This past June, Samford art student Emily Kent was given the opportunity to paint a three-part mural series for Steel City Pops.
After school transitioned to online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kent secured a lease for an apartment in Birmingham. One of her professors, Larry Thomspson, knew she was staying in town and reached out to her with the opportunity to collaborate with Steel City Pops.
“I was just so excited,” Kent shared. “I wanted a job and I knew that it was kind of difficult with what was going on; to still be safe and to be creative is really exciting.”
After exchanging concept art and ideas, Kent and Steel City Pops settled on three mural locations in total: one in their main restaurant, one as you enter into their corporate office and one behind the receptionist’s desk. As for the subject matter, Kent was given more creative freedom.
“They basically just told me, we want it to be contagiously fun. That’s all,” Kent said.
Kent researched the company’s brand and picked what colors to use in the murals based on Steel City Pops’ Instagram account. The first mural featured a popsicle cart on a sunny day, while the second showcased their collection of flavors. When it came to the largest of the murals in the restaurant, Kent wanted to engage the community in the decision-making process.
“I was able to talk to the social media rep and I said ‘Hey, let’s let the public decide. Let’s put out four of my designs, have the people vote on Instagram, and see what they say back,’” Kent said.
Kent said that the concept idea that won best reflected what Steel City Pops wanted when they asked for the mural to be “contagiously fun.”
“The one [that was voted on] is kind of a ‘70s, psychedelic-y vibe, where I have a big white popsicle, and it has Steel City Pops on the actual stick, and then coming from it are all these colors that are on their websites, and on each color are these different fruits,” Kent said. “And it’s just colorful and bright, and it’s what they said: contagiously fun.”
The painting process required Kent to paint over a pre-existing mural of the Birmingham skyline and she was originally concerned about the community’s reaction.
“Even though I’d been asked to do it, it made me really nervous because I wanted to be someone adding and bringing joy, not taking it away,” Kent explained. “Thankfully, once people saw the finished product they seemed to like it. Apparently, there are a lot of people taking pictures in front of it which was exactly what we wanted.”
Despite this project being outside of Kent’s usual style, she hopes to do more mural work in the future.
“It’s something I didn’t realize I was going to love so much. It’s exciting. It’s different. I never thought I would like working on such a big scale, but here we are.”
The Steel City Pops mural can be found at their restaurant location in Homewood, Alabama.