Painting your first mural

CWC_2016-01-21_georgia-phase_insta-graphic_template By Júlia Palazzo

Melbourne has a thriving culture of art on walls.  Just last weekend, streets on the CBD were taken over by hundreds of graffiti writers and street artists decorating dozens of walls and laneways for the Meeting of Styles festival. Many other capital cities in Australia are also being enlivened by similar events. As the general population and councils all over the country are starting to embrace and support street art and graffiti, there has been a growing interest in commissioning artists to create murals in facades and interiors.

Murals are also an incredibly effective way for emerging artists to promote their work and create new opportunities for themselves. However, I often hear from visual artists that creating in such a large scale, often in public, seems really daunting. Painting walls is very different from creating a piece of art in your studio. They bring unique challenges that need to be managed well. However if you are a painter or illustrator, you already have most of the skills that’ll help you do so, and following these tips will help your first experiences run smoothly.

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Get familiar with the wall and its surroundings

If possible visit the wall you’ll paint in person before you paint it. Site visits will reveal unforeseen challenges and help you plan how to approach the project. It will also help you understand how the public will interact with your mural piece. If you cannot see the wall in person, try to get someone to send you plenty of photos of the surrounding, or even take a video.

Sketch before you paint

A detailed sketch will save you a lot of time on the painting day and help you make good design decisions. It will help you plan your timeline, what materials you’ll need, and get feedback from your client if it is a commission. Transferring the sketch to the wall can be challenging if you are not used to the scale, but it will get easier with practice. When painting the sketch, remember to regularly stand back and check if things are in the right proportion.

Choose the right paint for you

Pick materials that are durable and suit your artistic style, your level of skill and the surface you are painting on. Look beyond the art shop: hardware stores or graffiti shops offer great options. The artist I work with uses spray paint. Spray paint can quickly be applied to most surfaces and creates very beautiful effects, so it is no surprise that it is adopted by a lot of mural artists. However it takes a lot of practice to create good results and you need to plan your colour palette carefully as it’ll be impossible to mix the colours on site. Also, it can be expensive, and getting a cheap brand will sacrifice the durability of your art since the lower end products fade quickly. The paint fumes are strong, so you’ll need to wear a respirator to protect your lungs.
 I personally use outdoor, UV resistant acrylic paint I get from a hardware store. Although it is not as fast to apply as spray paint, it is a lot cheaper, easy to mix colours and a lot more suitable to my personal style, as well as removing the issue with fumes. I suggest you try a few different things and practice getting good at whatever is more suitable for your art.

Prepare to stress out

Your mural art will usually be on display for a lot of people while you are painting it, as well as for a long time after you finish it. People will watch as you go through your process and make mistakes, and it’ll be hard to hide the result if you are not satisfied with it. It is no surprise then that most of the mural artists I know to go through a lot of stressful emotional experiences when they’re painting. If you are working on a mural and you start feeling embarrassed or ashamed of what you are doing, take a deep breath, and remember that you might just be experiencing a very normal “wall-low”. If you are truly concerned about your piece, ask for the opinion of someone you trust, as the stress can skew your judgement and make things seem worst than they are. Plan ways to manage your emotions while you are painting, and maybe even go home and get back into it after a good night of sleep.

Manage your interaction with the public

Meeting new people is one of the highlights of painting in public spaces. You will meet many people that will stop by and tell you how beautiful your work is. You will meet people that are curious and full of admiration, and sometimes people that can help you in your career. However, you will inevitably have negative experiences as well. You will meet people that do not like your work and are very vocal about it, or that think you are a vandal because you are painting a wall. At the end of a full day of painting, all the different interactions can be very draining and leave you feeling demotivated, as well as stopping you from focussing and making progress. It is important to make the community that will interact with your art to feel engaged and excited, but that does not mean that you must spend all day talking to people. Be friendly and approachable, but do not hesitate to politely tell people that you need to keep painting. Do not give negative people your time or attention. If you are painting in an area that is a bit deserted or feels unsafe, it is a good idea to have friends keep you company during the day.

Get help

Murals can take a long time, and are usually much easier (and fun) if you have help, so don’t be shy to ask to collaborate with other artists or get a helping hand from your friends.


Image source: Maribyrnong City Council / Photographer: Brent Edwards

Júlia Palazzo is a visual artist from Brazil. Since moving to Melbourne in 2013 she has been running a partnership, Mayfield Palace, creating mural art for businesses and organisations all over Australia. She shares her art daily on Instagram: @julia.palazzo