Whether indoors or outdoors, murals add color and life to private and public spaces. Indoors, they’re a fun alternative to wallpaper and can bring light, warmth, or playfulness to a room. Outdoors, murals can also improve dark or neglected spaces or even become a focal point of a neighborhood.
Murals can also be immensely satisfying projects for artists (and budding artists) who want to see their work on a grand scale. You don’t have to be a pro to have a go at painting a mural, but it’s a good idea to have plenty of painting or illustrating experience and to be comfortable drawing your designs and working with paint. If you’ve never picked up a paintbrush before, we recommend starting on a smaller canvas! But if you’re looking for inspiration and tips on how to paint a wall mural, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to paint a mural on a wall step by step.
How to Paint a Mural
While some of the principles of painting murals are the same whether you’re working on an indoor or an outdoor wall, it’s also important to factor in the unique requirements of each location.
If you’re learning how to paint a mural on a bedroom wall or some other interior canvas, you’ll need to consider the requirements of that space. If you’re painting a wall in a small, dark room, you’ll probably want to paint a mural that adds light and brightness, avoiding colors that make the room seem smaller and darker.
You’ll also need to consider how the space is used, and what other elements the room contains. If you’re painting a living room wall, consider how the mural will look when crowded with couches, bookshelves, and a TV. Or, if you’re painting a wall in a cafe, is your design likely to appeal to customers?
If you’re painting an outdoor mural, you’ll need to consider the weather and other factors that might affect how long your artwork lasts. Using sun and weatherproof paint is an important step, but murals in places with heavy foot traffic or exposed to harsh elements, pollution, or exhaust fumes may discolor and get old faster.
Whatever you’re painting, you’ll need a strong concept and some preliminary sketches before taking paint to any kind of wall. It’s always smart to practice and make designs on a smaller scale first.
To paint a mural inside or outside you’ll need:
- Brushes (and a roller, optional)
- Rags/paper towels
- A bucket of water for cleaning brushes
- String for measuring or using as a guideline
To paint any mural, you’ll need a variety of brushes—larger ones and smaller detail brushes in both flat-edged and chisel-tipped brushes are useful. Different brushes are necessary for enamel and acrylic latex paints. You may also need a sponge roller (and a paint tray) for covering larger surfaces with a single color.
The paint you use depends on whether your mural is inside or outside. If inside, any paint you can get from a hardware store (whether latex or water-based) is ideal as it’s inexpensive. If you’re painting an area that requires more maintenance, like a bathroom or kitchen wall, enamel paints may be preferable as they have a glossy finish.
For outdoor murals, you’ll need harder-wearing water and weatherproof paints appropriate for the type of wall, like acrylic latex paints suitable for outdoor use. If you’re comfortable with a spray can, you can also use spray paint for indoor and outdoor murals. If using them indoors, ensure the room is well-ventilated, and in both locations, wear a mask to prevent inhalation of the paint. Spray paint allows for good blending but one can doesn’t cover much wall area, so they produce a lot of waste.
Concrete or brick walls are the most common surface to see outdoor murals on, but you may also want to paint on metal (such as garage doors) or wood walls. You might even need to know how to paint a mural on a wood fence. While concrete and brick walls are suitable for almost any kind of paint, metal or wood walls are a bit trickier, and it’s important to look for paints that are suitable for these surfaces.
If your design calls for metallic or other specialty paint, know that these can be more costly, but you can get them in smaller tubs. That said, if you’re on a budget, factor the type of paint you’ll need into your designs. It’s probably not a great idea to plan on painting an enormous, shimmering metallic sun with enamel paint if you’re trying to keep costs down.
Once you’ve gathered your materials, it’s time to practice how to paint a mural on a wall step by step.
How to Paint a Mural on an Indoor Wall
Step 1: Prep the Wall
All walls are different, so prepping may take different forms, but ultimately, you want to turn the wall into a smooth, clean canvas for your art.
You might find that your wall has chips, holes, or other imperfections. Some textural irregularities might be covered up by your mural, especially if it’s a detailed design with lots of colors and patterns, while other imperfections will look better if you fix them at the prepping stage. Small holes can be covered with masking tape, which you can paint right over.
If your mural requires a base layer in a uniform color, use a roller to paint the whole surface. Wait a sufficient amount of time for the paint to dry before going to the next step—probably overnight.
Step 2: Scale Your Design
If you have a detailed mural design, you’ll want to scale it appropriately for the larger surface area of the wall. If you don’t, you may find that your perspective and relative size of parts of the design end up being off. Scaling your design is less important if you’re working with abstract patterns or figurative ones that don’t require strict proportions or straight lines.
The easiest and fastest way to scale your design is to project it onto the wall, if you have access to a projector. You can trace your design over the projection and directly onto the wall with paints or chalk.
If you don’t have a projector, you can use the grid method. Split your design into proportional squares that will fit the dimension of your wall. Use strings to mark the squares on the wall, or draw actual lines. This method can take a while, but it’s a low-tech way to achieve an accurately scaled design.
Step 3: Outline the Large Shapes
After prepping your wall, start by painting the larger shapes or designs on your wall.
Throughout the painting process, step back away from the wall regularly to see how it looks from a distance. It can be easy to get the perspective or sizing wrong if you’re only looking at the work up close.
Step 4: Add Details
Once the core shapes or designs have been painted on the wall and the paint dried, it’s time to add further layers of detail. A smaller chiseled-tip brush is helpful for painting the details, as it gives you more control.
How to Paint a Mural Outside
Painting a mural outside is similar to painting one inside, and some of the same steps can be replicated. Outdoor walls have the potential to be much larger than indoor walls: think, the side of a five-story building vs. the interior wall of a cafe! If you’re working on a massive scale, spend some time carefully planning and scaling the design before you get into the painting phase. When you’re first learning how to paint a mural on a wall, it’s even more important to take your time planning.
You will also need to factor in the weather when painting outside. You can’t paint when it’s raining, but you probably don’t want to stand outside all day in the mid-summer sun, either. Work in the cooler mornings and evenings, or when there’s some cloud cover, if possible.
Step 1: Prep Your Wall
Prepping is even more important for painting outdoor walls than it is for indoor walls. Water leaks, moss or mold, and other moisture can affect how the paint adheres to the wall, and ultimately how long your mural will last.
Clean and wash the wall first, using brushes and water to remove dust, cobwebs, and other dirt.
If you’re painting a very large wall (such as the side of a multi-story building), it may not be cost-efficient to repaint the entire surface of the wall first. In that case, it will only be necessary to prep the areas of the wall you’re going to paint. Make sure to use industrial-level paints that are self-priming.
Steps 2: Paint!
To scale your design and paint your mural on an outdoor wall, follow the same steps as those outlined above for indoor walls. The techniques are the same: Scale your design onto your wall to get an accurate guideline to work from, then paint the larger shapes, followed by the details, letting each layer properly dry.
Step 3: Seal Your Wall
For added protection against the weather, seal your mural with a coat of acrylic emulsion or spray varnish.
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