A drab, graffiti-covered wall near downtown Petaluma is getting a makeover as a local artist wraps up one of the largest murals in the city, carrying a message of community strength.

Ryan Petersen, a Petaluma artist, has been working on the 2,500-square-foot mural on the back of the Supersonic Smog building near Steamer Landing Park for several weeks. The piece, a vibrant, colorful abstract Sonoma County landscape, will include the words “Sonoma Strong,” a reference to the cohesiveness in the community since the October wildfires.

For Petersen, 31, the work is a tribute to the many victims of the fires. It will also beautify a blighted area of Petaluma.

“I wanted to spruce up an area that was just plain and boring,” said Petersen, a Casa Grande High School graduate. “I like the process of working in the community and getting them involved. People can come and see it any time of day.”

Many passersby have stopped to watch Petersen work, he said, and conversations he has had with onlookers has helped inform the final piece. He plans to finish the mural within days, and said he may have an unveiling party when it is complete.

Petersen is donating the majority of his time to the project, which is partially funded by building owners Terry and Alena Kosewic. Kelly Moore Paints in Petaluma donated much of the paint.

Petersen is locally known for his five murals in Lagunitas Brewery and the Petaluma Speedway. Projects to benefit the local community include two murals for Mentor Me’s teen center, a McKinley Elementary School project coordinated through Rebuilding Petaluma, and live painting for Big Mama Day, a benefit for Daily Acts at Heritage Salvage.

The Steamer Landing mural is Petersen’s biggest work so far, he said. In painting the wall, Petersen is covering up old graffiti, and he said the mural will help deter future graffiti. In fact, Petersen said he takes inspiration from graffiti artists.

Petersen said he hopes to start a program in Petaluma schools to teach students about public art and the legal way go about painting the side of a building. He said talented young artists frequently turn to vandalism when they could seek permission, go through an approval process and then get paid for their work.

“I would like to get kids involved,” he said. “They have something to say. Sometimes they have a hard time saying it.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)