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Artist’s love for Leucadia on display with new mural

It only took a few waves at Beacon’s Beach and a cup of coffee at a local café for artist Casey O’Connell to know she wanted to live in Leucadia.

That was 13 months ago, while visiting the community on a surf trip. Three weeks after the waves and coffee, she packed up everything and moved there from San Francisco.

To mark her one-year anniversary and pay tribute to the community she loves, O’Connell last weekend painted a mural on the south wall of Coffee Coffee.

“It’s pretty autobiographical,” O’Connell said of the mural, which depicts her standing on a ladder and adding one more number — representing herself — to a tally of Leucadia’s population.

“It’s thanks for letting me be a part of this place. I don’t think I’m ever leaving.”

The mural was done under a time crunch to coincide with ArtWalk, an event in which Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia was transformed into an outdoor gallery. O’Connell estimates she spent 34 hours on the piece over 2 1/2 days.

On Aug. 31, she put the finishing touches on the mural just as the sun came up. Sleep- deprived and hands speckled in paint, O’Connell said in an interview later that morning that the whirlwind experience reaffirmed her love for Leucadia.

“Even before ArtWalk started, people were coming by and bringing me water and asking if I need anything,” O’Connell said. “People aren’t strangers; it’s just such a community.”

She added: “I’ve done murals in other places, and people will honk or say ‘good job.’ Here people took that to another level.”

O’Connell has fond memories of being 4 years old and watching her late grandma, a hero to her, paint. From then on, she wanted to be an artist.

Yet she hit plenty of roadblocks along the way. During O’Connell’s senior year of college, a professor criticized her art show, making her doubt her ability. So after graduating, she decided to take off and travel the world.

Highlights from her two years on the road: She was a deck hand in Alaska, worked on a dude ranch in Colorado and operated a ski lift in New Zealand. While she had a great time, a friend helped O’Connell realize she had strayed far from her dream.

“The friend said, ‘All you want to do is paint. Why are you pretending you don’t?’ It hit me. I knew the friend was right, so I grabbed everything and moved to New York City.”

There, rejection letters from galleries piled up. But one “yes” letter to paint at the Art Hotel in San Francisco changed everything. Her career blossomed shortly after. These days, she is paid to paint internationally, with murals lined up in Greece, Istanbul and elsewhere over the next month.

“As cliché as it sounds, I want to tell young people it’s not about technical skill or being the best,” she said. “If that’s what you want to give your heart to, it will work out.”

For every commissioned work she completes, O’Connell makes a point of doing a free mural for organizations like the Boys and Girls Club. Because Leucadia has given her so much, a few months ago she decided to gift a mural to the community.

On the hunt for a spacious wall a few months ago, she noticed the Coffee Coffee wall was blank. And the owner of the historical art deco building, at 970 N. Coast Highway 101, liked her mural idea.

“I like that a lot of the business owners around here encourage murals,” she said. “You see a lot of colorful buildings.”

Many of her murals and paintings are abstract. Yet, O’Connell tried a style new to her for this mural: a simple design with a bold font.

That’s not to say designing the piece was easy. She agonized over the font and tried “16 kinds of blue.”

“Color is really important to me as far as capturing the feel of a place,” she said. “Since this is Leucadia, I wanted gold and teal blue — sort of a retro feel, sort of ‘Keep Leucadia Funky.’”

O’Connell continued: “For something I thought was going to be so simple, there were all these subtle little things.”

And painting it was challenging, particularly since the south-facing wall didn’t provide any protection from the hot summer sun. But still, the draining days were more than worth it.

“I like saying, ‘This is for the community.’ I gush over how much I love this place. And I’ve traveled a lot of places,” O’Connell said.


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