma so don’t be afraid to reach out to someone working in murals already and ask if you could assist on a project. Also, learning by doing. I’m so lucky that the first person that asked me to do a mural just trusted me to paint on their wall and I learnt a lot just from doing that. For example I bought 5 litres of paint when 500ml would’ve been plenty. So spread the word— start letting people know that it’s something you’re available for even if you haven’t tried it before. If you make a mistake you can always paint over it!

Big thanks to Maddy for sharing her insights about working on Gemma O’Brien’s Tiffany & Co mural project. Head over to Maddy’s website to see more of her amazing work and follow her on instagram! You can also head to Gemma’s website to see more of her lettering and mural work and follow her on instagram

Meet the rest of our amazing Shillington teachers and team from around the world.

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