My 7 quick tips when painting a mural!

Murals can be daunting if you are new to painting or if you are not use to painting large scale. Here are few quick tips that I like to explain to artists who are about to tackle their first mural: (Click the image below to see the quick over-view video)

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Step 1: Sketch Your Vision! Sketch the vision you see in your mind, on a piece of paper. Get back to the roots of what started you painting in the first place…drawing! When I draw a vision out, whether it is for a client or a for my own work, it allows me to stay on track to the final result. “Well what if I like to make up my picture as I go, Mike?” Well that’s great… for your own piece, but for a paying customer it pays to be disciplined and stick to the vision you created. For the sake of this tutorial I would also suggest to sketch out your vision and stay on course even if it is just for yourself. You will be surprised at how focused it keeps you.

Step 2: Buy Your Paint/Supplies! I like to use latex acrylic when I paint murals. Go to Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, or anywhere that acrylic household paint is sold. Travel over to the area that has the “oops paint.” Whats the “oops paint?” That’s the paint that the was screwed up by the paint department. Usually you can get lucky and find white, tan, brown, maybe black, some version of red, and occasionally yellow. Basically I look for white, brown and black in this area, because they are the most common screw ups. They will be in mismatched sheens, that’s ok, because you will be clear coating your final mural when its done. Normally I can get a gallon of paint, which normally costs $25-$40 for only $9 and I’ve found quarts for around $3. You can save a truck load of money and you can use this as a base for your own custom mixed colors.

I use craft paint found at Walmart, Hobby Lobby or Michael’s to tint my paint. These bottles of acrylic are very affordable as well and can be mixed with your house paint to ‘go-the-distance’ on your large surface area. Use mixing cans or any large container with a lid to hold your custom mixed colors.

While getting your supplies, check your brushes. Do you have the brushes you need? What kind of shape are they in? Are they more like a chisel, due to the fact that you haven’t cleaned them since your last painting? I speak from experience on that last one. I like to get a variety of sizes, when working on a mural. I usually don’t skimp on price too much with my brushes, because these days, I like to keep them around, from project to project maintaining them. I get a 3″ house painting brush, 2″ house painting brush and an assorted brush pack from Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. In the assorted brush pack there are a variety of brushes from fine point to a larger flat bristle brush. I have found that the white bristle brushes are the best for acrylic paint.

Step 3: Sketch on the Wall! Measure out the area that you will painting, find your image boundaries. Using a tape measure, find the center of the wall, if your design calls for the mural to be centered.

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Using a PrismaColor block stick, Colored pencil or Sharpie marker, I begin sketching my scene that I’m going to be painting. Some artists like to use a grid. I am more comfortable with sketching the image right on the wall, however if your mural is too large for you to sketch without getting distorted, or you just feel more comfortable using a grid then by all means use one. The end result is all that matters and like I emphasized in step one, stick to your vision!

The base color that I’m going to be painting the mural on, and surface will determine what tool I will use to draw the image out. I like to use a Sharpie marker for most murals, because as I work, I can see the lines underneath, as I add layers of paint.

Step 4: Begin Mapping Out Your Image with Paint! Water down your paint into the major colors you will be using. In this video I am painting over my color pencil lines, because the overall image is a fairly light scene. I like to just make sure that I can see my image below as a reference in conjunction with the preliminary sketch.

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The consistency that I want my paint at this step is just a bit thicker than ‘runny water.’ That way there is still pigment but it is transparent enough to see through. This also helps create the atmosphere in the scene, as I build up the lighting and shadows.

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Step 5: Keep Thickening the Paint! As the paint gets more dense, the contrast is more pronounced. I like to ‘play’ back and forth with light and shadow in a scene until it is believable to me. Adding sunlight is particularly fun for me because it can create ‘distance’ and depth to an image, by casting on the image. All the areas that were the beginning stages of watered down transparent wash paint are now seen as atmospheric perspective, and add to the illusion of depth, when more detailed elements are painted in front of them.

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Step 6: Focus on Detail! Like I mentioned earlier, The more I detail images in the foreground, the more it contrasts with the wash of the background, giving the illusion that those items are closer, producing depth. The detail part of a mural is very fun for me, because it is at the point in the process where I feel like I am in the scene.

Keep adding light!

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Step 7: Sign It & Clear Coat It! When the mural is finally finished and I can sleep at night knowing I did the very best I could, I then sign it and roll on clear coat! I use Minwax polyurethane water based clear coat.
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This is an easy to clean up clear, and it it goes on easy with a foam roller and then smoothed out with a 3″ brush. I like to use satin but I will use whatever matches the rest of the wall sheen or whatever the customer’s preference is. Here is the finished piece below. The customer wanted a scene that was reminiscent of an area in the deep south.img_1661

2 thoughts on “My 7 quick tips when painting a mural!

    1. Thanks Robin! I hope these tutorials help with creating your projects down the road! Stay in touch –
      I would love to see some of your work! – Michael

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