How to paint a wall mural

Learning how to paint a wall mural is no different than painting on a smaller sized canvas. The techniques used are very similar to how you would generally paint in your own particular style.

The most significant difference will be the physical scale of your mural in comparison to a traditional sized canvas. If you are new to mural painting and want to build up some experience then consider using a demo wall. Try a few techniques and practice.

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 image selection for this post consists of work that is mainly in progress. This will give you a small idea of my processes involved when figuring out how to paint a wall mural.

Paint a wall mural of a dragon

I have put together a simple guide for anyone who is learning 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.

So here are a few projects that I have recently completed. They will illustrate some techniques and how I go through this process. Let’s get on with it then!

Paint a wall mural of a manga

1. What size is the surface of your wall to paint a mural? And where is the location?

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 aswell 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 for your 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’Alphab√©tisation 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”

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.

Paint a wall mural of Thor
Sketch on Left “A3 paper” Final mural Right “6m x 4.5m” Freehand painting

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 the 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.
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 mural

So what exactly do you need to do to paint a mural? The short answer to that is: It depends. There is no set list that will determine what you need for every mural. It is advised that you do some research yourself before you start your project.

A basic list to paint a wall mural.

I have included some links to help you find someducts. Please note that I am not being endorsed by any companies to suggest these items. You are welcome to shop around Strongly advised

  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 surface 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 loosing 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 paint brushes 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.

a. Freehand 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 with space. Consider using one of the other methods.

b. Grid system

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 to 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.

c. Stencil

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 you questions.

D. Projector

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 its 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 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 the various downsides before going out and purchasing one.

5. 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.

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

6. Find out what the weather conditions are going to be.

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

Paint a 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.

Paint a mall mural of thongs
Wall size 3m x 2m

2.4m x 1.2m canvas

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. 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.

David Lagesse