ESU dual major Jeremy Soto soars with masterful mural
As a bandana kept his hair away from what would become his masterpiece, Jeremy Soto, accompanied only by chirping birds and a light breeze, painted the wings of a bald eagle he had traced on the tractor trailer on the grounds of VFW Post 3448 in Tobyhanna.
“I was so focused on painting that everything else would just go away,” said Soto, an East Stroudsburg University junior dual major in art & design and biology. “So it was very relaxing.”
Once Soto got all the kinks figured out, that is.
Soto, 21, took on the challenge of painting a mural on the 43-foot high by 9-foot long tractor trailer that sits in the back of the VFW building. He started the project in mid-July and had hoped to be done before classes started. Instead, he didn’t finish until the first week of September. His progress was slowed not only because he started working three jobs, but also due to issues that popped up while he was designing, creating and painting the mural.
“This was frustrating because I underestimated how much work this was going to be,” Soto admitted. “Actually, I vastly underestimated the amount of work and all the little hindrances that happened.
“There were a lot of lessons learned with this mural.”
Originally, VFW Post 3448 members reached out to Joni Oye-Benintende, associate professor and chair of ESU’s art department in search of a student who would be interested in painting a mural on the trailer, which is used to store items.
Oye-Benintende found a student who committed to paint the mural, but later backed out. That’s when, Oye-Benintende reached out to Soto, who craving the chance to put his creative side to work, jumped on board.
After sketching a design with pen and paper, he met with VFW Post 3448 members Tony Jacondino and John Panchura, who made a few suggestions before giving Soto the green light.
The 2010 Stroudsburg High graduate then used Illustrator to create a more detailed version of the design. From there, he spent three nights from about 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. using a projector to hand-draw the lines on the trailer.
That’s when mistake No. 1 popped up.
“I used permanent marker, which at the time, I didn’t know, stains through paint, so I had to do multiple coats of primer and paint,” Soto recalled.
Soto was forced to use two coats of primer before needing to put on three coats of the red, white and blue paints and two coats of the brown paints. All the ridges in the trailer didn’t help matters.
Neither did the weather. After a particularly long day of painting early in the process, it started raining not long after Soto had packed up and driven home. He returned the next day to find paint had dripped and run into areas it didn’t belong.
Soto had no choice but to paint all the same spots over again.
Next Soto had to paint on the letters.
“That was horrible,” he said.
Soto bought stencils and had sprayed them all in. But even from 10 feet away, the 10-inch letters were just too small.
“You lost all visibility of what it was supposed to say,” Soto said. “It looked like green muck.”
So Soto, who had enlisted the help of Lirieth Amat-Quiros to help him do some of the project, painted over the red, white and blue stripes yet again to cover up the letters that hadn’t worked.
This time, Soto typed 16-inch letters, printed them out on 12-by-18 pieces of paper and then cut each one out with an X-Acto knife before lining them up, stenciling them on the trailer and painting them.
The final touch on Soto’s part was the decals. Originally, Soto had visions of painting them, but he, Jacondino and Panchura agreed the details wouldn’t be crisp enough, and Panchura, previously a graphic artist, suggested they order vinyl decals that would represent the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, the Air Force and Veterans Affairs.
The only additions coming will be a small garden and walkway that will go in front of the mural. Soto said the VFW hopes to have that done before Veterans Day, when there is a ceremony planned to dedicate and show off the mural.
“I’m proud of it because it came out how I wanted it to,” Soto said. “They were happy with it. And I think it looks pretty cool. I am proud that I took on the task and that I stuck with it because there were a few times where I said to myself, ‘I am so done with this. I don’t want to do this anymore, especially when the paint would pour down and then wash away.’”
What makes Soto’s endeavor even more impressive is he doesn’t have a history of being an accomplishment painter. His expertise lies more with pen and ink drawings. In fact, he failed the only painting class he ever took at ESU.
Now, Soto wants to incorporate more painting into his future. And taking another painting class is on his to-do list.
“It was very therapeutic when I was painting,” he said.
Soto hopes to one day have his own business in which he incorporates his own marketing plan thanks to his passion for art, and also use his biology degree to make it possible for other companies to have more sustainable and more efficient management of their electricity.
“I know it’s going to take work, but it can be done,” Soto said. “It’s just a matter of breathing and remembering why I wanted to do it in the first place. What was the reason for going into that? Why did I go into biology? Why did I go into art? Remind myself there are reasons why I’m dealing with the frustration and that helps me get to the next step.”