How to paint a wall mural

How to paint a wall mural

Learning how to paint a wall mural is not too different than painting on a smaller sized canvas. The techniques & fundamentals used are very similar to how you would generally paint in your own particular style.

The most significant difference is the physical scale of your mural in comparison to a traditional sized canvas.

If you are new to mural painting, the scale of things may seem a bit intimidating at first glance. If you want to build up some experience then consider using a demo wall. A wall that you can paint over regularly for practice. Try several techniques to see which ones work best for your style of art.

Getting over the challenges of laying out your design.

A large scale painting requires you to prepare a few initial guidelines. But a soon as you have structured your mural it is pretty much just painting as usual.

The images I have selected for this post come mainly from practicing on my studio walls.

There are also examples of commission works. This will give you an idea of my working processes.

We all work differently so if you are trying to figure out how to paint a wall mural. Then some of these examples might come in handy for you. Others might not.

Paint a wall mural of a dragon

I have put together a simple guide for anyone who is or wants to learn how to paint a wall mural.

These techniques and ideas are worth considering for a potential commission project or if you are thinking of volunteering in an art open day event.

Maybe you just want to paint something cool in your house.

The information I am going to share with you is purely from my experience. So before starting a new project make sure to decide what will work for you.

Trying a few techniques first will help you to figure out what is the best solution for you. The more research you do the easier this process will seem.

So! Here are a few projects that I have recently completed. They will illustrate some techniques and how I went about learning how to paint a mural.

Let’s get on with it then!

Paint a wall mural of a manga

1. What size is the surface of the wall for the mural? And where is located?

The first step to painting a wall mural is to quite simply to go and see the wall or location where you are planning to make some art.

If you can’t physically go and see the location then ask someone, either a friend, client, collaborator to send you some pictures. Make sure that you get some photos as well as a few measurements.

Knowing this information as early as possible will ensure that you prepare your layout in the correct proportions.

Knowing the size of your mural will not only help with the design. It will give you a clear idea of how much detail you will put into the painting.

Paint a wall mural with stencils

For example, take into consideration the distance from which your viewers will see the painting. Knowing the texture of the wall is also an important factor to consider.

As a general rule: Rough surfaces = Fewer details.

If you are painting indoors or on new buildings then you have a better chance of working on a smooth wall.

Here is an example of a very rough wall.
Photo was taken during a school intervention at “L’ecole
Association d’Alphabétisation de Fatima

Paint a wall mural indoors
Here is an example of wall inside the Cube Functional Gym which is smooth, thus allowing for more details and easier application. “progress picture”
Paint a wall mural of Thor
Sketch on Left “A3 paper” Final mural Right “6m x 4.5m” Freehand painting

2. Scale your surface area in proportion.

Setting up the scale of your sketches in proportion to the wall you are going to paint on is a simple mathematical calculation based on a % of the final dimension.

Start with developing a few ideas about the main subject and then consider how you could integrate these ideas into a composition.

Here a few examples of how I went about doing this mural.

Paint a wall mural of fruits
Inspiration wall at the Proxifresh factory showing some company values. 8m x 3m
Sketch drawings of fruits
Put your ideas down on paper. It helps to understand the subject you are going to paint.
You can see more about sketching ideas here. Link
Sketch drawing of fruits
At this stage, it is not necessary to worry too much about details just focus on the ideas.
As you progress through your sketches your composition will start to take shape.
Sketchbook thumbnail for mural installation
Composition to paint a mall mural
Eventually, you will end up with a base structure for your composition.

As you can see in this drawing I have started to establish the general look and feel of the mural.

From here it is possible to develop an idea and bring character to your project. What is important to figure out during this process is:

Areas of interest, Form, Volume, Rhythm, and color.

3. Getting prepared to paint your wall mural

So what exactly do you need to do to paint a mural?

The short answer to that is: It depends.

There is no setlist that will determine what you need for every mural. It is advised that you do some research yourself before you start your project.

Here is a list of 4 essentials you will need to paint a wall mural.

I have included some links to help you find some products. Please note that I am not being endorsed by any of these companies.

You are welcome to shop around. I strongly advise you to do so, especially if you are working on a budget.

  1. 6 Ft ladder (This will get you to most places on a standard wall.) There are all sorts of styles of ladders. If you are limited with space, then consider finding a retractable ladder that will fit easily into your car boot.
  2. Paint Rollers, trays, paint brushes, and extension poles are a must if you are painting on walls. There are also a wide variety of paint rollers on the market. Be careful not to get caught up. The normal cheap brushes work perfectly fine for mural painting. Use the cheap brushes to cover all your large surfaces and keep a variety of other smaller more durable brushes for your details.
  3. Permanent markers, chalk, and a carpenters pencil are always handy to have when on-site painting a mural. Use these tools when starting the project to set up your proportions and place the guidelines before painting.
  4. You can pick up a set of Sharpies for about $4 online. Otherwise, go to any local hardware or commercial store and they should have something that will work ok. While you are at the hardware store, pick up a roll of masking tape just in case.

Optional

  1. Next, there is a small table and chair. Yes, painting a mural will mean that you are going to spend many hours on your feet. Depending on where you are, it is advisable to bring a small folding table and chair. Below is an example of what I use.
  2. Basically a plank of plywood with some folding legs and a small folding chair. This is as compact as I could find without losing too much comfort. Having a minimum of comfort on a long hot day will make a big difference especially over several days.

5. Make sure that you bring some additional water and cleaning rags for your paint. Keeping your paintbrushes and paint station clean will help you keep your colors clean too.

This is especially important if you are painting in a place where water is not easily accessible. Some old T-shirts or kitchen towels will do just fine for this. Getting access to your wall

6. The last few items on your list should be, sunscreen, a hat and jumper, rain jacket and some comfortable shoes. Mauritius can be unpredictable when it comes to the weather. Have some options handy it is always a good idea.

4. Transferring your idea to paint a wall mural

Great! by now you should have your basic or detailed sketch layout. Don’t worry too much about how detailed or finished your sketch is. You will have plenty of time to adjust any final details before you actually start painting the mural.

I find that 50% of the time, the design will slightly change depending on the real-life conditions on-site. What I mean by this is that sometimes there are details on-site that we can miss out causing obstruction to your work.

If this happens. Make the adjustments directly to the wall. Here is a case scenario. Maybe you spot a water pipe that is running through some important details. Perhaps there is a rough section on the wall in a place where you have planned a particular element.

While painting on this building I had to work around a lot of external fittings.

by now you will have also sourced your basic materials to get started as mentioned above

Time to start your wall.

One

Freehand drawing techniques

If you are familiar with the subject for your mural, then I recommend drawing in your ideas freehand. You might need to make some adjustments along the way.

Mainly for proportions and scale, however, this method will save you a great deal of time.

It will create a certain authenticity in your work that feels less calculated or revised. As a general rule. If you can draw or paint your subject on a smaller surface like in a journal.

You should be able to redraw the subject at a larger scale.

Paint a wall mural on a full building
A photo of my studio just before vacating the building.

Drawing freehand gives you a bit more freedom to express yourself freely. It leaves open the opportunity to make decisions on-site that can help the overall outcome of the mural.

Do make sure that you have enough space to move back from your wall when choosing a freehand method.

Your main guide will come from the capacity to step back and see where changes are required. If you know that you will be limited by space. Consider using one of the other methods.

Two

Using a Grid system to map your artwork on a wall.

Using a grid system suggests exactly that. Depending on the size of your mural, you can divide your template into evenly spaced squares. Try to avoid making your squares too small as this will result in time loss during preparation.

A good size could range from 60cm x 60cm to 1m x 1m.

This method is highly precise and will ensure that you are working on the exact replica of your template.

If you do decide to use this system. Making any last-minute changes once you have started working on your grid will be difficult. Essentially you will be completing a large puzzle in a step by step process.

Three

Preparing Stencils in advance.

Stenciling remains a very popular method for mural painting and is predominantly associated with street art and spray paint.

Aside from that, stenciling is a great way to go if you are working with patterns and minimalist features such as silhouettes and flat color application.

The advantage of this method is having the possibility to prepare most of your mural off-site. This is ideal if you have limited onsite time to complete your mural in which case some stencils will speed up your process dramatically.

Using stencils during a live painting event at Hennessy Park Hotel in Ebene.

There are a number of ways to prepare stencils for large format murals. If you are interested in this process and would like to find out more then leave a comment below with your questions.

Four

Pros & cons of using a projector to prepare a wall mural.

Finally, there is a projector. This is by far the most accurate way to put your new mural painting on a wall.

It is also the most expensive way to do so.

If you are planning to paint a mural inside where the viewing will be at close proximity. A projector can be a good option especially if you don’t feel confident with the more traditional methods.

If you are working on a large surface area. Then keep in mind that you will be limited to the size at which your artwork can be projected.

This may result in some distortion if you have not set your projector to a high enough quality. Some other factors to consider are lighting and power sources.

Although it’s a sure way of showing off your artwork, it certainly is not the most practical option.

This method. In my opinion, will limit your capacity to improve your skills in mural painting if you are just starting out with this style of art format. As you are simply retracing what has been created.

This is not to say that I don’t recommend using a projector. Just be aware of why you are using a projector if you decide to. Have a think about the investment versus the various downsides before going out and purchasing one.

Five

Starting the drawing and painting process

Consider how and where you are going to start with your mural. What are the colors and areas you need to focus on first? This will save you buckets of time and paint.

From here on you will find that mural painting is very similar to your standard painting techniques. This is the time when you can really start to enjoy the painting process.

Your mural will come to life and start to take shape.

Animals mural painting
This photo was taken during a phase of complete experimentation with various techniques of drawing, painting and composition being tested. Some specific studies had to do with perspective, scale and dynamic lines

Six

Ideal weather conditions to paint a wall mural.

Knowing if it is going to be hot, sunny, rainy or windy is crucial when painting outdoors.

wall mural in china town
African Chinese inspired masks. Painted in China Town Port Louis. The image was taken halfway through the painting.

Here are a few more samples that I have tested.

Mural painting flip flops
Wall size 3m x 2m

2.4m x 1.2m canvas

Conclusion

Painting murals is a lot of fun and I recommend anyone to give it a try.

If you find that the size is too intimidating. Start off small with maybe a door, or a small wall in your house. As you build up your confidence it will be easier to paint larger walls.

If you would like to know more about a particular technique to paint a wall mural. Then leave a comment below with your feedback and questions.

David Lagesse

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