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Wall murals can spice up your home or become lasting museum or gallery exhibits. Here I have included some tips for the at home painter and the beginning professional mural painter as I walk through the process of painting a mural. This step-by-step shows the progression of two different elevation maps, but many of the steps apply to all wall paintings.I included both to add clarity and because I had more picture of on than of the other. The North America map is about 8' by 8', and was done over a more basic version that previously existed (which is part of why I included the other which was done from scratch). The other map is of eastern New Mexico and western Texas, and is about 5' by 6'. I have no professional training or specific artist qualifications other than I have painted wall murals (specifically maps) for museums. So, all you fabulous artists out there feel free to add your expertise in the comment area.

Step 1: Preparation

Supplies (what I use):

  • Paint (of course)
  • Primer
  • Paper towels
  • Mixing pallet
  • Brushes
  • Painter's tape
  • Drop cloth or painter's paper
  • Whatever else (nitrile gloves, paint stirrers, etc.)

Step 2: Tips on Professionalism

If you are painting for another person or organization, things to think about and questions to ask yourself:

  • Material Costs: Paint, brushes, drop clothes, etc. get expensive quickly. For a large project or even small ones negotiating for basic supplies to provided keeps the supply costs from coming out of your wages. For this project everything was supplied by the museum.
  • Hours: What hours can you work? Are they rigid or flexible? Does your employer expect a quick finish with long hours a day, or a long term project with a few hours a week? Find out! For the map shown, I had a two week time limit, but I could work whenever I wanted to between 10am and 5pm 7 days a week (or in other words during museum visitation hours). People always value efficiency, so I try to finish before my deadline whenever possible.
  • Professional Behavior: This should go without saying, but be on time, if not early. Make sure you have all your supplies, and don't leave early without good reason. Also, find out about dress code. This shouldn't be a problem if your tucked away in a back room, but if your painting in say a museum during public visiting hours, you may need to dress more formally than standard paint clothes.
  • Sinks and facilities: Find out what sink you can wash paint in before you go to rinse your painty brushes or hands. It really might not be ok to wash colorful paint in a nice shiny new sink in the restroom. It may even be necessary to bring wet-wipes for your hands and a zip-lock for wet brushes to be carried home and washed. For this project I was given access to a utility/storage room in the back where there was an old utility sink that had already had generations of dirt and paint washed down it.
  • Artist rights: Something to think about: will you have the right to display pictures of the work when your finished, visit the work in place, or reclaim the work should it ever be discarded? Will your work be clearly credited to you? This project was for a very small museum that I know well, and I had no concerns on this front, but these right issues do come up on occasion.
  • Cleanliness: Drop cloth, painters tape, and painters paper are a must. Never never ever take any chances of getting paint on anything except your canvas, especially other works of art and carpet. Those are two things that really can't be fixed if paint ends up on them. Don't take chances when it comes to paint drips and spills.

Step 3: Placement

Where does one put a mural? Anywhere!

Things to consider and questions to ask yourself when choosing a place:

  • Visibility: How often and by whom is this space viewed? Is this an appropriate place to put this picture? Will others who may share the space approve?
  • Light damage: Is there constant bright sunlight that could fade the colors over time?
  • Mobility: What happens if you, or whomever you are making a mural for, moves? Instead of painting on a wall or ceiling directly, consider painting on a sheet of plywood, luan, or other sheet material that can be installed more or less permanently, but can be moved in a pinch. Many a beautiful piece has been lost in moves. This particular painting (the map of New Mexico and Texas) was done on a piece of plywood that is now mounted on a wall for the simple fact that museum it was for is moving and was losing many other paintings because they were directly on a wall.

Step 4: Outlining (Rough Sketch)

Getting a sketch, particularly for things that need to be to scale, like a map, can be very helpful. For the North America map, I was working off an existing painting that already had the basic outline. For the smaller map I used an overhead projector to project the map onto the wall at the right side.

Step 5: Color Blocking (Color Base Coat)

Start by laying down the big general color areas as a base. I use this method to keep me on track later, so that I know what general region of color I'm in. For scene paintings, I find this step particularly helpful to make sure that all the right shadows come through later.

Step 6: Texture (Deepening Value Scale)

Continue to add depth and contrast to the picture to make it look more interesting. Contrast in color is very important make a picture look good. If a picture looks bland, odds are that it needs more dark colors or more light colors, or maybe a little bit of both. As I continue shading the mountains in this map, for example, I continue to add darker and darker browns, making the mountains look more rugged and shadowy.

Start getting more detailed as each layer is laid down. As you can see, the mountain shadows become more finely detailed, as opposed to just one shade of brown.

Step 7: Blending

Up to this point, all my colors have been separated with fairly clear boundaries. At this point blending the colors together makes the image more coherent. I also continue to deepen the value scale.

Step 8: Finishing Details

The final touches are the small lines and little areas of color, in the case of the smaller map it was the rivers and state border lines. For the North America map the detail was in the coastline. The small detail pieces are best laid down last because it is difficult to paint around them.

Step 9: Finish

Enjoy painting, enjoy looking at the painting!

<p>good </p>
<p>good job</p>
<p>I would love to do something like this on the walls of my homeschool room! Great job!</p>
Nicely done, very insperational!!
<p>I found this very interesting! Thank you for taking the time to share this.</p><p>Painting a large wall map has been a project on my radar for some time, although it's probably a few years down the road. I was glad to see all your tips, and see the progression of how you did yours. Thanks! </p>

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