Local News

Petunia mural painter finds chill moment on scorching afternoon

DIXON — If it’s painting murals with eye-catching flair or playing disc golf at the pro level, Nora Kate Balayti knows what it means to be chill.

That’s true even when the heat index makes it feel like it’s 105 degrees outside.

“It’s all about getting in the zone,” says Balayti. “I’m way less nervous when I’m painting than I am in the tee box. But when you are chill, good things happen.”

This past weekend Balayti played disc golf in the Peoria area at the Ledgestone Insurance Open. She finished 13th in a field of 40 women.

In her neon green hat with sunglasses perched on the bill of the cap and a bandana hanging loosely about her neck, she looks the part of a disc golfer. It’s the paint-flecked gloves from Ace Hardware, shorts covered in streaks of paint and a simple brush with worn bristles that marks her as an artist.

On Tuesday, she was putting the first dabs of paint on the gray wall outside Meraki Spa Salon at the corner of Galena Avenue and River Drive. Earlier, her father Bob and Chicago artisan Taylor Eastman had been on hand to help get it started. A lift was nearby; it had been used earlier in the day to elevate her 20 feet above the ground so she could could use spray paint to outline the green vines and petals that stretch up near to the roof.

By the heat of the day, though, it was just Balayti sitting on the ground, busy filling in one of the petunias that had been outlined in pink paint.

“I don’t mind the heat. I’m a summer baby,” she says. In fact, she turns 38 on Sunday.

As she paints, she gets well-wishers of all sorts.

Because the intersection to the Galena Avenue bridge was nearby, motorists stopped for the light would occasionally honk or shout encouragement. Her head indicates a nearby tavern. “The guys sitting in the cool bar always say, ‘Hey!’”

Balayti’s mixing tray had three shades of pink of high-end latex exterior paint, designed not to fade in the sun’s ultraviolet rays. She mused about the freedom painting petunias offers. The flower petals are irregular.

Her brush moves back and forth, first dipping into the deepest maroon, then shifting to the lightest pink that’s almost white.

She talks about technique, about working with the texture of the wall itself, altering the plan. In Chicago, where she’s done scores of murals, she’s had to work around some pretty rough surfaces, gouges and protrusions. This brick wall, though, is fairly uniform — as brick walls go. Near the ground there are a couple of pipes she’ll have to account for. On the bright side, the wall has enough layers of paint that she feels her mural will be more durable because of it.

It takes a while, but soon the flowers’ petals transform, going from a flat pink solid mass to taking on depth and texture from her efforts at shading and highlighting.

By putting in eight- or nine-hour days, she anticipates completing the project by the end of the week. A finishing touch will be required. On Monday she reports for her new job as art teacher in the Polo schools.

In this moment, however, it’s about making this single flower pop off the canvas. When it’s done, it’ll be part of the downtown’s visible fabric; a reminder for residents and passersby alike that this is Petunia City.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for Saukvalley.com and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.