Advice on painting Murals


and starting your own mural painting business


I hope you’re finding the Sacredart Murals site an inspiration, we've all got to get it from somewhere and I regularly check out other people's work for ideas. I think the web helps us feel like we’re all part of a global artistic community, and we can draw strength from that. This document is intended to offer hints and tips on how to paint your own mural, and some help on starting your own mural business. Go for it!

For those of you who are looking for tips for a mural project in your own home, I would suggest you begin by sketching out your idea in a pad first to plan the composition. Draw the shape of the wall or walls you want to paint, add doors, radiators and other features so you can plan around them, then sketch in your idea. It's a good idea to find good source images to work from, the better the images you are working from, the better your results will be. Once you're happy, draw out the image in pencil, as lightly as you can, scaled up on to the wall. Mistakes should be corrected with a quality artists putty rubber, which reduces smudging. Scaling can be done by eye or using a grid if that helps. Some people project, and if you're lucky enough to own a digital projector, you can use this to help with the drawing. Draw in any hills, horizon, and distant features loosely now, don’t bother making them too detailed at this point as the lines are meant as just guides which will be painted over in the next stage.

Before you start drawing anything on the walls though, the walls should be prepared by filling any holes with filler, I recommend Tetrion, or the big chain’s own brand, notpolyfilla, they’re much easier to rub down smooth. Paint the entire area of the mural with one coat of white emulsion, to act as a primer, and to help the colours appear as they should, bright and clean.

Remember to mask off any areas where you don't want painted, wall edges, door and window frames etc. Use plastic sheeting from DIY stores on the floor, and dust sheets on top to absorb spills and drips, and remember to check the soles of your shoes for wet paint before every time you leave the room!

For me, 99% of the paint is applied using brushes, from tiny artists brushes to 4" decorators' brushes, buy good quality large brushes from decorator's merchants as cheap one's are a total waste of time and money, small brushes can be expensive from art shops, so I only buy a few of these for the fine detail, and I bought a whole load of cheap squirrel hair brushes when travelling around India which have lasted me for years. Now I know not everyone can go off travelling when they need to buy new equipment so I suggest looking around on the web for cheap suppliers. Anyway, I do sometimes buy cheap brushes that I come across here and there, as they can be useful for mixing paint and painting textures. It's worth having a bucket of water, or better still a paint kettle to clean brushes in as you work, as you really don't want the paint to dry on them.

The paint I use is a mixture of high quality household emulsion (emulsion is standard interior wall paint), matt brilliant white or trade white (Dulux is far superior to all other brands that I have tried, and trade white is slightly yellower than brilliant white, which is bluer, either is ok to use), and artists' acrylics, which I buy in the largest size available to keep costs down. I recommend System 3 Acrylics. Most colours use a lot of white, so this also helps reduce costs. The paint should be mixed to an opaque thickish cream consistency, though some colours, your reds and yellows, are hard to make opaque and several coats may need to be applied.

Paint the large areas of flat and blended colours first covering the bulk of the space with a background colour to work on. I usually paint the sky first (if there's a sky), then the middle ground, horizon etc, and then the foreground. It's usually best to work in this order, furthest away first, closest objects last.

To do a large scale blend of colours, say for the sky, you will need two colours mixed, one lighter and one slightly darker. Use two paint kettles for this, available cheaply at most DIY stores. Use a third kettle filled will clean water and keep it handy. The colours should be mixed slightly differently for this first coat, do not add too much water, maybe a shot glass full per ¾ kettle, to end up more like the consistency of double cream. Put some white into the kettles, as a guide fill about half way per wall. Add a little blue into the first kettle to mix a light blue. You won’t need much blue, so add it to the white gently. Stir until the paint is mixed thoroughly, then make a second, slightly darker blue, in the other kettle (add more blue). Then, using a medium 2” (inch) brush, (I like Hamilton’s decorators’ brushes for this, you can buy a box set of six for under £20 in the UK) carefully cut in with the darker blue along the top edge of the mural, up to, but not on, any coving. Then ideally you will need two 4” brushes and a lot of strength for this next part. You will need to do this bit quickly so that the paint stays wet. Load up one of the brushes with the darker blue paint, then tap it on each side of the inside of the kettle, to help minimise drips, then fill the area towards the top will the darker blue, using broad horizontal strokes. Then work down the wall, adding a little of the lighter paint to the loaded brush as you work downwards, blending as you go. Sounds easy, but this takes quite a bit of effort. Remove any stray hairs that come out from the brush, an annoyance but inevitable I’m afraid. Use your other large brush now, and paint the lighter blue from the horizon upwards, again adding a touch of the darker blue as you work up the wall. Where the two areas of colour meet, all I can say is blend blend blend! If the area is a little dry, try dipping your brush in the water, just wet the tips of the bristles, then blend some more. Try to achieve an even gradiation from top to bottom, but do not worry if its not perfect, it never is, and it really doesn’t matter as skies are pretty uneven in real life too. It may look patchy, but wait an hour or so for it to dry thoroughly and I think you will be pleased with the results.

Be brave and push yourself to achieve the result you want, cos that's what I have to do, every time.

This isn’t the only method I use for blending colours, I use a variety of techniques, including wet into wet and also scrubbing with an almost dry stubby brush, or as I described in detail, I use larger decorators brushes for big blends. The airbrush is used now and then for effects like atmospheric haze, streaks of sunlight and glowing lights.

I use the airbrush only for occasional effects, but is useful enough to me to warrant the investment. For pros, I recommend the devilbiss range of spray guns for larger work.

To make the colours bright and strong I would usually apply two coats of paint, the first is a layer of flat base colour, of about the middle to light tone and hue, which is allowed to completely dry before working over it with the second coat, where the blending of colours is then used to to create the desired form. Details are painted in next and highlights last. Any mistakes can be painted out carefully and repaired.

The mid ground comes next, and this can be the most tricky part. I’m not really sure how to describe in words how I go about painting in the details, techniques are all very unique and personal to the individual, but as a rule I mix up a bunch of colours, then work from the horizon forwards. Hills and treelines in the distance are lighter and less colour saturated than those that are nearer, add blue and light grey to tone down colours. Pay attention to where light and shade falls on the hills, and try and paint them accordingly. Similarly try to get the colours as correct as you can, this makes all the difference when trying to achieve pleasing results. Most people use colours with not enough white added, creating over saturated, deep hues that don’t work too well. Better to lighten all the colours, saving the deeper colours for shadows and dark features. For example, I never use black, always preferring a dark grey, which looks black in relation to the rest of the painting.

As you work forwards in 3D space, add more detail, picking out features here and there. In the immediate foreground, even more detail is needed, blades of grass, loose leaf shapes, coral in underwater scenes, rocks, whatever. Ironically, I find it harder to describe in detail how to add this detail, so I’d say just work carefully, maybe copying from a good image (one of mine, perhaps ;o), working from the lightest to the darkest, and adding highlights last. Paint around any characters you may have drawn in, leaving them blank for now.

So, on to characters. Well painted characters can really bring a mural to life, here’s a few tips on achieving results you can be proud of. Firstly, take your time with the drawing. This is vital. Well drawn characters can make a mural stand out. Usually I draw the characters in first, but sometimes it’s more appropriate to draw them in on top of the already painted background, depending on the background. For this guide I will explain how to do the former, done in this order: draw characters, paint background then paint characters.

You will need a hard pencil, 2H or 3H is good, don’t use anything softer than an HB. You will also need an artist’s putty rubber, and a good quality standard rubber to rub out larger incorrectly drawn lines. Putty rubbers are great for removing small detail, and essential for cleaning up graphite smudges.
Top Tip: Very useful for rubbing out pencil lines on emulsioned walls is a damp to wet cloth, which removes large areas of pencil mistakes better than any rubber, and without leaving any oily residue.

Now I humbly admit I am lucky enough to have a great eye for drawing, which helps, but it didn’t come easy. I have been drawing since my childhood, learning very gradually over a long time how to draw. The trick is to take your time. Be patient and careful, correcting mistakes as you go. Try and get proportions right, and don’t be too afraid or too proud to rub out a part of the drawing if it is wrong. There are some well known tricks to help with scaling up, such as drawing a scaled up grid, use anything that might help. A slide projector can be a cheap option, obviously you will need a slide photo of the image you want to draw. If you are lucky enough to own a digital projector, then the task is easy, find the image you want on your computer, then project it on the wall. Projectors are additionally useful as you can scale images by moving the projector forwards and backwards. Overhead projectors are also a good option, draw your character on paper, regular size, print it on to acetate and project.

So, once you’ve drawn your outline, the next step is to paint in that outline. This step means that when you paint in the background, you will still be able to see your drawing underneath below any over painting. Some people would argue that if you draw the character on over the already painted background, then you can miss out this step, but I think that when you do this, you are risking leaving a lot of ugly pencil lines and smudges, that sometimes won’t completely rub out, on your nice new background. Drawing the characters in first also helps enormously with the composition.
Black (dark grey) and coloured outlines are applied with a thin, long haired artists’ brush, size 0 or 00 or some such, and the paint is mixed to a thinner consistency than usual, but thick enough to be just opaque. Watch out for drips. Don’t overload the brush and use long, light, careful strokes working from top left to bottom right if you are right handed, to reduce the risk of smudging. Watch out for drips, again, and wait for the outline to dry before doing any more work. So to recap this step, I outline the image before, and then again after I colour the character in. The “pre” outline is done with a slightly watery, thinner paint, usually raw umber, then the finishing outline is done with a slightly thicker paint, (as thin as you can make it and it still be opaque is perfect). The trick to the clean lines is to use a long, thin brush, for example try Pro Arte Acrylix Series 203, size “0” or “00”, the longer “hairs” and thinner, the better.

Paint the background (!) (see above!!)

Next, mix up the base colours of the character, these are the main colours of any flat areas. Let’s use the example of Winnie the Pooh, mix up a golden yellow, which is a mixture of white, cadmium yellow and yellow ochre. Mix enough paint to apply at least two coats. Then paint the whole of Winnie’s body and face up to the jumper line, careful not to go beyond the edges of your drawing, with one coat of this paint. Wait for this to dry thoroughly, I use a hairdryer to speed things up, then paint a second coat neatly over the first one. When this dries you should have a good flat coat of golden yellow, and you should just still be able to see the outline you painted in before. Next do the same process with red paint for his jumper. You may need three coats of paint to achieve a nice opaque colour, as red acrylic is fairly translucent. Remember to add a little white into the paint mix, to help with opacity, but not so much as to turn the red into pink. To add shading, mix up a slightly darker yellow, heading towards brown, and paint this on to Winnies face and body, you’ll be able to see where if you’re working from a good picture, and blend the edges with the yellow using a wet into wet technique. Once these coats of paint are all dry, carefully paint around the outline again with either black (dark grey), or brown for an improved look (Disney tend to use coloured outlines). Watch out for drips!!

Step back and admire your handiwork :o)

Tips for starting your own mural painting business

So moving on, if you're looking for advice on starting a mural business, I can only write from my experience, saying what has worked for me. So if you’re interested, here's a few pointers..

If you're seriously considering this line of work, you need to be confident in your own abilities, having already done a few murals on the cheap if necessary (and it usually is), once you are established you can start to raise your prices. You'll need a decent amount of equipment and a vehicle, a camper van is ideal for me so I can work further away without all that B&B headache. Most importantly, you need customers. For me this has meant three years building and tweaking my website to be attractive, informative, and searchable by the major search engines. Get yourself listed on DMOZ, create links with related websites, research your keywords (but please don't steal mine), name your image files with relevant keywords and add alt tags to be searchable by google images, (remembering that alt tags are designed to help people who are visually impaired, as there is software designed to read them out), and just generally try to get yourself noticed. Keep your website updated with new work, if you show that you are busy people are more likely to want to employ you, catch 22. Print out some business cards and tactfully pass them on, tell your friends and family that you are now a mural artist and do all you can to market yourself.

What about pricing, how do you put a price on a piece of art? Good question, with some fairly ridiculous answers in this day an’ age. Let’s start the bidding at two million..
I base all my prices on a daily rate, same as a tradesman, decorator, chippy, whatever, you are entering into the same world as them really, as a skilled craftsman, so set your rate accordingly. Most people who want a mural are homeowners, who have had, or are having, work done on their home, so they know they price of tradesman in general. It would be nice to charge more but  people are only willing to pay what they think is right, or less, but rarely more. You can pitch your rate on a scale relative to your abilities, though at first you may need to work very cheaply to get the ball rolling. I suggest starting at a rate of £50 per day, then it won’t hurt the client so badly if you go over by a day or two, and once you are established increase your rate as you see fit, and you will have more experience so you will be able to more accurately know how long a particular job will take. Pace yourself, don’t work all the hours god sends or you could burn out too quickly, after many years experience I have found that the average maximum maintainable hours I can do in a day is about seven, as my concentration wanes towards the end of the day, although this does vary and some days are better than others, I'm an artist after all, not a robot. Tell your clients truthfully what they can expect from you and then there’s no surprises or disappointments.

I’m don’t know what else I can tell you, as it is really only this Sacredart website that brings me in work, so that’s all I know, apart from the obvious, like do follow up enquiries, be friendly and polite and be yourself (unless the two clash ;o). When you make arrangements with people, try not to break them and if you must, call and let them know, keep clients informed of what’s going on, don’t leave them hanging is what I mean. Treat them as you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

What about copyright? To read my personal views please click on the link below, however it is really down to the individual whether or not it's worth the risk to copy the likes of Disney. They haven't sent in the heavies yet though, so there's hope.

Some of you have asked me if I can offer you a job, well I'm afraid the answer has to be no right now, my business is still young, and I'm not ready to take on anyone, the logistics are just too complex. However I do occasionally need a hand so I may call you if the need arises.

A final thought, there is often a high demand for decent muralists and if you are good enough you could thrive in this very rewarding line of work. Having said that, the current economic climate has taken its toll on the mural painting industry, murals are a luxury item so they aren't very high on the priority list in lean times, so I would suggest trying other lines of work until the recession ends.

If you still have questions about any of this then you can try contacting me, but I cannot promise a personal reply as my inbox gets overloaded and I'm only human.

Well I have to get on now, I hope this has been helpful to you, and I wish you all the very best of luck in achieving your dreams.


Making a living as an artist really is as hard as they say (for me anyway), if this advice has been useful for you, then you could really make my day by clicking on the button below, and contributing a small amount via Paypal.




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