How To Paint A Mural

How To Paint A Mural
Mural painting can be broken down into eight simple steps.

What's This? Abstract Art? No? It is actually my mixing pallet.

What's This? Abstract Art? No? It is actually my mixing pallet.
What's This? Abstract Art? No? It is actually my mixing pallet.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Simple Steps to Painting A Mural

How To Paint A Big Mural
I have been painting murals throughout my fine art career which has now spanned just over 30 years. Depicting a scene on the grand scale is like second nature to me, like eating food or breathing. To those who have never painted a mural before, at first it may seem overwhelming, but once you get your feet wet in the process, it really isn't.

The first step is coming up with a THEME and then find a way arrange it in a pleasing composition. For the Novatek Mural Project, the theme has always been to depict a Wasatch Mountain scene from the Utah County area. PURPOSE is also an important part of the first step in mural creation. In our case, the purpose of this project is to create a mural that is so inspiring, so uplifting that is has a positive influence on those who work in the space daily or come to visit, to conduct business. For us, this is really a tall order and a big responsibility. The wrong colors or mood could contribute to a depressing atmosphere, low morale, etc. It is absolutely important that the final result fulfills the purpose intended.

Yes, sometimes this first step can be nerve racking, but we have been painting murals for a long time and I know from experience to not give up and to have confidence and tenacity in my own ability to give the client what he wants. The sketch for the Mountain Vista mural came much easier than the MC Print building's mural sketch, yet we plowed through all the objections (the MC Print sketch went through about 13 major changes/repaints in a two month period)and we are now much closer to where we need to be. The final result will fulfill the mural's purpose.

Making an accurately scaled sketch is important if you're going to enlarge your drawing onto a larger canvas surface or directly on the wall. Creating a sketch to an accurate scale saves a lot of time, making the transfer from small to large much easier. I will often make a drawing or a painting with the scale of one inch representing one foot in full scale. You can also use smaller measurements such a one-half or one-quarter inch equals one foot enlarged.

Next, on the wall or full scaled surface to which my sketch will be transferred, I sometimes make a grid of one foot by one foot squares. I duplicate this grid from top to bottom and left to right, until the whole surface is covered with this grid pattern. If I don't want to draw a grid on my nice sketch, I will create a simplified drawing or rough sketch and grid this to one inch squares. Now it is a simple matter of observing each individual square at a time to see where the basic lines fall in each one foot square on the mural surface. Don't worry about detail yet, which leads us to the next step...

The mural composition (arrangement of shapes or patterns balanced with the arrangement of positive and negative space), must first work in it's most simplified, uncluttered form; Abstraction of Shape and Design. LESS IS MORE is a true design principle which means to eliminate the unimportant so that it emphasizes only that which is important. My instructor, Sergei Bongart put it this way, "More important what you leave out than what you put in". Long before abstract form was promoted as an Avant-garde art statement, master artists followed this principle as a foundation for establishing solid design. Before any detail is to be applied to an art form, be it visual, sculptural, musical composition or literally any art form, it has to work in the abstract. In music, the abstract is in the theme and a very basic melodic line. In visual art, the abstract of a pine tree or other objects may be represented as a simple triangle, a cylinder, a square or other simplified geometric shapes.

When I paint at my easel or on a wall, I will sketch out the Abstract Forms with either a piece of charcoal or a paintbrush.

STEP FOUR - FOUNDATION WASH (can be done with oil or water based paints)
Still thinking in basic abstract form, cover the white surface with thinly painted colors that will make for some great under-painting. For example, in this Novatek Mural Project, I first painted the sky which was to become a neutral pale blue clear sky in the MC Print Mural a creamy yellow. Why would I do that? The end result created a softer, more pleasant subtle warm luminosity in which I know of no other way or technique to achieve this effect. If you study the sky on a clear day, the "blue" sky is actually a softer and slightly warmer blue nearer the horizon. The neutral blue tone was painted thinly, by thinning the color with turpentine. This created a semi-transparent effect, allowing the creamy influence of the under-painting to come through. The rest of the painting was quickly washed with appropriate colors as you can follow in some of the pictures provided in the blog links.

Now I start applying paint with less mineral spirits and more paint opacity. I am still not concerned with detail, but I am concerned with color values. Some artists begin painting by establishing what they first perceived as their lightest light and darkest dark. I don't agree with this method. Too often, you will discover down the road that you limited yourself and have to make major adjustments. It is much easier for me and it makes more sense for me to begin the more serious painting with only the middle values, eventually working toward my darkest dark's and lightest light's as I get near to the finish. Usually, with this approach, the lightest colors are your final accents which you apply in the very last few strokes. This method also seems to create a much more subtle and sensitive range of color harmony.

This is the fun part; getting all the colors in middle values to dance together in beautiful harmonious melodious visual music. If the colors don't work well together, it is the same as striking an out-of-harmony chord on the piano. I have a term for a painting with bad color; "VISUAL VOMIT" (My father came up with that one). If the color is off, something makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Sometimes the colors look too muddy, too chalky or raw. What is the cause? It is poor juxtaposition of color (different colors positioned side by side). A particular color which looks muddy, chalky or raw, etc, in one circumstance may be beautiful and harmonious in another, depending on the other colors next to it. When all the colors are working beautifully together in their middle values, then it is time to move on to the next step.

As we begin to apply detail, we first begin by working out the other value ranges. Although we have come this far in the painting, it is still important to remember to keep the previous steps in control. The "less is more" principle is especially relevant. Only the right amount of detail is enough. Too much detail in my opinion looks to mechanical, too illustrative and strays away from the "true art of the art form". Over modeling of an object also kills color luminosity. One or two simple brushstrokes can represent much detail if the color looks atmospherically correct. Besides, you really cannot actually see every blade of grass or leaf on distant trees, although your mind knows they are there. What you do see is a mass of colors, values, patterns and shapes juxtaposed to each other. I do not apply every single detail. That is boring to me. Even still. I am considered a realist painter, because I make it feel real, but with an economy of brushwork.

Add the last minute details and the brightest accents then, VOILA! you are finished!