Kerrville native Joleen Franklin knew from a young age she was destined to be an artist. “My Mom says it has always been there, that there’s never been a day I haven’t had some kind of crayon or pencil in my hand,” she said. Growing up an only child, art became her passion. “I remember telling my Mom, ‘I’m different, I’m going to travel, and I’m going to do art.’”
After graduating from Tivy High School in 1992 and attending junior college for a brief stint, she did just that, spending the next few years backpacking across Europe and tapping into various artistic interests, from leather work to painting and drawing. “It was kind of vagabond,” she said. “We stayed in an abandoned castle, in caves in Granada… That’s what opened me up.”
She later spent time exploring Ghana and Mexico, where she pursued everything from farming to jewelry design, and running an art gallery in San Miguel de Allende. South America became another home-away-from-home for the artist, who gave birth to her daughter, Trinidad, in Brazil in 2004. Together, they lived in São Paulo and Buenos Aires, where Franklin became initiated into the world of street art. “I started going out onto the streets with the older, artsy people down there,” she said. “I think it developed into something as I was traveling. I was picking up things that were happening around me.”
Today, Franklin’s many gifts as an artist, a painter, and a muralist specifically are evidenced across Kerrville, where she’s been living and working since 2012. At the River Hills Mall, her two murals reading “Hill Country Kindness” and “Kerrville Strong” have been beacons of hope throughout the pandemic.
Her largest wall to date, a 30-by-25-foot artwork, colors the back of Central Texas Gun & Pawn. “I like the challenge of bigger and bigger walls,” she explained. With larger commissions, the artist enlists the help of a trusted group of girlfriends to help her through the process. “When I have big walls like that, I call the girls in. They come hang out with me and love me … They’re a part of it.”
Without question, the many years of traveling and living abroad have directly influenced Franklin’s style and her appreciation for originality. “I came back to Kerrville and find myself painting bluebonnets and deer which I never thought I’d do, but I’m painting them in my way,” she said. “For me it’s medicinal, it’s sacred, it heals me. I know that flow goes through me as I’m doing my work.”
While Franklin eschews routine for a more free-flowing process, she admits preparation is key. “I prepare myself for a mural. I don’t just go in and say this is what I’m doing,” she explained. “I actually go in and map it out. It helps me a lot.” Meditation and a mix of musical genres, like reggae and techno, also play into her process.
These days, the artist is managing her own company, Aurora Joleen Designs, where her offerings range from painting to woodwork, stonework, metal art and jewelry-making. “I feel like if you’re going to be an artist these days, being multi-faceted is important,” she said. She also participates in events like the Kerrville Chalk Festival and the city’s Folk Festival, leaving her mark with her signature color. Regardless of the project or subject matter at hand, be it psychedelic skunks, colorful coyotes, or hummingbirds pausing at a bristling flower, she brings love and intention to every brushstroke.
“Everybody has to have that creative outlet. I feel like I knew that from a really early age,” she shared. “It hasn’t always been the most successful road but it has definitely been a happy one.”