Techniques For Painting A Wall-Sized Mural In Your Home

Detailed in this article are beginning tips and pointers for creating a wall mural using common tools and inexpensive paint. These are common steps to bring your idea to fruition.

What is a dynamic wall mural?

Some of the most striking artwork that you can find shows up on the side of small businesses downtown from where you live. Wall murals are panoramic pictures or landscapes big enough to draw your eye from far away. One a business site, a mural may catch your attention and beckon you to make your way out of one doorway and into the other.

Let's call a dynamic mural one that you can't take your eyes off of until you have figured out that it is not a scene that is actually unfolding in front of you. In other words, we use "dynamic" to describe a photorealistic mural.

Where else can you create a mural?

If you don't own a business to promote and attract patrons to, then your own home will have to suffice. What you must consider when planning a wall mural is where it will get the greatest amount of attention, and also how to prevent wear and tear of your image. Pick a spot in your home where the image will get the least amount of sun exposure, surface contact (people leaning against that wall, or where furniture moved back and forth could damage it), and stains. Here are a few low-risk areas to consider:

Bedroom doors (preferably the back)

Entry halls without windows and very few or no hanging photographs

Laundry alcoves

Your garage

The master bedroom

Your back patio (if it is made of concrete, not wood)

Once you have picked your location, you will have to figure out how to get your preliminary sketch on the wall.

What is a preliminary sketch?

Your preliminary sketch is your "blueprint" or "paint by number" picture of the mural that you have planned. Seldom will someone start painting a mural without a rough drawing. Moreover, you are unlikely to see someone start that drawing without a grid that will help the drawing's proportions fit the dimensions of the wall.

Start small.

The first step to graphing a grid on your wall is to first place one over the picture of your subject. For example, if you have a photo of your family that is roughly five by seven inches, and you are working with a wall that is five by seven feet, then you will have no trouble applying the grid to your wall because the measurements already correspond to each other.

(Note: It is also good to choose your subject and your wall based on whether or not the measurements are somewhat compatible. A short, wide landscape photo won't work well on a tall, narrow wall unless it is at the end of a "dead end" hallway, where you can extend the picture to the walls adjacent to the one that you are working on, like a "triptych.")

You can place the grid over your picture without damaging it by buying some transparency film (you can purchase it in sheets at the pharmacy or in office stores) and laying it over your photo. If you have taped the photo face-up onto your easel or clipboard, then simply tape or clip the transparency over it. You can then buy a Sharpie marker or other marker with a felt tip that is suitable for writing on transparencies and begin drawing your grid.

First, trace the outline of your photo. Then, bisect the height and the width. You will have the picture divided into four quadrants.

Bisect each quadrant horizontally and vertically like you did for the whole rectangle. You should have a 16-square grid over your photo.

Here comes the tricky part.

You have to transfer and essentially "stretch" your grid onto your wall. This is the "scaffold" of your mural, so you have to measure it correctly. Measure your wall's height and width, and then bisect the wall (drawing a fine straight line with a soft lead pencil and your yardstick) vertically and horizontally, and repeat the process for the four quadrants. Now that you have your grid, it's time to draw.

Building blocks of a good drawing

To get started on your drawing, don't expect to become a Michelangelo just because you have your grid up on the wall. You will have to start with simple lines and shapes, using a "connect the dots" method of sketching called "blocking it in."

Look at your photo in terms of negative space and positive space (you can learn more about this concept in a book called "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain"), and in terms of basic polygons. Is the logo on Superman's chest roughly the same shape as a baseball diamond? And is it almost three-quarters of the way to the top of the photo's border? If so, that is how and where you will block it in on your grid. That house in the background probably looks like a square with a triangle on top of it (not unlike how children draw a house). This is the somewhat simple sketching that you will to block in your subject. It is far easier to erase and re-start a drawing at this stage if the proportion is off than when you have begun adding extensive detail. You may have drawn you great uncle's nose to perfection, but his head may be hunched halfway into his shoulders, or he may look a foot shorter than his wife, who you know is six inches shorter. That is why you use a grid.

It allows you to focus the same amount of attention to proportion on each component of your subject, and to give the background the proper perspective.

Choosing a paint

If you are painting an indoor mural, you will want to use a paint that is easily painted over if you ever get sick of your picture later. The formula for choosing the paint is simple: Buy the same TYPE of paint that you bought to cover the wall. If you painted your whole house in satin finish, then use that type of paint for your mural. IF you used Dutch Boy latex semi-gloss to paint your living room, you may want to use Dutch Boy semi-gloss interior one-coat paint for your backdrop of the Grand Canyon. You can even "cheat" and be more cost effective when painting a mural on a semi-glossed wall by buying outdoor furniture paint (what you use for metal lawn furniture or swing sets) which also comes in semi-gloss and is waterproof. At the paint store, make sure to ask for several paint sticks, bearing in mind that you can stir two different colors with each by using the opposite end of it once you have mixed the first color. If you know you need a large volume of one color, buy the gallon-sized can. If you only need that color for one or two small components of your picture, buy the half-gallon.

Choosing brushes

Painting murals requires good, sturdy brushes that will hold a lot of paint and that will bear repeated scrubbings when you clean them. Purchases flat and round brushes used for tole painting or oil painting at your local art store. For details, buy a pointed brush.

Other supplies

Buy a glass coil jar with a strong lid from your local art store. Also buy a roll of paper towels, some paint thinner that will remove latex paint, a drop cloth (you want to protect your carpet or hard wood floor below your wall), and a step stool that you can sit or stand on to reach high places. Also, keep some "touch-up" paint that is the same color as your wall to cover mistakes.

Painting your mural

When filling in large bodies of color, do what your kindergarten teacher taught you and color slightly farther inside the lines with short strokes with your big brush. Follow it with a detail brush to get between places where one line meets another. You can paint your outline first, or you can start with the large bodies of color and then outline around them, depending on your level of confidence to either color inside of the lines, or to draw a neat and consistent outline with a steady hand. Try to make your outline a uniform thickness. Lines where the paint globbed up on the brush or places that you ran out of paint and had to reload can look awkward.

Additional note: Outdoor furniture paint is difficult to mix because it has a lot of oil in it. Buy as many secondary colors as you think you will need of these, or buy primary colors in the semi-gloss interior paint so you can mix them to whatever variety or depth of color later.

© High Speed Ventures 2011