Muralist Olive Moya Captivates through Abstract Storytelling

Photo by Kirstin Anne

Olive Moya says she’s always wanted to work large. Fast forward to today, and the canvas for her bold, colorful artwork is often very large … like 150-foot-cinder-block-wall large! Olive loves that her murals transform spaces into places that are even more meaningful than they were before. She says accidents + failure play a big part in spawning new ideas, and she encourages artists to invest in their own success by first investing in their art communities.

Olive captivates with her art, which she describes as “abstract storytelling.” Get to know her today in our Q&A! 

How would you describe your art style?

My work is colorful and abstract; I often steal Frank Stella’s phrase and refer to it as “abstract storytelling.” I often incorporate photographs and more recently have been dipping into sculpture. 

Where do you draw inspiration from? 

I’m heavily influenced by my past experiences. I feel that my color choices really reflect my childhood and early adulthood. I was a fine art photography major before switching to illustration, both of which I wouldn’t use to categorize myself now, but aspects of each show up in what I make. I’ve always had an interest in language and typography, so that’s another consistent influence. Those core pieces of myself shape-shift and snowball as my work progresses. If I’m painting murals, a lot of the inspiration for the piece comes from the context of the space. I always get a lot of excitement from learning about the people who want to commission a work or the history of the place. I do a lot of thinking about the emotional meaning we as humans place on a specific piece of the earth or building. Spaces are very meaningful to us, and we feel a lot of ownership over places that hold memories. 

How do you get your creative juices flowing?

It’s not glamorous, but as a full-time artist I’ve learned I just have to start. Even if I’m not feeling it, I push myself to make something. But if I’m really in a slump, I’ll take a day to visit museums and eat good food and spend time with people I haven’t seen in a while. When we’re not in a pandemic, traveling really gets me out of my head and routine and opens me up to new ideas. But if I have to get work done and don’t have the means to do all that, coffee is always a quick fix. 

Tell us about your creation process!

For murals, it starts by spending hours and hours on my iPad, testing different colors and compositions. I mock it up on the wall to see how it plays in the space. If I’m incorporating photos, I spend time researching the area and trying to find interesting images. Once a design is agreed upon, I’ll go pick out all my paint colors, print the image on a large scale, mix paste etc. I generally don’t transfer a design exactly unless it’s lettering. I sketch the shapes on the wall with chalk or pencil and number them (corresponding to the numbers I give each color on the sketch) and get to painting! 

My studio process is pretty different; I do things more instinctually without a plan. I have ideas and just start them. I think it’s good to have both, since accidents and failure play a big part in spawning new ideas. 

What artwork are you most proud of?

I did a piece for the Colorcon festival here in Denver. It was in a very dirty, smelly alleyway, and it wasn’t anything special per se, but I really like the way it turned out. Something about the variety of textures on the wall—there were old dusty windows, roll-up garage doors, wood doors, cement, metal bars over drains, etc. That coinciding with the colors and shapes in my design just hits me right for some reason. 

What was your most challenging piece?

I painted a very detailed piece on a 150-foot cinder block wall for The Denver Post Warehouse. It was a huge undertaking to get it perfect and crisp, and I definitely underestimated how much work it would be. 

Where is the coolest place your art has ended up?

Just last November, I finished two murals and six paintings for the new Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas. That was pretty cool. 

How did you learn how to mural? 

In college, I always wanted to work large. I had a heavy hand, and I worked quickly and instinctively. At the time, murals we not as trendy or in demand, so the people painting them weren’t really branding things but just making their work in an unconventional space. I loved that, and I loved that anyone could experience it even if they weren’t the type to normally walk into an art space. For my thesis, I decided to paint 15’x8’ murals on canvas and bring them around LA and put them up in random spots. I’d take photos of them and engage with whoever was walking by to see what they thought about it. I just approached those like I would approach any painting, but bigger. When I moved to Denver and finally got the chance to paint murals, I just learned everything as I went. I did all my sketches by hand and scanned them in for a while until I finally got an iPad to make everything easier. I made mistakes about what sheen of paint to use, what brand, how to transfer lettering, how to price, how to approach the business side of things, and how to say stand up for myself and ask for advice from other artists when I need it.

What’s the most challenging part of getting a mural right? 

The challenge in painting murals is usually physical. I enjoy doing physical work, but painting many murals back-to-back in the hot sun of summer can be exhausting. Creating the work and making it look how I want isn’t usually the difficult part. 

What are your favorite tools of the trade?

I mentioned my iPad earlier—I never thought I would like using it so much, but it’s been a lifesaver. I also love my Little Giant articulating ladder and the Princeton Redline flat brush for line work. 

Favorite song(s) for boosting creativity?

This is an incredibly hard question, because I’m all over the place on music. I listen to a lot of hip-hop, R&B, and soul music, but I’m also bound to play nonstop Beatles one day, Radiohead the next, or revert to my angsty high school emo or metal music if it hits me right that day. So I’ll answer that question for RIGHT NOW in this moment. I’ve been re-hooked on Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet album. That intro on Crawl gets me every time. (P.S. if you haven’t listened to the Dissect podcast you absolutely need to. They have a season for that album, and it’s incredible.) 

Tell us about the Middlebrow Podcast!

Middlebrow is a collaboration between me and my best friend Lindsey Schulz. We went to art school together and have always attempted to create things together, but our work is completely opposite. We both spend an embarrassing amount of time listening to podcasts, but could never find an art podcast that held our interest long-term. Most art podcasts can get extremely heady and serious. We thought we should create the art podcast that we wanted to listen to; we wanted it to feel like talking art with a friend. No pretension, lots of laughing and veering off topic, but also researched and informative and inspiring. Each episode, one of us chooses an artist to research and present to the other. We also really wanted it to be something that anyone could listen to and enjoy. The art world can feel very elitist and exclusive, and we hope the pod is the opposite of that. The name is a play on the divisive high-brow/low-brow hierarchy markers for art. We are both/neither—Middlebrow. 

What advice do you have for artists that want to see their artwork around their city?

Paint a mural in your house first. Or on a family member’s wall or somewhere you can make mistakes and there’s no pressure. It’s good to have an example that you can actually do the thing before trying to convince someone to let you do it for money. Work on developing your concepts and style. Put it out into the world. Ask people about walls, make it known you want to paint a mural. You can even photoshop your work onto images of walls for an example, just be clear that it’s a mockup and not an actual mural. Show up to mural festivals, talk to artists. Offer to help them paint a mural. Go to art openings. I hate when people say that “it’s who you know”, but in some ways, it is. If you make relationships in your art community and become involved in a real way instead of a self-serving way, it will give back to you.  

Follow along with Olive on Instagram at @olivemoya.

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