Sleeping high and dry in a gentle rain forest

A boy's bedroom is friends' and family project

Prescott Blackler has never set foot in Costa Rica or Brazil, but he wakes up every morning to the sights (if not the sounds), of a combination South American rain forest and African savannah. Tropical birds, butterflies, flowers, and even an elephant peer through lush vegetation within kicking distance of the third-grader's bed.

"It was really cool to watch it happen," Prescott says of the colorful mural that covers a wall in his bedroom. While the painting gets a "wow" out of every sleepover guest, it's the artistic process that is most remarkable. And amateurs get all the credit.

For two months last winter, whoever happened to drop in on the Blacklers was given a cup of hot cocoa and a paintbrush. Skiing buddies, cousins, even grandparents got into the act.

Some labored for hours over sketches, then penciled designs on the wall before applying paint to their carefully rendered spider or snake. At one point, recalls Prescott, the room "was stuffed" with people.

Not a single touch-up was needed afterward. "I was kind of worried about that," says Prescott, recalling mid-sentence one tweak his mom had to make. "Oh, yeah, there was that leaf that looked like a big blob...."

Mother and son were the artistic directors. The rain forest motif was his idea, a painting of Mt. Kilimanjaro, hers.

The remaining wall space with calming blue sky broken up by clouds and grounded by grass patches, they decided on together. And they both shopped for paints and supplies. Then the team grew. The name of every artist appears somewhere on the wall, hidden within the leaves, twigs, or toads.

So what happens if the rain forest is no longer cool in a couple of years? "Then it's time for a desert!" says Prescott, clearly excited by the possibility. "But instead of just sand and cactuses, I'd like to have lizards with blue tongues, Komodo dragons, and vultures looking down at me."

Mom looks less enthused.

As a high school art teacher, Lindsay Blackler has a knack for this kind of project. And her sister, Leslie, is adept at making crafts. It was her idea to paint the grass patches with a feather (from her cockatiel), and to blot on the puffy clouds with cheesecloth. But no experience is needed for doing this type of project, Mrs. Blackler insists.

She offers some tips for those wanting to take on a similar project: Let your child choose the design and colors. (It might be wise retain some sort of veto power if the choices are beyond reason.)

Research your design in books first, unless you'd rather wing it. Pick your base color and prep the walls. Then have fun with it. And don't worry about the outcome. "We told our guests to paint whatever they wanted," she says, adding: "They had a ball."

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