M.F.A. graduate Lulu Lin looks to the future after designing two student-painted murals in San Francisco
By Kyle Roe
Before Xiaolu “Lulu” Lin graduated this past year from Academy of Art University with an M.F.A in illustration, she made sure to leave a mark, or two, on the city she most recently called home. If you’ve walked through the Tenderloin or Lower Pacific Heights in the past year, you might have noticed some of her artwork adorning the walls of the gritty, vibrant neighborhood.
Her mural design work in San Francisco has been commissioned through Fine Art 350: Mural Painting, a mixed graduate/undergraduate offering taught by School of Fine Art (FA) instructor Carol Nunnelly. The course is run more like a company than a traditional class, and students get the opportunity to submit their original designs to a professional client.
According to Lin, “The mural painting class is always on my list, but because it is an undergraduate class, I could only take it when I passed my midpoint. I was waiting to take this class for two years.” Lin enrolled in the class twice, and both times her illustrations were chosen.
The two murals are proudly displayed on the exteriors of the COVA Hotel and Samesun Hostel, respectively. The COVA mural, which was unveiled this past July, features a young, brightly hued tourist foregrounded against notable San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Ferry Building.
“I visited the hotel before I started to design,” Lin said. “I combined the color that the hotel used for their interior design, and the theme that the hotel used. I wanted to bring good vibes to the neighborhood.”
She describes her illustrations as “whimsical and colorful” and mostly created “in a digital way.” Her time at the Academy was instrumental in developing the techniques and savvy she needed to succeed as an artist.
“The Academy of Art pointed me in the right direction,” Lin recalled. “Before I went to the school, I had no idea how this field works, [or] what I could do for my job after I graduate, but I was able to talk to a few instructors and they are very helpful. They are very willing to share their experience with us, and gave me some suggestions for my career.”
Nunnelly played an especially beneficial role in her graduate education. “She is a very good instructor. She taught me a lot about professional skills,” Lin reflected. “She also taught me how to talk to the client, which is very helpful for my future. She is very friendly and patient, like a good friend to me.”
When asked about Lin, Nunnelly recalled being struck by her professional and thoughtful approach to academic projects. “She’s already a success story, but she started her success in school,” Nunnelly said. “I just had her in those two classes, but I just found her to be remarkable, and I really enjoyed working with her and, to me, it was almost like a real business. I would hire her in a minute.”
Lin’s other public mural project is visible on the exterior of the Samesun Hostel. The lodging is owned by Simon Sin, who was so impressed with her vibrant, art deco flair that he later commissioned Lin for the exterior of the COVA Hotel.
The inspiration for the Samesun mural was drawn from a delightfully random, historic source: a postcard printed in 1910. The postcard was found in a San Francisco public library that used to be an opera house, and read “Rico plays every night.” According to Nunnelly, “Across from the opera house, there was a supper club. A Hungarian guy named Rico, who was a violinist, played at the supper club, and this was a picture [of that]. There was an actual photo of him playing in 1910, so we used that as the basis for the inspiration for the design.”
The site for San Francisco’s Samesun Hostel is the former location of that supper club. Similar to COVA, Lin’s Samesun mural depicts structures emblematic of San Francisco, like Coit Tower, Dragon Gate, and Saints Peter and Paul Church.
After spending the summer in China (she grew up in Fuzhou, Fujian Province), she’s planning on moving to Alameda with her fiancée. They met while she “was drawing at Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry Building. I was taking silkscreen, and when he was in college he also had silkscreen working experience, so we had something in common. We started dating after that.”
She’s planning on working as a freelance illustrator and has already found an agent to represent her. Though in Lin’s case, the work really speaks for itself.