By Bellah Nelson
Pen Macias is a mother and a muralist, with several pieces around Tucson and a growing collection of paper arts like stickers and prints. Originally from Alabama, Macias moved to Tucson at 19 years old and never expected it to become her forever home.
The culture, the people, the community, and the art atmosphere make Tucson “a diamond place to live,” Macias said, “I found my roots and started a family, and now I’m here forever.”
From a young age, Macias gravitated towards art and loved any creative outlet.
“I feel the most energized, alive, and myself when I am creating. No other endeavor has given me that fulfillment,” she said.
A few years ago, Macias painted a mural in her own backyard: a purple prickly pear cactus with yellow flowers. Since then, Macias has received requests for mural commissions all around Tucson. “I guess this is my thing now,” Macias said.
“Murals have one glimmer of magic that sets them apart from other forms of visual art: the large-scale size,” she explained. Because of this, Macias believes that murals can really create a “wow” factor.
Macias’ artwork varies from client to client, depending on their vision for the wall. Macias said she writes down adjectives that she hears to understand their dream. She creates a few sketch concepts, shows the client, and uses their feedback to finish the piece and apply color.
“I don’t touch the wall with paint until we have a fully developed design that I’m confident the client is excited about,” Macias said.
Macias has been able to fill her workload with mural commissions. Her inspiration changes depending on the project, but her favorites are always the ones where her creativity is exercised and she can follow whatever inspiration strikes.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Macias painted a mural honoring healthcare workers located at Broadway and Columbus depicting healthcare workers as heroes.
“It was a great experience getting to celebrate healthcare workers in a small way,” Macias said.
Macias participated in the art hotel, Hotel McCoy’s MuralFest, which gathered hotel guests and outside visitors to watch 5 artists do live paintings of colorful murals in the individual hotel rooms.
“Tucson is so art-centric and supportive of artists. That’s reason one million I love our town.”
When Macias landed the gig to live-paint for the event, she was in Ireland. Her mural is based on the Irish goddess of dreams, but this Tucson goddess gives dreams of desert landscapes and vivid lightning strikes.
Macias has also been involved in other types of art. She created cover art for the Ride Guide magazine for Sun Tran, Tucson’s public transit system. She has also designed t-shirts for local organizations such as Roadhouse Cinema and the University of Arizona’s Cooper Center.
As a mother of three, Macias has also run a school-wide paint night at her kid’s school every year.
“Basically, if there’s room for creativity, I’m here for it,” Macias said.