Denver artist Pat Milbery had only 15 minutes to instruct the city’s first lady on the artistic use of spray paint. Standing on a scissor lift, they were facing a bare white wall in the Art District on Santa Fe. With smooth bursts, as media and city officials looked on, Mary Louise Lee painted an “L,” the first letter in the word love.

“She did a phenomenal job and was one of fastest humans to pick up a can and absolutely do a fantastic job of being my partner in creation. I couldn’t be more thankful for that opportunity,” Milbery says. “She has amazing energy.”

While the mural at 7th and Santa Fe represented the kickoff of Denver’s latest public art project, the process actually began long before in Milbery’s mind. Serendipity made it a reality.

Milbery had envisioned a mural that would express his love for the city and approached VISIT DENVER, which happened to be looking for a special way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Denver Arts Week. It evolved into a much bigger project, expanding to two more murals, one in the Golden Triangle Creative District at 12th and Bannock, and the other in the River North Art District (RiNo) at Broadway and Arapahoe.

Taking on three murals required coordination with the neighborhoods and associated arts councils as well as private property owners who were willing to donate space on their buildings. Milbery went through several design iterations and color schemes to make sure the murals aligned with each neighborhood’s respective character. From there, it was a matter of preparing the surfaces, a strenuous endeavor with curious neighborhood kids pitching in where needed, and, of course, braving the late fall elements at all hours, day or night. He successfully finished the first mural during Denver Arts Week.

Read more: Love this city