How to Paint a Wall Mural

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A wall mural is an extravagance and a fantasy -- an artwork painted directly on the plaster, a portal to another world. You might have a Tuscan vineyard unspooling outward from your kitchen, a pirate ship and the Lost Boys in the playroom, a Grecian colonnade running along a living room wall.

You can paint your own mural, even if you aren't an artist, if you prepare your "canvas" properly and grid the wall so the proportions and perspective are accurate.

Things You'll Need

  • Regular paintbrush/roller for latex primer 
  • Latex primer 
  • Latex paint (optional)
  • Natural sponge (optional)
  • Ruler
  • Yardstick
  • Soft pencil
  • Carpenter's level
  • Lead eraser
  • Acrylic hobby paints
  • Small artist brushes
  • Clear, non-yellowing lacquer finish

Step 1: Prepping and Priming

  • Select your mural image. Cartoon and illustrated images are easier to grid and copy accurately than photographs for inexperienced muralists. 
  • Gather the needed supplies. Use flat artists' brushes to paint larger areas of the picture and rounded and fine-tipped brushes for tiny sections of color and details. A good quality acrylic brush won't leave brush hairs or fibers on your wall.  
  • Paint if the background wall needs a new paint job. 
  • Clean the wall, repairing any damaged areas and repainting if necessary. 
  • Prime the entire area to be covered with the mural. This will ensure that the painted design adheres durably to the wall. 
  • Sponge or paint any large areas of background color, once the primer is completely dry. For example, a fantasy scene on a nursery or playroom wall may be extended to a sky ceiling with a light blue background and easily sponged-on puffy white clouds.

Step 2: Gridding

  • Draw a grid lightly over the image you plan to recreate as a mural, using the ruler and soft pencil. If your original image can't be drawn on, cover it with a clear acrylic sheet with pre-made grid lines, or use dry-erase markers on the clear sheet to draw your own grid. 
  • Redraw a grid in the exact proportions on the wall, adjusting the size of the grid squares to the area for the image on the wall. 
  • Pencil that part of the design in the appropriate grid square. Each individual grid square on the wall will contain part of the design so take your time transferring the smaller gridded image to the larger grid on the wall. When you have finished, the small image will be reproduced in its enlarged version on your wall. 
  • Erase any visible grid lines, being careful to leave the sketched design.

Tip

  • Use the pencil and a yardstick to create the wall grid and keep the grid lines level with the carpenter's level.

Step 3: Painting

Here's where you get creative. For example, your submarine might be bright yellow although the original cartoon was vivid blue. Your fish might be an explosion of neon, unlike the more sedate muted colors in the inspirational image.

  • Begin by working from the top of the image down, paint all the areas in a single color, matching your wall paint to the colors in each grid on the original small image -- or varying the colors to suit your own imagination. 

Tip

  • When you work from the top down, there is less chance of smearing the paint as you work on different areas. Let the color dry.

  • Continue painting in the grid areas, color by color, until the basic design has been transferred to the wall. 
  • Dry each new color before beginning the next one.
  • Gently erase any leftover visible pencil marks after the whole picture dries completely.

Step 4: Finessing

This is an optional step, but it enhances your work and gives it more detail and depth.

If you are a confident artist, jump right in to make the mural your own. If this is your first attempt, go slowly and work sparingly, standing back to view the effect often so you don't obscure any important images or over-paint the picture.

Highlighting Look for any parts of the basic image that could use a little highlight with a few white brushstrokes.

Detailing Use very fine black lines to add in detail.

Texturing Achieve texture with a light bit of sponging or other embellishment.

Tip

  • An optional natural sponge allows you to sponge puffy white clouds on a blue background wall before adding figurative detail.

Step 5: Finishing

Once the mural is complete, allow the paint to dry for at least a day before applying a protective clear finish.

Non-yellowing finishes come in matte and glossy:

  • Matte lets your artwork show without any glare.
  • Glossy is easier to wipe down for a mural subjected to admiring sticky fingers.

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