Clynt Costley stands in front of the mural that he and a dozen or so students painted on a wall at H.H. Browning Academy in Royse City.

A tattoo artist and a dozen or so high school students at H.H. Browning Academy in Royse City have teamed to produce a new artwork feature that paints a powerful message.

Clynt Costley, a third-generation tattoo artist from Wylie, said he was “pretty much the helper” on a mural project in a hallway at the school.

Here’s how Costley described how the mural project got started – and completed at the end of the school year:

“Let’s paint a huge, pretty mural on the wall. ‘We can’t.’ ‘Oh, yes you can. Take my brush. Follow my lead. You can do anything I can do.’ That’s pretty much been my message to them and they have all taken it and exceeded any expectations I had.”

The overall message of the mural moves from dark times through the “grind of life” to the light, hope, goals and success.

The Royse City ISD website states that Browning programs have a common mission – to serve students whose academics, discipline or life circumstances are placing them at-risk of not graduating. Browning is designed to enable these students to overcome their situation and graduate.

Costley said his mission has been to show students the power of art therapy.

“I have climbed out of some dark places and used art as my ladder,” Costley said. “So, I feel like an alternative campus is the perfect place to shed that light because I was one of those kids. I was at an alternative campus myself. If I could just help one kid get through a bad day, that’s more important to me than the mural on the wall. “

The project got its start after he met Bobbi Pereida, a Browning teacher. During a conversation, he learned she taught at an alternative school and she learned that he had attended one.  He shared his “testimony” of how he had dropped out of school as a 15-year-old, but returned to school and eventually graduated.

He said Pereida told him that he sounded like some of the kids she teaches. She invited him to tell students his story.

Costley later met with students, and here’s how he described what he said to them:

“Hey, guys. I know you don’t know me. I know I’m a stranger in your room, but I’m here to help you. If you want to sit down and do some artwork, if you want to read a book or walk through the fields and talk, whatever, skip rocks. I’ll be that guy and I think that’s kind of where it (the mural project) got started.”

During his first speech to the students, Costley said, he asked them to list what empowers them. They responded, listing music, motherhood, “helping people, working on stuff, every day I get closer to graduation.”

Costley said he saw the need to create some form of imagery that illustrated the things that empowered the students.

“Pretty much, the idea is you write your own story and that’s where it starts – the hand holding the quill, the hand holding the book,” he said of the images that flow from right to left to the viewer. “That’s writing your own story.”

Out of the story, the scene moves to a ship crashing the waves during a storm. Next are gears that are part of the process that moves life away from the storm. In bubbles that move through the scene are life experiences or things the students had said that empower them.

Some key symbols painted inside the bubbles, he said, include a compass for direction, keys to success, a bell that Browning students ring when they graduate and a butterfly which represents rebirth. Inside a big bubble is a child, which Costley said represents motherhood, and music symbols which represent entertainment.

The next scene shows a pot of gold coins with the school logo. In the same scene are diplomas and a hot air balloon that’s carrying a graduation cap. The final image in the top left corner is a lightbulb-type hot air balloon that represents soaring into the future, where the sky’s the limit.

Costley said the school district welcomed him with open arms.

“They have been so welcoming,” he said. “If I ever described open arms, it would be with them.”

He mentioned Browning teachers have been supportive, including Pereida, Matt Wheatley and Nikki Summers.

“I love those guys,” Costley said. “They wanted to take the idea and run with it, by the principal and see what he thought. Never did they come to me and say, ‘No, don’t do this, don’t do that.’”

“I feel they all are really proud of it,” Wheatley said of the students’ feelings about the mural. “I think it gives them more pride in their school.”

When some students were told the mural would still be on the wall in 10 or 15 years, Wheatley said they were surprised and indicated they would want to return and see the mural.


Jim Hardin may be reached at

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