Mural artist brings colorful charm to Exeter dog park

Kelsey Gilles creates mural for Exeter Bark Park as a donation, while painting large-scale murals all over the valley

EXETER – While dogs might see the Exeter Bark Park as a place to roam free with other furry friends, their owners can see it as a place with beautiful colors. Especially now that local muralist Kelsey Gilles has donated Exeter’s newest mural. 

Gilles was inspired to add a little beauty to the bark park after she adopted a stray dog and became a regular patron of the park. While the organization Friends of Residential Exeter Dogs (FRED) has aspired to have the nicest dog park in the Valley by adding amenities including a shade structure and solar lights, Gille’s mural adds the final touch of charm.

The mural is on the back of a bulletin board donated by the Boy Scouts. It originally had an American flag on the back, but the flag was retired. That’s when Gilles came in to paint the mural. As part of her vision to add beauty to the city, Gilles has worked on posters and painted paw prints for the dog park before deciding to donate a work of her own.

“It’s a beautiful mural,”  Mike Germaine, director of FRED said. “We really appreciate what she’s done.”

Gilles got involved with FRED, the organization that cares for the dog park, two years ago when a stray dog came into her life and joined her family. While taking her dog to the park, she met Germaine and began attending FRED meetings with the intent of helping to improve the dog park.

“I just wanted to do something nice, so I donated the mural to the park,” Gilles said. “I came up with a design that tried to feature different kinds of dogs and brighten it up more with some flowers.”

The mural is painted on a piece of wood cut to the size of a bulletin board. Gilles started by sanding it smooth and coating it in a primer. She designs her murals on her computer first and for the dog mural, projected it onto the wood to get an outline before she began painting. Once the painting was complete, she coated it with a UV protectant and anti-graffiti coating.

“I was going to use two dogs that I know, mine and my coworker’s, but it’s very hard to get the right picture of a dog because they move,” Gilles said. She ended up using pictures from the internet to model the five dogs in the mural.

After completing the mural for the dog park, Gilles left FRED to focus on her other work. Gilles owns the company CK Mural Team with her partner Colleen Mitchell-Veyna. They design murals all over Tulare County for a number of projects including the Welcome to Tulare mural and several school murals.

Gilles met Mitchell-Veyna in 2014 when she was home, visiting from college after changing her major from mechanical engineering to art. Gilles and her dad were walking around Exeter when they saw Mitchell-Veyna working on the Emperor Grapes Mural.

“My dad walked up to her and said, ‘Hey my kid will work for you for free,’” Gilles said. “And now we’re partners.”

Mitchell-Veyna recalled thinking that she didn’t want an apprentice, but ended up calling Gilles when she realized how heavy her workload was at the time. Mitchell-Veyna believes their partnership works so well because Gilles has talent and most importantly, a strong work ethic. Together, they are the most prolific muralists in Exeter and work all over Tulare County.

“I’m fairly traditional,” Mitchell-Veyna said. “She adds the splash of youth that I don’t have anymore. It’s nice to have someone younger with a different perspective.”

Gilles and Mitchell-Veyna work together under their brand CK Mural Team, but both have their own businesses as well. Mitchell-Veyna owns Veyna Design Studios, Inc. and Gilles owns Puttin’ on the Paint. Together they paint large-scale murals and signage. Through Puttin’ on the Paint, Gilles specializes in custom artwork both large and small. 

“I really just would like my art to beautify the spaces where they are,” Gilles said. “We do a lot of work for schools and when I design something for schools I really want it to pop out for the kids so it’s something that they can remember.”

Giles and Mitchell-Veyna are currently working on murals for schools in Tulare and Lindsay.

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