Athens muralist Jess Ulrich brightens up the local Habitat ReStore

ReStore West mural
The new mural by Jess Ulrich features butterflies on a field of green and the words VOLUNTEER, REUSE, BUILD, and RESTORE.

Local outdoor artist hopes to see more public art around Athens — “There are a lot of blank walls that need some color to them.”

“I think it’s inspiring for people to see butterflies in the most random place possible,” says Athens, GA, artist Jessica Ulrich. “It brightens people’s day.”

Jess Ulrich painting the ReStore mural
Ulrich painting butterfly wings on the massive mural at Atlanta Hwy and Commerce Blvd in Athens, GA

An extensive new mural by Ulrich is now brightening the days of staff and shoppers at Athens’ west side Habitat ReStore, and for travelers along Commerce Boulevard and Atlanta Highway.  On a field of Habitat Green — yes, that’s an official color — dozens of stylized butterflies with six-foot tall wings flutter around the words VOLUNTEER, REUSE, BUILD, and RESTORE, expressing the essence of Habitat’s mission to provide affordable housing for all.

An Athens native, Ulrich got her start as a muralist almost accidentally, during her family’s 7-year stay in Montana. “My church youth group were remodeling their youth room and asked if I could do something with the walls. So I said sure, and I painted a mural with the words LOVE, SERVE, and IMPACT. That was my first one and I just fell in love with painting.”

“Grow” mural by Jess Ulrich, featuring butterflies on a rainbow background

Ullrich’s work can be seen around Athens and in surrounding communities such as Crawford and Winder, often featuring bright colors, animal motifs, and single words painted in the style of graffiti “tags”.  Having returned to Athens last year, Ulrich brought with her the passion for public art that she picked up in Montana. “In Billings, since it’s out West, they had horse statues around town and there were contests for the best painted horses,” she recalls. “The downtown power boxes were painted. There was a lot of appreciation for public art.”

Disney character mural
Disney themed mural by Ulrich in Crawford, GA

That’s something Ulrich would like to see more of in her hometown. “I see Athens as at a ‘level 1’ for public art right now,” says Ulrich. “There are a lot of blank walls that need some color to them. But I also think interest is growing.” Ulrich’s goal is to one day open an art supply shop and gallery centered around the spraypaint medium. “Any art can be done with spraypaint,” she notes. “But it takes a lot of practice, so you also need space for that, because you definitely want to do it legally. You need a space ‘off the path’ that’s not in public view so young artists can develop their talents before getting out there and doing something that’s going to be seen.”

3-D bulldog mural
“Junkyard Dawg” mural with 3-D effect by Jess Ulrich

For young artists wanting to produce murals, Ulrich advises direct outreach. “First, do some small pieces and take pictures. Build a portfolio. Then just reach out, any place you see that could use some color. Bring your portfolio and make an offer. Not everybody’s going to want art on their walls, but if you’re good at what you do, someone will say yes.”

Rivaling in size David Hale’s recent “Bird Song” mural in the parking lot of Epiphany and The Rook & Pawn downtown, the “Restore” mural is a major addition to public outdoor art in Athens. “Bringing a wall to life is what it’s all about,” says Ulrich. “I can’t stand a blank canvas.”

Artist standing in front of the mural with Habitat rep
Muralist Jessica Ulrich with Athens Habitat ReStore operations director Paul Farr at the mural