Wall Mural Painting Techniques
Four Different Approaches to Creating Stunning Murals
A mural adds a whole new dimension to a room. It’s one of the most powerful ways to create an impact and transform the mood of any space.
If you have superior artistic talents, you can create a striking wall mural. On the other hand, if you have no artistic talent at all, you can still create a striking wall mural!
There are four approaches you can take to making murals, each with its own pros and cons.
The boldest approach to designing your wall mural is to create it freehand. Let the wall be your canvas, and unleash your creativity.
Painting freehand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan; don’t wing it. Have an idea of a design. Make a few practice sketches on paperto play with different designs. The freehand approach is not about fussing over every detail, though, so don’t over-plan. Let the creative process flow.
- How to do it: Prep the wall by repairing cracks and sanding it. Prime the wall until the primer stops soaking into it and leaves a smooth, even finish.
- With pencil in hand, lay in light outlines to create the basic shapes of your design. If you make mistakes, clean them away with an art gum eraser and try again. Draw some details if you feel you will need the guidelines when you get to the painting process.
- When you’re ready, begin painting with latex or acrylic paints. At this point, you can let your inspiration and instincts guide you.
- If you feel something isn’t working or you’re getting frustrated, take a coffee break. Frustration can make you tense up and lose focus, and that can result in rash decisions.Come back when you’re calm and refreshed.
- Remember, less is more. It’s easier to add more details, coloring or shading than it is to subtract them.
The Pros: For artistically inclined individuals, being able to paint a mural freehand can be exciting and inspiring. Your wall becomes a work of art, and nothing personalizes your home quite so well.
The Cons: Anything made by human hands is going to lack the polished perfection of a photograph. If realism is what you’re going after, it may be very hard to achieve unless you are a skilled artist.
Making a “Grid”
The “grid” approach gets its name from using a grid to transfer a design, section by section, from a paper to wall. Trying to copy the entire design on a blank wall in detail, while keeping it in proportion, can be a daunting task. With a grid, you transfer the image in more manageable sections. Grid lines serve to keep your muralin proportion with the image on paper.
- How to do it: Once you’ve prepped and primed your wall, determine exactly where you want the mural. Frame the space with painter’s tape to mark it. Use a level to ensure tape lines are straight.
- Create a grid on the wall within the tape frame. Use a yardstick, pencil and level to lightly draw the lines. Make each block on the grid measure 1 foot square so they’re all even.
- Find or design an image on paper. Scan it and resize the image so that one inch on your paper image is equal to one foot on your wall grid. This will ensure your design is drawn to scale. For example, if your wall grid measures 8 feet by 5 feet, your image on paper should measure 8 inches by 5 inches.Draw a grid over your image on the paper, making each block one inch square.
- Copy your paper image onto the wall grid, one block at a time. Draw lightly and carefully.
- After you’ve transferred the design, remove the tape borders and erase the grid lines with your art gum eraser.Paint your mural with acrylic or latex interior paint.
Pros: You don’t need special equipment to transfer a design using a grid. If you’re not entirely confident in your drawing skills, the grid can help you approach it in manageable, bite-sized chunks so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Cons: The preparation for the grid transfer method is time consuming. If your drawing skills are very poor, it can be frustrating. Your finished transferred image may not look exactly like your original image.
Mural Painting Guides
How to Plan a Wall Mural Painting : Sea Sponge for Wall Mural Painting
Mural painting equipment
Wall Mural Painting Techniques : Using a Projector and Working with Transfer Paper
Using a Projector
If you prefer to rely more on technology and less on your drawing skills, an overhead projector may do the trick.
If you don’t own a projector, you’ll need to get one. Some libraries will let you borrow them. If you work for a school or office you may be able to borrow one as well.
If you can’t borrow, you can rent one from a projector rental service. Depending on the quality of the machine, rentals can run from $10 to $70 per day. If you prefer, purchaseone outright from an art or office supply store. Cheap units start at $30 or $40, but make sure they can cast images the size you want before you invest.
- How to do it: Find or make a design you want to use for your mural. Print a black-and-white photocopy of the image. Scan the copy, then print it on a transparency sheet. You can purchase packages of these sheets at office supply stores and use them with your computer printer. If you prefer, bring the image to a printing counter at an office supply store and they’ll print it onto a transparency for you.
- After wall prepping and priming, set up your projector on a chair or table across from the wall you’re painting. Turn off the lights, turn on the projector. Put the transparency in place. You’ll probably need to move the machine around, prop it up or adjust the focus. Fiddle with it until a crisp image is projected exactly where you want it on the wall, at the exact size you want your mural to be.
- Trace the image directly onto the wall, using the projection as your guide. Don’t move the projector until you’ve traced every line. Once you’ve transferred the entire design, turn off the projector and turn on the lights. You’re ready to paint.
Pros: If you can trace, you can transfer your design so it’s picture perfect. You don’t have to have any drawing or artistic skills. You save a lot of time with a projector, as it requires little prep work.
Cons: If you don’t own or can’t borrow a projector, investing in one can make your project more costly.
Working with Transfer Paper
Transfer paper is also known as carbon or copy paper. It’s thin paper with a coating on one side. Sandwich it between an image and the wall, and all you have to do is trace over your image to transfer the outline to the wall.
The best type of transfer paper to use for a wall mural is graphite transfer paper, which is coated with the same soft, gray substance that makes up the point of a pencil. Graphite makes it easier to erase mistakes with an art gum eraser. For best results,purchase transfer paper in rolls or large sheets for making murals.
- How to do it: Get an image you want to transfer. The image should be the exact size you want the finished wall mural to be,since you’re tracing the design directly onto wall. Lay it face- down on the floor.
- Tape the transfer paper, coated side up, to the back of the image paper. Make sure both the design and the transfer paper are flat and smooth.
- Carefully hang the design with the transfer paper behind it on the wall using painter’s tape. The image should be facing you, and the coated side of the transfer paper should be facing the wall. Make sure both the transfer paper and image are lying flat against the wall, somewhat taught and smooth.
- Trace over the design with a pencil using moderate pressure. Press too lightly, your design might not transfer. Press too firmly, you might make lines too dark or rip your paper.
- Go over every single line of your image. Remove the paper and transfer paper. Color your mural in with paint.
Pros: You can create perfect outlines with no drawing skills required. This method works best if you’re trying to transfer a design off a large printed image, such as a poster or bed sheet.
Cons: Depending on how much transfer paper you need, the method can be expensive. Additionally – ifthe original image is not the size you want it to be on the wall — you’llhave to enlarge it first at a print shop. This, too, can be costly.
As you can see, there is no single correct way to create a wall mural. The technique you choose to utilize should depend on your confidence in your own painting and drawing skills, the look you’re going for, the materials you have to work with and your budget size. Weigh the pros and cons and take the approach that works best for your home.
No matter which way you choose to make it work—have fun with it! Mistakes can easily and inexpensively be painted over, giving you a fresh, blank canvas to start again.
How to Paint a Mural With a Projector
My Wall Painting and Art Hubs
Chen (author) on July 28, 2014:
Hi Rodricklewis; thanks for your comment! I'm glad it inspired you, and can't wait to hear about how your first piece goes. Relax and enjoy the creative process- it's fun! Thanks for dropping by, let me know how it goes.
Rodrick Lewis from Online on July 22, 2014:
Great tips, this was just what I need to start work on my 1st piece.
Chen (author) on March 14, 2012:
RT, It pays to be versatile to help create just what the client wants. Combining techniques is a good way to do that. A muralist can do a freehand background (especially landscapes) and then using a projector for detailed images or logos; or use a grid to lay in the main details, then use tracing paper for small embellishments. It's good to learn to work with various techniques. Thanks for your comment.
Chen (author) on March 14, 2012:
Thank you, Cloverleaf! Each method definitely has its place in creating wall murals. For those who are more interested in creativity and personal artistic expression without boundaries, freehand can allow a person to get swept up in the creative process. But that projector can sure come in handy for complicated designs when you want it exactly a certain way.
RTalloni on March 11, 2012:
Having done a variety of wall murals this was an interesting read to me. There have been times when I mixed the techniques you mention here. Having fun with it is the primary goal for me, and it's really fun to please a customer!
Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on March 11, 2012:
Great hub! Very informative. I did a mural once freehand, and it came out okay. I love the projector idea. voted up.