Things Learned Painting Murals

on Design, Lettering  

Creativity takes courage. Courage to say that this thing is worth spending time on, worth putting out there, worth taking up space, worth going big on. It’s not easy and there’s a hazy line between what is and isn’t possible for me at this stage, but sometimes you have to take a leap on the grey area.

For me, this has been making a jump from pens and paper to painting a mural, my first ever large scale piece.

Mural painting tests
Early experiments – a bit bigger than I’m used to!

This opportunity came after a casual Instagram post featuring an evening gelato run with some quick lettering. The owners of Ibiza N2 in Mt Lawley contacted me about painting the large blank wall in their cafe, and although I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to pull it off, I jumped at the chance. Lettering plus gelato, chocolate and churros? Definitely up my alley.

Finding the right tools

mural painting tests on a chalkboard
Early experiments
Mural painting with Tracer Jnr.
Tracer Jnr!

I started by experimenting with some different tools and materials, as my drawing ink and size 0 watercolour brushes weren’t going to get this job done. Thankfully the local lettering community is very supportive and some much more experienced artists helped me with lots of advice. I ended up deciding on white artist’s acrylic since it would be indoors and on a wall painted with an acrylic based paint. I’ve designated one of my #5 sable lettering brushes as my wall painting brush, as it took a bit of a hammering.

Working at scale and to a design is another challenge. Knowing I’d have limited time and limited experience to draw from, I opted for the projector approach. My lovely local art store lent me an adorable mini projector belonging to the owner’s daughter, which worked better than expected in experiments! For the final artwork I did manage to borrow a big digital projector which gives a stronger image and large enough to only have to break it down into a couple of sections.

Design

Mural design process
Rough sketch, done on the iPad

Inspiration: gelato making process

In creating the design, I took inspiration from what Ibiza N2 does and how it all fits together. If you’re not familiar with liquid nitrogen ice-cream, it involves mixing the (liquid) ingredients to order with liquid nitrogen, which freezes the mixture and creates a smooth gelato with very little ice crystals compared to the slower traditional process. It’s super tasty! The owners have also brought their expertise in churros and hot chocolate from Madrid, which of course had to feature too.

I sketched directly onto a photo of the space to get a good feel for placement and sizing.

Painting!

I painted the final design over two days, and boy was it hard work!

Mural step 1: tracing via projector
Chalk outline using a projector

The process starts with projecting the image onto the wall and outlining it in chalk (to be erased later). Since the projector was sitting precariously on a liquid nitrogen canister (yes really) and not easily directed, I had to break the design into a few parts and try to account for distortion on the fly.

Mural painting in progress
Not too chaotic

With that complete, I painted over the outlines with my acrylic paint. It took me a while to realise that it really needed a goodly amount of water added to flow easily across the wall; being a good quality paint it didn’t seem to affect the opacity too much, and the client was after an off-white colour anyway. Paints Mural painting in progress

Completed mural!
DONE!

Mural detail

Learnings

So here’s a few things I learned in this mural painting process:

  1. Take photos of the space – it helps for designing and visualising how the design will fit with the space.
  2. Think about how the design will fit with the wider brand – maybe this isn’t a mural artist’s job, but as a designer working with brands I can’t help it.
  3. Ask for advice – people are generally quite generous and the tips I got were invaluable.
  4. Make friends with your local art store – especially if you’re like me and go there almost every week.
  5. Make a list of things to bring beforehand – so nothing gets forgotten.
  6. Match the type of paint with the paint on the surface – acrylic based paints won’t sit properly on oil based ones, so always check beforehand.
  7. Use a projector if you can get away with it – it would have taken me much longer if I didn’t have one.
  8. Pace yourself & take breaks – I did a 7 hour day without any breaks, then a 2 hour day to finish up. Kind of wish I’d broken it a bit more evenly as I was exhausted after the first day, which is not a great way to be when you’re standing at the top of a ladder with a cup of paint.
  9. Charge your batteries or plug in for taking time-lapses – my camera died right at the start of the painting!
  10. Document the process – it’s hard to take a break for it, I’m glad I took as many photos as I did.
  11. Taking a on big challenge leads to massive growth – I had to level up quickly to meet my deadline, and I wouldn’t have done so without this project. It’s scary, but so very worth it!

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