A Beginner’s Guide to Painting Murals

A Beginner’s Guide to Painting Murals

We were honored to have local artists, Sarah Farris and Nikki Aviles in our studio last month to host a Beginner’s Guide to Murals Workshop! Attendees learned all about the process of creating a mural from start to finish, materials needed, networking tips, budgeting information, and more, which we’ve summarized below in this blog post.   

As Sarah and Nikki mentioned in their presentation, community building and collaboration is an extremely important part of growing your creative career, so we encourage you to ask questions, show support, and connect with other artists whenever possible! You can find Sarah and Nikki on Instagram at @artbysarahfarris and @_nxa  

How to Get Murals as an Artist 

You’re confident in your artistic skills, mural designs are swirling around in your head, and you’re feeling ready and excited to paint on a larger scale… but how do you actually go about getting a mural wall? The only way is to put yourself out there. As vague and frustrating as it may sound, it is truly the best way to start building connections in the community. Attend local events, network with other artists, introduce yourself to business owners, and share your artwork.  

It only takes one job to get the ball rolling. Be kind, respectful, showcase your abilities, and the word will start spreading. Word-of-mouth recommendations are incredibly important.  

How to Determine Which Jobs to Accept 

Although artists often feel like they have to say “yes” to any and every job offered to them, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before agreeing to a mural project:   

Will it help me grow as an artist? Will it challenge me to work with new equipment and allow creative freedom? Will it compensate me appropriately for my skills and time? Will it build connections and open new doors for me? If the answer to these questions is “no”, or if you have a negative gut feeling about the client or the situation, give yourself permission to gracefully decline the project.   

What to Consider When you Get a Mural 

There are several factors to consider when you secure a mural project. First things first: show up to the job site for a thorough inspection of the wall you’ll be painting. Take note of the quality and cleanliness of the wall, and any surrounding fixtures you will need to paint around. In some cases, there might also already be existing artwork on the wall. If so, make sure you do your due diligence before painting over it. This includes documenting the existing artwork and asking permission from the previous artist when applicable.  

Budgeting for Mural Projects 

Creating an accurate budget for your mural projects is vitally important. Murals are extremely time and labor intensive, so you need to make sure you budget and charge your clients appropriately to ensure you are fairly compensated. It’s easiest to assess your project in terms of fixed vs variable costs.   

Fixed Costs - These are things like materials and mockups. For example, paint cans are $40/gallon and brushes are about $8-$10 a piece depending on the size and quality you need. Mockups are also typically a fixed fee charged to the client (ex: $300 per mockup).  

Variable Costs - These include your labor hours and prep work. As you can assume, these costs vary drastically depending on the complexity of the design, wall type, timeline, revisions, etc.  

As you create your budget, you’ll need to think about the following factors: 

  • Timeline - How long will it take to prep the wall? How long will it take to create mockups? What is the turnaround time? How long will it take me to paint? 
  • Materials - How much paint will you need? Do you need to rent any equipment such as ladders, scaffolding, or lifts? Do you need to purchase insurance for this project? 
  • Revisions - How much will you charge for revisions? Will it be a flat fee or hourly rate? How many revisions will you allow?  

It can be easy for clients to think about the project in terms of strictly the painting process, not factoring in the prep work, mileage, design process, and other elements that go into it. This is why it is recommended to present a detailed, itemized invoice so the client knows exactly what they are getting and to ensure you are paid fairly.  

Concept Building 

There are a couple of different options for creating your mockups and presenting your concepts to the client. In most cases, you’ll want to present 2-3 options for them to choose from. There are many ways to present your concepts, ranging from digital sketches to small-scale canvas paintings.   

When creating mockups digitally, Sarah recommends using the Procreate app on the iPad. This allows the digital sketches to be easily scaled to the size of the mural wall, and it’s oftentimes much faster than creating a hand-painted mockup. However, if your Procreate skills differ drastically from your painting skills, it will result in inconsistent artwork and lead to unrealistic expectations from the client.  

Whichever method you choose, it’s always wise to make sure the client knows the mockup is a mockup - therefore the actual mural will not be an exact replica. This is also a good time to remind the client that while revision requests are welcome during the process, they will come with an additional cost.  

Prep Work 

Before you can start painting, you’ll need to complete some prep work to make sure the painting process goes smoothly. First, inspect the wall to figure out how long it will take to create a suitable painting surface. Are there issues with the wall? Is the paint peeling? Are there fixtures you will have to paint around? Is the wall textured? If it’s an outdoor project, you will also need to consider whether you need a tent for rain, wind, and sun.  

Once you start prepping the area, there are three main steps to take: 

  1. Clean the wall. This step is very important! You can do this using a pressure washer or simply using a sponge with soap and water. 
  1. Tape the area. Use blue painter’s tape for fixtures and borders, and gorilla tape for securing your drop cloths to the floor. It is best to use plastic drop cloths instead of canvas, as the paint can be absorbed through canvas and ultimately damage the floors. 
  1. Prime the surface. For this step, make sure to use cheap, disposable brushes as primer will likely ruin your brush.  

In some cases, the client will offer to complete the prep work for you to save on overall project costs. If you go this route, make sure it is done thoroughly to your standards. Don’t underestimate the importance of prep work!  

Painting the Mural 

Now comes the fun part! You’re ready to start painting the mural. In this section, we’ll cover the main steps to completing a mural, and we’ll share some important tips for ensuring a smooth, successful result.  

Outlining the Mural - The first step is outlining your mural design. There are a couple main ways to do this, including a doodle grid and a projector. Doodle grids involve drawing random shapes on the wall, taking a photo of the wall, then using procreate to overlay your image on top to help with proportions. Using a projector is another popular choice. Projections are especially useful for typography; however, you will need to make sure the space has an accessible power source and enough space to scale the design properly. Artists often use chalk, crayons, paint, spray paint, or even just water to complete the outline.  

Painting the Mural - Before you begin painting, make sure to document exactly what colors you bought. Take photos of the paint cards or numbers on the cans so you don’t have to spend time color matching if you run out of paint or need to make revisions. Once you begin, remember that less is more when it comes to hand-painted murals. Although intricate details may look great up close, small details often get lost when you view the mural from further away - not to mention the extra time and paint costs associated with highly-detailed paintings. We also recommend using spray bottles with water to keep your paints wet, workable, and easy to blend.   

Sealing the Mural - You may offer sealant options as an additional cost to the client. Sealants can be beneficial since murals will fade over time. This is especially important if the client would like the mural to last for many years to come. If you choose to seal the painting, make sure to cover yourself, wear respirators and protective eyewear, and drink plenty of water to keep yourself safe. 

Taking Care of Yourself 

Last but not least, remember to take care of yourself! Oftentimes we spend so much time prepping for the job, creating mockups, meeting with clients, and getting supplies that by the time we get to work we have completely forgotten about ourselves. Make sure to bring water, healthy food, speaker or airpods, sunscreen, and a hat or towel to keep yourself protected and comfortable.   

Finally, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and get credit where it is due. As you progress in your creative career, you will be tested, and people will try to take advantage of your time and talent. Always remember, if a situation or a person doesn’t feel right in your gut… trust it!  

Mahalo nui loa to Sarah Farris and Nikki Aviles for sharing their time and expertise with us and our wonderful community of artists. If you would like to learn more and stay in-the-know about upcoming events, make sure to follow us on Instagram @kiikauprinters 

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