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Creating murals that sing with McKenzie Eddy Smith and Elliott Smith of Headspace Murals

Creating murals that sing with McKenzie Eddy Smith and Elliott Smith of Headspace Murals
April 2022

See their local projects and find out how they’re encouraging more large-scale works

The Golden Hour mural at The Ryder Hotel and Little Palm Bar, (inset) Elliott and McKenzie Eddy Smith.

“Is it singing yet?” That’s what Elliott Smith, one half of the duo behind Headspace Murals, says he asks himself when creating a piece. “Is this humming?” says Elliott. “It’s like an alchemic effect that is bigger than the sum of its parts. That feels a lot like music to me.”

Indeed, when Elliott, once a touring musician, met his wife, McKenzie, at King Dusko, the eclectic art gallery/coffee shop/music venue she opened on King Street in 2013, the pair first started making music together to support their art. “It was a natural evolution for us to begin collaborating together on murals as we had already been making music and creating events together,” explains Elliott. “As we moved through the challenges of creating large-scale art, we realized how much we loved working together.”

Since forming Headspace Murals on James Island in 2017, Elliott and McKenzie have used their signature geometric approach to add life to blank spaces in South Carolina, Texas, and Florida. Their artistry stretches from a home’s facade to funky cafes and boutique hotels, such as Early Bird Diner and The Ryder Hotel in Charleston. To the Smiths, almost any building is a canvas waiting to lend color to the city. Here, Elliot shares how the couple approaches creating art on buildings and hopes to encourage more large-scale art.

Headspace Murals work at Early Bird Diner.

Defining Your Style: It’s modern, retro, sometimes minimalist, and occasionally abstract—those tend to work well with architecture. The name “Headspace” comes from the idea that we want people to feel the murals, not just see them. It’s not like a piece of art in a room somewhere. Instead, a mural is outside where it hits you unexpectedly. It also can be a highly collaborative medium. At times, we work with a project’s architects and designers to explore the style of the building and the project goals.

Early BirdVibes: The Early Bird team is super creative. Owners Nicole Morris and Dexter Haigler told us to do our thing and make it pop so people could see the murals from the highway. Our approach was to make it feel energetic, fun, and delicious. We try to get ego out of the way so we’re not forcing anything. With projects, we consider where it is and where people will be looking at it. Early Bird Diner has a real pop-art vibe and culture that we wanted to enhance. So we gave the mural bold colors and vibrant graphics.

Inside Residential Projects: Some of our local clients, who are exceptionally creative, like to rummage around salvage yards to find interesting pieces. They happened upon an abandoned airplane wing with great aerodynamic contours. So we decided to take a minimalist approach to the project; we treated it as almost modern art. That meant not painting a scene but enhancing what is already there by using minimalist color touches to play with the contours and dimensions. The other project is a great-looking matte black house near the corner of Grove Street and Rutledge Avenue. We decided to use a benday dot process, much like Roy Lichtenstein’s work, on the exterior—a collection of simple dots that create a vortex motif on the home.

Headspace Murals used a benday dot process to create Cosmic Print on this home on Grove Street.

Room for Inspiration: We put our final rendering to exact proportions on our [computer] screen, then lay over a grid line. You can build that same grid and proportions on the actual wall and scale it up. Then we step back to check our work but not too often, because by the time you’re out there, you need to trust the process—it’s undoubtedly a trust fall. We always say you’ve got to leave room to be inspired at the moment, depending on the building. There’s got to be room for artistic inspiration with a license for us to go with what feels right.

Fitting In: We have a tight, vibrant, and talented art community here with a lot more socio-political artists than people realize. Our goal is to delve into helping get more public work here in Charleston and help build a foundation for other artists.