Mick Burson, the genial young artist painting a mural at 808 Austin Ave. this week, no longer has to look over his shoulder for the police when he works.

Burson, 24, is painting an improvised abstract design on an old brick wall for building owner Brian Ginsburg and plans to be finished by Friday.

The Waco native has a degree in printmaking from the University of North Texas and is official artist-in-residence for the city of Navasota. What isn’t on his résumé is his years as a graffiti artist, working outside the law on walls and trains.

In high school and during his time at McLennan Community College, Burson became obsessed with climbing on parked trains and making them his canvas.

“There were different places the trains would stop,” he said. “They had a schedule. I knew where they’d be and kind of stalk them. . . . It was weird. It took over in a cool way. It’s just complete freedom.”

Just before his 20th birthday, he got arrested in the act, leading him to agree to probation, a fine and payment to repaint the affected cars, at about $1,800 per car.

Burson took that opportunity to shift to legal jobs, including murals at St. Francis Catholic Church, 315 Jefferson Ave.; Shepherd’s Heart, 1401 N. 34th St.; and works in Denton and Navasota.

For the Austin Avenue mural, he is improvising as he goes, working with the gnarly textures of chipped brick, cracked plaster and old metal brackets.

“This is how I like to paint,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the hardest walls I’ve worked with. You can’t just roll on the latex.”

Assisting him is his former McLennan Community College art professor, Glenn Downing, who shares Burson’s freewheeling style and mischievous attitude. Downing, whose unauthorized works include a massive totem pole in Cameron Park, said he understands the appeal of being a graffiti artist.

“An artist is always going to be looking for a place to make his art,” he said.

Burson now lives in Navasota, but he still feels tied to his hometown of Waco, and he’s doing this mural pro bono.

“It’s just because it’s Waco,” he said. “I love Waco.”