Pam Lostracco is a muralist and graphic designer in Toronto. She graduated from OCADU and worked at studios designing brands, books and illustrations. Pam branched out into a photo-based, mixed-media style of paintings that were exhibited at the McMichael, Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and Toronto Pearson International Airport, and purchased by the Four Seasons Hotel, Craft Ontario and The Textile Museum of Canada. Her love for painting evolved into murals which she has now designed for BIA’s across the city, Ryerson University and the Government of Canada.
Pam’s murals form connections with the local environment to create a sense of identity and belonging that feels familiar to the community. By integrating unique and diverse natural, cultural and historical influences, she transforms blank walls into inclusive and welcoming spaces. Pam designs each mural with unique visual aesthetics that invites and intrigues people to engage, explore and learn from the mural to create an uplifting and meaningful experience.
Pam is the originator of the Mountain Mural, which was featured on Apartment Therapy and Pinterest and has inspired others to recreate it around the world. Her murals can be found in and around Toronto, British Columbia and Marrakech, in residences, hotels, universities and businesses.
Interview with Pam Lostracco
Can you tell us how you got into mural making?
Yes! It was one very memorable day that emerged from a long time of exploration and experimentation. I started as a graphic designer and worked at a few design studios for about 9 years before freelancing and branching out as an artist. In 2005, I travelled, met other artists around the world and filled many sketchbooks—including a drawing of mountains on a bus in Thailand. All this inspiration turned into photography, mixed media artwork and a journey of art exhibitions and products with my artwork printed on them.
Although I loved making the work, I wasn’t enjoying the effort and costs to create, print and ship fairly small items. From this frustration of working too small, I literally woke up one day with a desire to work bigger. For several years, I had been selling Mountain Calendars on Etsy, designed from that sketch in Thailand. From a sketch to calendars, it evolved again into a mural on my bedroom wall. During the 3 days it took to paint, I experienced deja-vous, knowing this was exactly what I was meant to do. Suddenly my experience as a graphic designer and my strong desire to draw and paint, merged into a perfect art form. From that moment, I decided to start a mural business. (But I think the idea had likely sparked many years before that.)
What are you currently working on? What ideas are you currently playing around with?
I’m currently working on a very exciting project with STEPS Initiative and the City of Brampton. It’s a mural that will be printed and installed onto the garage doors of a fire station! I’m actually from Brampton so it’s really meaningful to make a design that integrates into a landscape I know so well.
When I find extra time, I love experimenting with my plant paints. I’ve been drawing botanical illustrations and then taking a few petals or leaves from that plant to make a pigment. Then I paint the flower with it’s actual petal juices. It’s fascinating to see how the colour changes – you never know what you’re going to get! These illustrations may turn into another project but for now they’re like a botanical diary that I enjoy making just for fun.
Do the projects that you work on vary in the winter versus the summer?
I paint both indoor and outdoor murals so am able to paint throughout the year. I’m trying to be more strategic with my schedule by designing murals and canvas paintings during the winter months so I can make more use of the summer weather for outdoor painting. I also still do graphic design work which is perfect in the winter, like logos, books and brochures.
Can you speak about the ways in which the pandemic has affected your art practice? What will you continue to incorporate that grew out of the pandemic imposed circumstances and what is one thing that you would like to avoid doing that took place during the pandemic?
At the beginning, a few projects and some exciting opportunities were cancelled. As the lockdowns continued, a couple of the projects re-opened, however it led to more complications. Supplies were going out of stock and costs were rising. Clients cancelled necessary site visits and extra time was needed for Covid regulations. Deadlines kept being extended which resulted in additional hours of Zoom meetings and emails which were not accounted for in the budget. I believe the uncertainty, fear and delays from the pandemic caused a lot of stress for everyone and in a few cases, it resulted in higher expectations for me to get jobs completed faster. I have learned that I cannot continue doing everything on my own and have just started hiring other people with different skill sets that can help me be more efficient with all aspects of business. And having accountability and good company helps reduce some of the loneliness from working alone.
Can you tell me about the project with Greenland Group and The Patch Project where your artwork was featured across a 375 foot hoarding wall? I’m curious about the creation process. Do you consider this project to lend itself more to graphic design or mural art, or do the two converge?
This mural I named Reflections. It’s located by the city’s downtown waterfront where Lakeside Residences will have a full view of Lake Ontario. Building on the idea of reflection, the background of sky and water are mirror reflections of each other. As well, different sets of windows from iconic buildings in the area appear as translucent layers, mimicking reflective views from the condo’s large windows. To integrate local biodiversity, I wanted to reveal what lies beneath the water. Native plants and fish appear throughout the mural, shown life size and labeled so you can learn about different species while walking by.
I think this is a great example of graphic design and mural art converging. The artwork was digitally designed and illustrated on the computer, yet it could also be painted. And as with all my murals, there’s a concept behind the design that makes it unique to the client’s goals and to the location. In this case, I knew the artwork would be printed onto aluminum panels. Anticipating this could make the surface look glossier than regular vinyl, the concept of reflection worked seamlessly.
Was the creation process similar to the Ryerson University Project, in what ways were they similar and in what ways did they differ?
My latest Ryerson project, Elevation, spanned across half a floor of a building and with Reflections, were my 2 largest projects so far. The floor was made up of 2 large open-concept rooms with a lobby, 2 meeting rooms, 12 columns and a hallway. Instead of outdoor hoarding on the side of a busy highway, I thought about this project in terms of interior design and integrating all the rooms together. The large work area is high up on the 7th floor for students and alumni working on their careers, so the design gravitated to the idea of height and striving towards future goals. The floor to ceiling view is a panoramic skyline of downtown Toronto, which I continued across the walls between the windows. Tall trees, vertical bars and birds flying high in the sky all enhance the feeling of Elevation. Half of the murals were hand painted and the others were printed on vinyl. This was the first project I hired a few painters to help complete all the murals which took about 6 weeks.
In the spring of 2021, you took on the role of project manager with the basketball court project. What can you tell me about the challenges you experienced during this new role on a mural project? What were the lessons learnt?
The Willowdale Basketball Court was very different from any other project I’ve worked on before. It was a year and half in the making which was extended by Covid and construction delays. I found out that the recommended paint I was going to use would become slippery when it rains! So that resulted in extensive research and talking to dozens of other artists and suppliers to find out what type of paint to use. Later, feedback from the community consultation changed the design to concentrate in the centre circle instead of the entire court. Eventually it became easier for me to decide to hire court specialists to resurface the entire court and then I painted my design on top.
There were so many twists and turns, it was a very expensive project, there were many people involved and it was a huge learning curve (including how long concrete needs to cure!). Next time, I’d hire a project manager and quote at least 2 or 3 times more. In the end we had a fun launch party, the kids played ball and the client is very happy to have a new, high quality court. And a drone photographer took the coolest aerial shots of me and my team!
In the summer of 2021, you had another unique mural project where you collaborated with Mural Routes Member, Cristina Delago mosaic artist on the Gratitude Garden Mural Project. Can you share what the experience collaborating with a mosaic artist on the mural project was like for our readers?
This mural is so unique in many ways! Cristina makes stunning mosaics using recycled materials that range from glass to mirror to porcelain. Her skills brought a new dimension to the mural that I wouldn’t have achieved through paint alone. Mosaic silhouettes sip from actual halves of china cups. Windows previously bricked-in reemerged with a mirrored background, where you can see yourself reflected in the mural.
I designed the mural to include native plants found within Uptown Yonge and Southern Ontario. A black background connects to Second Cup’s entrance and provides a striking contrast for a bright pattern of red trumpet flowers, blue asters, yellow woodland sunflowers and green ferns. Cristina and I both worked separately on our own parts and also together to draw the windows, select paint colours and mosaic pieces, and create a flow that showcases both of our artforms across the whole wall.
Please talk about your Art Deco mural. What is the tool that you used for those precision lines?
The Art Deco mural was designed based on the client’s passion for that particular style. I drew inspiration from an elegant chandelier in her stairwell. I composed the lines to look like rays radiating from the tub that shine in 2 different metallic colours. The design spans across 3 walls, integrating with a cupboard and highlighting the “throne” with a bit of humour.
I discovered refillable paint markers which I thought would be easier than a brush to achieve the straight lines. The client preferred a more painterly approach so I avoided the taping option because it would achieve a very precise decal type of edge. However, the metallic paint had to be diluted in order to flow correctly and this made it even more translucent, which would require several coats. In the end, I went back to my trusty brushes and steady hand. I actually relish hand painting straight lines!
What are some common obstacles or challenges that you encounter working in this field? What advice would you give to emerging artists interested in mural art?
Murals are an art form that can express artistic styles and statements. I think it’s important to stay true to who you are, what you stand for and to create from within. I’m finding it more and more challenging to avoid being consumed with what I see on social media. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, left out, or not enough by scrolling through a never ending supply of online inspiration.
Being an artist is about invention and creation. Be different, think outside the box. Get back to scribbling ideas with pencil and paper, keep experimenting, try new materials and tools, apply different techniques, admire work of the old Masters, learn colour theory. Be unique. Love your imagination and the journey of forever learning and growing. An artist’s job is never done but that’s the exciting part–creativity is infinite!
What is the value of having a Mural Routes membership for you?
Mural Routes was the first way I was able to start meeting other mural artists. The events and workshops were extremely helpful in making connections and learning more skills. I mostly work independently and being part of this community has made me realize how important and inspiring it is to connect with other like-minded and talented artists. I’ve gained friendships that have also led to collaborations and help for some of my larger projects.
Check out more of Pam’s work:
Mural Routes member page