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Mark Twain Elementary Formliner Mural

2020 | 3 months

Mark Twain Elementary | Sound Transit

Illustration | Shared Art Direction 

Tory Franklin




This cement mural was created for Mark Twain Elementary School, which serves scholars in Federal Way Washington.


Mark Twain Elementary needed a solution to reduce the negative visual impact of an elevated light rail line being built next to their playground. They wanted to incorporate the concepts of sports and nature.



The theme for this design is “The Universal Language of Play” which spoke to the idea that sports unite people from all backgrounds allowing them to connect beyond language barriers. On the playground students will see figures joined by the motion of a ball in action and from a distance the scene makes a mountain landscape.


The primary audiences are the scholars and staff at Mark Twain Elementary which serves 1st-5th grade. The Federal Way school system is one of the most diverse in Washington State and new immigrants make up a large portion of the student population who speak 31 different languages.


The majority of the notable people from Federal Way are athletes, including Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski, Olympic speed skating medalists. Federal Way hosted the Goodwill Games in 1990 as well as Olympic Swim trials in 2012 so sports are crucial to the fabric of this community. This history inspired an interest in Olympic icons through the ages to articulate a range of bodies in motion. The figures are made from simple geometric shapes to resonate with youth who are building their foundation of knowledge.

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The project budget allowed for 6 form liners (the cement casting molds) to be built. We came up with a design that would use repeated elements to maximize the use of the form liners. The mural is composed of 4 figures made from geometric shapes. We avoided representational drawing so that more students could see themselves in the characters. Each figure has different textures to create different skin tones. 


We added 2 additional “ball bounce” form liners that move like soundwaves communicating through the act of play. This allowed us to move the flow of play up or down the composition. They also became abstract patterns that helped articulate the mountain landscape visible from afar.

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Since this image spans 600 ft there are areas that require different attention based on their visibility. The track and field area is the most visible from the ground so the characters reach their lowest points there. The imagery goes skews higher where a covered play area partially conceals the mural. The bus loop and the area on the far left are only seen from a distance so they are filled with patterns created by the bounce lines.


Towards the end of the project we were asked to design a sound barrier for the top of the mural. This is a perforated metal fence at the top that blocks noise and obscures the visibility of the train. This design is based on the ball bounces. The continuous flowing line responds both to the mural and to the action of the trains in motion.

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This piece is being fabricated and installed in the summer of 2021.


Thank you to everyone at Mark Twain Elementary and Sound Transit who gave us an opportunity to create art for the Federal Way community. Special thanks to Sally McLean, Ashley Long, and Tess Johnson who came up with the title and prompt "The Universal Language of Play".

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