Muralist Tracie Thompson Transforms Troubled Spaces

Tracie Thompson is transforming spaces with a sweep of her paintbrush.
Tracie Thompson turned an unused elevator shaft in Kathleen Bryan's Orono home into a one-of-kind work of art.

Though Lake Minnetonka is known for its beautiful homes, some owners can think of a certain space that needs a just little more vitality. Or a little more moxie. Or a little more something.

Meet Tracie Thompson. She’s an artist who has painted more than one hundred murals—large and small—in homes around the Twin Cities metro and southwest Florida since 1999. The Sunshine State is where she earned her fine arts degree and started her painting career before moving to Minnesota in 2008. Her commissioned work has grown from clients who want to add what she calls "purely decorative" artwork, like her holiday window paintings at the Hopkins Honda dealership, or want to solve design issues like a space that feels too small.

One project in Orono required Thompson to camouflage an unused elevator in Kathleen Bryan's home. Over a year later, Bryan still enjoys looking at the two-story-tall masterpiece. "It turned out perfect,” she says.

Bryan explains that the elevator shaft has glass panels on all sides, revealing its mechanical parts. It wasn't a very pretty sight, she says, so she looked at a few different artists’ work and called Thompson. After meeting her, Bryan knew she could trust that Thompson would paint what looked best.

Thompson points out that collaborating with clients and figuring out what her clients want is part of her job, so it was not exactly a surprise when Bryan gave her first reaction to some of Thompson's preliminary sketches. "She had a vision,” Bryan says. “She really didn't need much help at all, and it was exactly what I wanted."

The elevator is now completely masked with a soft, sepia-toned countryside scene. Thompson says, "I'm getting asked for a softer look more and more [from clients]. Using monochromatic golds and browns is a very popular as a way to add character without overwhelming a space."

From the lower level, the glass panes look like a life-sized antique photo, full of realistic detail and a winding path that guides an onlooker's eyes up to a pair of soaring birds. The scene fits in with Bryan's neutral decor, and you can tell that the 39-year-old Thompson has a talent for painting landscape scenes like this. A look at her portfolio reveals an outdoorsman's dream, featuring foxes, grassy knolls, pheasants and more.

"I get a lot of people who love wildlife," says Thompson of her clients, "which really is great for me because I love painting that." Scenes of nature provide a calming feel to just about any environment, and another benefit of adding a nature-inspired mural is that it's a classic look that won't get old. But she adds, "I love on occasion when I get to do a kid’s room and I get to be whimsical."

You can have unique art in virtually any space, as Thompson is finding that out herself. Kitchen backsplashes and bathrooms have been a popular spot for her to add a decorative touch, which makes sense since these places become too humid for typical wall hangings. Wherever you may choose to add a small something for visual interest or a big "wow" factor, Thompson's mentor Martha J. Dodd has this to say about her former apprentice: "She is very dedicated to creating a real work of art."

The charming and humble Thompson credits Dodd, a renowned artist and muralist based in southwest Florida, for teaching her the profession over the course of almost eight years. Dodd adds that, "Tracie initially wasn't aware of how talented she was. And then she developed at a breath-taking speed."

Thompson's range of artwork is available on her website. Small projects start at $500 while larger landscape murals begin at $1,200. The time to create a mural depends on size and complexity, but note that the project in Bryan's home took about 70 hours.