Mission Beach resident finds artistic expression in painting utility boxes

South Mission Beach resident Tina Verburgt paints beach scenes on utility boxes in the community.
(Courtesy Robbie Green)

Painting beach scenes on Mission Beach utility boxes has its perks.

For Tina Verburgt, it’s a chance to use her artistic skills to beautify her neighborhood. She initially volunteered for the job about three years ago after she started noticing the utility boxes in her neighborhood and found one to be particularly unattractive.

Since then Verburgt has done five boxes, featuring a pelican, a fish tank and other nautical themes through the nonprofit San Diego Beach Improvement Group.

Aside from brightening the boxes and their surroundings, it’s also a chance to get out and meet people, said the 58-year-old artist, who lives in South Mission Beach.

Utility box painter Tina Verburgt said she appreciates the thanks she gets from passersby when she is working.
Utility box painter Tina Verburgt said she appreciates the thanks she gets from passersby when she is working.
(Robbie Green )

“People have been incredibly nice,” she said. “Everybody who goes by thanks me. People have stopped and shown me their art work.”

It’s not surprising that Verburgt enjoys painting water themes. She grew up San Diego and moved to the East Coast for college. But she settled in Minnesota for 30 years, marrying and raising two children.

“We’re boating people,” she said. “There are a lot of lakes in Minnesota. So when I moved back here, I changed to oceans instead of lakes.”

Verburgt said she grew up loving to draw and paint — and that didn’t change when she went to college. She attended art school at SUNY Purchase in New York and eventually got a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Delaware.

She worked for a while in Manhattan doing advertising but ended up taking a job as an art director at Fingerhut Corp. in Minneapolis, where she directed photo shoots and created catalog content.

All the while she taught art classes and was involved with the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, putting on art shows that typically included her own paintings.

She and her husband, Tom, moved to South Mission Beach in 2016 — son Dylan lives in Pacific Beach and daughter Kelly lives in South Mission Beach. She serves on the board of the Mission Beach Woman’s Club but mostly paints as a hobby aside from the utility boxes, she said.

Verburgt’s goals vary when decorating the boxes.

In some cases she wants the painting to blend into the background.

“There was a historic house with a big box in front,” she said. “I tried to get the box to disappear in the background.”

One of Tina Verburgt's utility box paintings in Mission Beach portrays a fish bowl.
One of Tina Verburgt’s utility box paintings in Mission Beach portrays a fish bowl.
(Courtesy Robbie Green )

Other times she wants to portray a sense of whimsy.

“I thought I could make one a fish tank because it was already a box.” she said.

The box with the pelican was her last painting, which she finished in early May.

Laura Hendrickson, who oversees the utility box project for San Diego Beach Improvement Group, also known as San Diego BIG, estimates there are 80 utility boxes in Mission Beach.

The project is still in the organizational stage, she said, with three to four artists working on the boxes. About half of the boxes have been painted so far, mostly with beach life, including sailboats and sea animals, she said.

“As soon as the artists finish their work we go out and take pictures,” Hendrickson said. “We want to let people know we’re working on these things and it’s a part of the bigger picture of keeping the beaches beautiful and clean.”

Hendrickson, who is also a member of the Mission Beach Woman’s Club, said she appreciates Verburgt’s work on the utility boxes.

“They’re all very colorful and she has just a really great flair for using fun colors,” she said. “Her art work is very nice, well done.”

She said she is putting together a booklet to document the history of the boxes and the paintings.

Mission Beach resident Robbie Green said she loves seeing her friend’s work on the utility boxes when she drives around town.

“I think Tina should be recognized not just as an artist, which she is, but because she is a very involved and caring person about the community,” Green said.

Verburgt said she enjoys being out and meeting people, but she sometimes worries that if she talks to people too long her paint will dry in the sun.

And on occasion, a dog has lifted its leg on her work-in-progress.

How does she deal with that?

“I have thought of painting a bull’s eye or a fire hydrant on a box,” she said with a laugh.