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4/23/10 Mural Painting 101

A How-To Guide for Mural Painting

Step One: Prepare the wall
  1. Decide which patch of wall you want to paint.
  2. Decide how big the final mural will be.
  3. Wash the wall.
  4. If you're scaling up from an existing image, figure out the dimensions, do the math, and calculate the precise size of the mural.
  5. With a tape measure and Sharpie marker (and ideally either a bubble level or a third partner who has a good eye for level), designate the boundaries of the mural.
  6. With a chalkline, ensure the boundaries are perfectly straight.

Step 2: Prime the Wall
  1. Decide what color the background of the mural will be. (For world maps, it makes sense to prime the wall in light blue. That way, the oceans are done, without having to be hyper-careful around continent boundaries. You can just roller them on!)
  2. Mix your paint.
  3. Roller in the bulk of the paint. (Is roller a verb? What else do you call applying paint with a paint roller?)
  4. With a small brush, cut in the edges. Most Moroccan walls are thinly plastered and then whitewashed, so taping the edges isn't an option - you'll rip off half the wall. Hopefully you'll have someone as attentive to detail as we did.
  5. If you're gridding your mural - ie, scaling it up, bit by bit, from a small image, using a grid system - you'll want to snap chalklines at even intervals, so you have a visible grid above your primed surface. To make a precise replica, you'll need to figure out the scale factor between the image in your hand and the mural on the wall. It's math you probably haven't thought about since 7th grade, but sit down with a ruler, tape measure, pencil, and calculator and you'll work it out. :)

Part 3: Draw the Picture
  1. Either freehanded or using a pre-existing image (with or without a grid), draw your picture onto the primed surface. Use a pencil. You can't really erase unless you have an art gum eraser, but you can smudge it pretty easily, so at least you'll know later that you didn't mean that particular line. Besides, you'll be painting over it all, right? :)
  2. If necessary, go back over your penciled lines with a Sharpie. In bright, direct sunlight, our pencil lines were nearly invisible. We shaded them with our arms and redrew them in Sharpie, so they'd be easy to see later, when we had paint brushes in-hand.
  3. Color your own copy of the picture. (This step can be skipped if you have access to a color printer.) We used colored pencils and the black-and-white printouts of the map, and I got to regress to kindergarten. :) Also, we thought that a few of the colors on their map were too similar (like an orange and a peach that we had to squint hard at), so we changed them.
  4. Choose your paint colors. If they match the colors from (3), your life will be a lot simpler. Then mix your paint colors. Our art guru did this for us, with gorgeous success.
  5. Color-swatch your picture. (Especially if your image is complex, like a world map.) That is, daub paint in each little section, so that your mural becomes more or less paint-by-number. This prevents you frantically referencing the printout in your hand (that you hopefully remembered to bring!), trying to figure out if that little corner of Madagascar should be dark green or light green, while swarmed by eager children. Also, this allows children to paint all the sections of their color, without having to check back with you. (Yes, this does make your map look like it has technicolor smallpox, but that won't last long.)

Step 4: Paint the Mural!

Step 5: Bask in your accomplishment

Here are the 21 kids, some teachers, and the PCVs.
(L) Half of the world biome map (R) Half of the Water Cycle mural

Part Six (Optional): Touch Up the Mural

Go back the next day and clean up the edges, make sure there isn't any primed surface still showing through (a big problem on textured walls like these), fix any mistakes... The kids accidentally painted across the Red Sea, making the Sahara contiguous with the Arabian Peninsula. Little things like that.

Water Cycle Mural, End of Day 1 Water Cycle Mural, End of Day 2
The obvious differences are the appearance of the water cycle arrows (whose label words will be filled in soon), and the more obvious nature of the three-dimensional diagram. Also, a cloud shrunk. If you look more carefully, the snowflakes and raindrops were redone, and patchy paint was filled in to present a smooth surface.

World Biome Map, End of Day 1 World Biome Map, End of Day 2

The kids had done a good job, so the only obvious differences are the reappearance of the Red Sea, the biome key (which the Arabic teacher promised to fill in), and that the Kamchatka islands are now islands, and not a big streak of brown. There are also subtle changes, like the thickness of the paint (which shows up best in Antarctica, now white instead of whitish-blue) and the sharpness of the contacts between colors.

Heart-Healthy Foods Mural, End of Day 1 Heart-Healthy Foods Mural, End of Day 2

The fruit and heart got outlined, the frame completed.

Touching-up is optional, and depends on the skill level of your students. And how particular you are about the final product. :)

Step 7: Celebrate!

We went home and had delicious food. I highly recommend this. :)

So there you have it, friends: the seven-step guide to a fabulous mural day. Our Earth Day was a huge success, in my opinion. The kids had a great time, they learned good things, and now their school has trees and murals to embed the memories permanents.

And there was great rejoicing. :D

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