How To Paint a Mural

Whether indoors or public, murals make a statement.  Question is, how do you get a small piece of artwork onto a large surface.  Hopefully, this step-by-step guide will make your mural project a little easier. This step-by-step guide does not include information for wall preparation.  This widely varies depending on wall surfaces and whether the mural is indoors or out.  My recommendation is that you always seal the wall with a sealant specifically for concrete or wood, depending on which surface you are working on.

  1. Once you've selected the artwork to be reproduced on your wall surface, you must make a decision on how best to transfer the artwork to the wall.  There are three ways of doing this.  The first and least desirable is to simply try to freehand it onto the wall... not recommended.  The second is to utilize a projection device to broadcast the image onto the wall surface for tracing.  If you have access to a projector, this is the easiest way to transfer the image for smaller murals.  The third is the tried and true method of gridding.  Gridding works for all wall sizes and for the purpose of this step-by-step, I will explain this method.
    • Making the grid - Measure the wall to be muralized.  Any size is fine, but for this explanation, we will say your wall is 15 feet long and 10 feet high.  Take a good copy of your artwork (not the original) and measure the length.  Divide this length by 15.  Using a ruler, make marks along the length of your artwork the distance of the figure you arrived at when you divided the length of the artwork by 15.  If the artwork was 15 inches long, this would mean that you would make a small mark every 1 inch.
    • Now, do the same for the height.  Let's say the copy of your artwork was 10 inches.  Make marks every inch up the height of the artwork.
    • Using these marks as guides, use your ruler or a straightedge to make lines across the artwork.  Make sure these lines are straight.  You should get a nice grid pattern over the artwork.
    • You will now draw a grid pattern on the wall.  As your wall is 15 feet long and 10 feet high, you will make a grid on the wall of 1 foot by 1 foot squares.  An easy way to make these long straight lines is to use "chalk string" or "marking string".  This is string that is coated with an ink powder.  The string can be stretched the length of the wall and snapped to leave one long straight mark.
    • Now that you've gridded your artwork and your wall, the transfer of the artwork can begin.
  2. Starting from the left or right side of the wall, select the bottom grid square and begin to transfer the design.  Crayon is the easiest thing to use for this.  Transfer the artwork square by square until you have completed the drawing on the wall.
  3. Now you will decide how to proceed with the actual painting.  In most cases, the rule is to begin from the top and work down.  Depending on the height of your wall, you will need a good ladder with a tray for this, or scaffolding.
  4. Mix your colors in advance and store them.  Large cans with plastic lids are perfect.  Tupperware is another option.  The easiest and cheapest way to address your paint needs is waterbase latex housepaint.  One or two five gallon containers of white paint, depending on the size of your wall, and assorted tint colors.  You can always mix colors, but you should have blue, yellow, red and black tints for sure.
  5. Using your original artwork as a guide, paint in all of the areas marked out on your wall one color at a time.  Do not stop at grid lines.  The only purpose of the grid was to help transfer the artwork, at this point, the grid is no longer necessary.  To make things a little easier, you may want to assign numbers to all of the specific colors and place these numbers in their respective areas on the mural.  In other words, you would be creating something similar to a paint-by-number.
  6. Once you have filled in all of the areas with paint, it is usually necessary or desirable to use darker colors to outline subjects and in some cases it is desirable to blend colors.  Anything done at this point in the mural process is basically subject to artistic or client preference.  If you are working on a mural in a child's room or a fun room, you may want to put big bold dark outlines to give the mural a comic book feel, if your mural is the backdrop of a spa area, you may want to put in marble texturing, wood grain or other fine details.
  7. The final step is the preservation process.  You don't want to go through all of the work of a mural only to see it peel off in one or two years.  There are a number of materials that can be used to protect the mural, these range from special (and expensive) coatings made by the Bomat company to less expensive products you can find at your hardware store.  I'd recommend non-yellowing varnish or clear sealant.  Ask your hardware man what he'd recommend for your specific project.

You now know how to create a mural! Hopefully these steps have prepared you for your project. If you found this activity fulfilling, your art education doesn't have to end here! Attending an online art and design university is a great way to practice your craft!


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