EVERETT — Guy Cadwallader Jr. stood looking at a blue wall inside of a Snohomish County administration building.
On the wall, in pencil, the 16-year-old had sketched the word, ‘Reach.’ He was trying to decide what colors to paint the big bubble letters. The roughly 11-foot wide wall outside of the county executive’s office was his canvas.
“It gets kind of tight,” Guy said as he pointed to the word in late October. “But it’s symmetrical and it’s perfect and it all fits.”
The teen from Marysville tightly fastened a respirator to his face. He picked up a can of yellow acrylic spray paint and started working on his mural. It was the first time he’d painted in at least six months, Guy said. But he is no stranger to spray paint.
Guy used to seek out exterior building walls, windows and billboards to spray paint graffiti. In late 2010, the Marysville teen found himself in trouble for vandalizing public property.
“It became doing graffiti to living, breathing, eating and sleeping graffiti,” he said. “I destroyed a lot of property here in Everett and I made a lot of mistakes.”
Since then, Guy has served time at Snohomish County’s Denney Juvenile Justice Center and paid restitution for the damage he caused. He started a new future for himself that includes learning new drawing techniques, working at his first job and studying aerospace engineering at Everett Community College.
“Everything’s kind of falling into place,” he said.
Several local school districts and other organizations were asked last month to find student artists who liked painting urban, contemporary pieces, said Wendy Becker, economic and cultural development officer. Guy was recommended by Henri Wilson, the art program coordinator for Promising Artists in Recovery. The program is part of Reclaiming Futures of Snohomish County, a program that helps youth in the Snohomish County juvenile court system.
Wilson met Guy about two years ago when he was a student in her art and poetry class. A year later, when a friend and another student of Wilson’s was commissioned to do a mural in Edmonds, Guy asked Wilson to consider recommending him for a job.
“He’s a good representative of himself,” Wilson said.
Guy was selected from six applicants by County Executive Aaron Reardon to paint the wall. He received a surprise stipend of $250 earlier this week for his piece, “Reach.” The mural includes the word painted in yellow and blue with a cityscape above it that represents Everett. The phrase, “Reach — It’s out there” runs below the word along with Guy’s name.
The message applies to everyone, Guy said.
“No matter what your goals are, no matter what you’re striving for, if you make that leap of faith, it may not turn out instantly but I bet you it’s going to come to you,” he said.
The piece was well done and “jumps out,” Reardon said. It’s more than a mural on the wall.
“I look at it through the lens of what this means to this young man and a lot of people out there that make this mistake,” he said. “Graffiti without permission is vandalism. He’s no longer a vandal; he’s an artist.”
A written explanation of the piece was placed near the artwork. It asks those who see it to “take time to recognize the technique and skill that go into creating this public work … And, remember to ‘reach.’” The message in the art is important, too, Reardon added.
“It tells a story as well and that’s to go for your full potential and never stop,” he said. “For this young man to put this down … It’s a window into him.”
Guy is happy with how his piece turned out: “I would say I went from thinking I had no hope, from being hopeless, to having more than I could have ever asked for.”
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; firstname.lastname@example.org.