Clearwater Dolphin Project

The whole thing started on June 8th with a truly harmless email from the Dunedin Fine Arts Center. The email was a call to artists to participate in the City of Clearwater’s initiative to have their own exhibition of life-size dolphin statues available for viewing during the Republican National Convention at the popular Pier 60 park. The application was due in on June 20th and the PDFs of the application and artist specs was linked to the email. Pretty straightforward stuff. The PDFs said that if your design was selected, we could pick up the dolphin to begin work on July 16th and return the finished dolphin (painted, dry and clear coated) on July 28th.

Sounds like fun, right?! I’ve always been impressed with the angel statues done in Los Angeles and this was an opportunity to take part in a similar event. I’ve also worked on many large scale projects – from wall murals to hand painted furniture projects so I had practical experience working big and preparing for indoor/outdoor display and exposure. My mom, Priscilla DiBlasi (silk & mixed media artist) had no experience working in large format, but is the world’s greatest cheerleader for all things Fun, so we talked about launching a team effort. We would both submit a few design ideas and see what happened. Still, no big warning signs as of yet, correct?! This will be fun?! Won’t this be cool?!

So we have a we have a little bit of time to work on our ideas and then submit them on the black and white coloring-book style entry sheet they provided to accompany our application. We were both sitting there with our little line-drawing dolphin sheets and some colored pencils and I’m thinking to myself “ok, this will be a huge statue and I’ll want some freedom to kind of make it up as I go.. I need to make this drawing abstract and non-committal enough that it will still be fun to work on it. I don’t want to get pinned down to anything truly representative, because that can turn the project from Fun to Work way too fast. Been there before, not falling for it again.” My mom, on the other hand, comes back with two versions of a “Yankee Doodle Dolphin” complete with stripped pants, blue and white star jacket, beard, hat, collar, pocket watch, etc…….

And this is where I should have recognized I was in big trouble when it came to “team effort”. We all have that little warning bell in the back of our heads that starts with a quiet “um…..” and this is the exact moment it started going off. But no….. I said “how cute is that!?” when I saw her sketches while secretly appraising the stress level of actually completing a design of that intricacy.  Waaaay more work than I ever wanted to get into, but there had to be hundreds of applicants right? It would be still be fun if we got picked, but I wasn’t really counting on it. Not really anyway…..But that isn’t the way it works in my mom’s world. This woman burps rainbows and farts glitter and if she wants to do a dolphin, then damn it the universe will bend itself into a pretzel to make that happen.

Fast forward a few weeks- my low-stress, minimal-effort, easy-going abstract design was not picked. Mom’s freakin’ Yankee Doodle Dolphin design was chosen by sponsor and philanthropist Bill Edwards. Well of course it was. Go team.

But wait, there’s more! What else is happening at the same time during the dolphin selection process?

  • Did I mention that I just moved here in April after living on the perfect climate-controlled coast of Southern California for the last 12 years?
  • Did I mention that the temperature in Dunedin when we got the call to artist email was in the low 80’s (“sure we can work on it in the garage”….) and when the dolphins were delivered we were in the mid to high 90’s?
  • Did I mention I have a very large, very needy, 2 and half year old Great Dane puppy that goes berserk if he can’t be within 3 feet of me?
  • Did I mention my mom booked a trip out of town that cuts down our project time from two weeks to one week?
  • Did I mention my first children’s book is wrapping up and in the final proofing stages?
  • Oh, and did I also mention that I am expecting my first baby August 10th which means I’ll be working on this dolphin at 9 and half months pregnant?

Just checking……..

The beginning…

Ok, getting a grip. Dolphin arrives in the garage on July 16th. Temperature 92 degrees. Garage workspace located on the sunny side of the house. Puppy interested in all aspects of the statue, but most specifically how he can be involved and/or contribute loose hair into wet paint. Unborn baby girl tap dancing on my bladder while making it perfectly clear with repeated elbow strikes that she prefers the leather couch in the a/c. Every door and window open for cross-breeze (if only), every portable fan dragged into the garage and going at high speed. Schedule set at 10am to 2pm with a quick break for lunch for the next 5 days. Projected finish date of one week including dry time. Mom grinning from ear to ear.

Flash forward three days……. Screw you, Florida weather and this damn happy-ass-patriotic dolphin. Even my co-dependent puppy shadow stopped coming out into the garage with us. After three days at our proposed schedule, between the heat and the physical exertion needed to cover a 6 foot sculpture, I couldn’t get off the couch and had to pull rank. Keep in mind, I’m no lightweight when it comes to hard work and deadlines –  but for the first time in 9 months I pulled out the Pregnant Lady badges, shined them up good, sharpened the edges and started hurling them like stack of ninja throwing stars. Out came the demands “You are canceling your trip next week, we are slowing this train way down, and no, not everything can be accented in glitter glue!”

Midway through project……

From there, the project became fun again. We could take more breaks, experiment with additional textures and accents and really give it the time it needed to come to life and grow into something special. It became its own individual persona, complete with pride and attitude. We released it back into the wilds of Clearwater on the 27th and were thrilled that there were already several completed dolphins there to stand him next to. All the different styles and perspectives brought back my fond memories of the angel statues in LA… how amazing they all look together and what an impact local art can make when it is organized on such a fabulous scale as Clearwater Dolphins were. (The dolphins on Facebook for more info and pictures)

Back into the wild…

When I viewed the angels years back I never thought in a million years I would have the opportunity to contribute to such a public project. All the sweat and effort was well worth it (not to mention the baby book pictures)! Hats off to communities that support the arts and here’s to many more cities following in Clearwater’s footsteps.

The big launch party is on August 9th, not sure I’ll make it with my due date being the 10th, but I will certainly be there in spirit. Thanks again to all the sponsors that make and continue to make these projects possible :)

– Juli (and Madison) Black from team DiBlasi / Black and the Yankee Doodle Dolphin

Team DiBlasi / Black

Writer, artist & designer,


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Just beautiful, and you both look wonderful. Pretty soon a baby, bet juliann can not wait.

  2. Elaine tirone says:

    Well, i’m not sure you really got “the freedom to make it up as you go”, however I do see ” freedom” in the red ,white and blue. Just wonderful, outstanding, and so timely with the election. Be proud of your work, we’re proud of you both !!! PS
    That’s a perfect amount of glitter glue. :) elaine tirone

  3. toni says:

    Wow! I know how big this project is. Did a turtle a few years ago. How special for 3 generations to paint it together(even tho one was just waiting for her paint brush) Blessings to you and your family. Toni

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