How to “Pop” a Mural the Imagination Atmospheres Way!

kids park mural drawingMost kid’s spaces can be improved with the addition of murals but painting large-scale murals can be a little intimidating. At Imagination Atmospheres we create themed environments and murals for all types of commercial kids’ spaces including play areas, museums, children’s churches, hospitals and day care facilities. In this post, we’ll share some of the secrets to our murals and give you some tips that will insure your own murals have the “pop” you’re looking for to provide the most excitement in your kid’s space! Just remember: Theses are secrets. Please don’t tell anyone else. Shhhh…

Beginning Your Mural

Plan, plan and… oh yeah, plan!

beginning kids park muralLooking at a large, empty wall can be a little frightening but you can stare down that fear with the confidence you’ll gain from having a detailed sketch of your mural (see above drawing). Drawing your sketch on a smaller piece of paper first will ensure that you will cover all areas of your large wall and it will guarantee you have a nicely balanced and colorful design. If you are skilled in computer painting programs, you also have the additional benefit of being able to come up with several color options before you actually put paint to wall.

After your design is finalized, you can transfer it to your wall. Describing the methods of transferring your drawing would take more space than we have here (details can be found at other locations on the internet) but two of our favorite methods are by projection or by using a grid (1). After transferring your sketch, you’ll want to begin painting. One of the most popular questions we are asked is, “What kind of paint should we use on our murals?” and there isn’t an easy answer. On large-scale murals we use latex paint and we frequently experiment and try out several brands. For the most part, my own personal preference is BEHR® brand latex paint. I like BEHR®’s paint consistency and I’ve found that it can be reduced to spray through my airbrush better than many other latex paint brands I’ve used.

The next concern you’ll have regarding paint is which finish to use. Many children’s rooms are painted with a satin finish which makes it easy to clean up the smudgy fingerprints. Unfortunately, a satin finish is not the best choice for a mural since it reflects too much light and makes it difficult to see your mural in it’s true awesomeness. Why spend all your time and energy painting a mural that’s going to be lost in a glare? At Imagination Atmospheres, we prefer to paint murals using a flat finish but a flat finish is sometimes a “fussy” finish and doesn’t always brush-on easily. In addition, its clean-up properties are limited. Therefore, we suggest the best choice for a paint finish on your kid’s mural is eggshell. An eggshell finish has very low light reflection and has acceptable clean-up characteristics.

When the lines of your mural are drawn in, painting it is almost like coloring in a coloring book. Stick to your color choices and paint in the large areas, rolling the open areas and using a brush for more detailed areas (2 & 3). Don’t try to put too much paint on at once. Be patient and expect to apply two or three coats. Make sure your paint is streak free with no drips. A quick word of advice about color: think like a kid. We see too many murals painted with adult colors that are more “toned down” which makes a very boring mural. Your murals will “pop” with bright kid’s colors such as those in the BEHR®’s Disney Color palette. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Look at picture books of children’s cartoon movies and notice the vivid colors. This is your goal.

Making it All “Pop!”

Send in the Wows!

painting kids park muralWhen your mural lines are all filled in, you should have a wall full of color on your very nice design (4). You could call it finished at this point but then your mural would look flat and incomplete. This is where the artists at Imagination Atmospheres kick in and boost the mural to a totally different level thanks to the magic of the airbrush. The airbrush adds shadows and highlights to your mural in a way that makes it look like it jumps off the wall in full 3-D glory! (5) We’ve been airbrushing murals and themed environments for many years so don’t be discouraged if you can’t airbrush. It’s a skill that takes some time to master. You have some other options available to help finish your mural. First of all, even if you can’t airbrush, chances are you know someone who can, or know someone who knows someone who can. If you can recruit an airbrush artist to help you finish your mural you’re doing well. Another option is to make the decision to learn to airbrush on your own. Low cost airbrush kits are available at many shopping centers, auto supply stores and tool shops. Airbrushing is a fun hobby to learn so why not jump in and try it out? Finally, most airbrush blending effects can be simulated with a paintbrush by an experienced artist. It may take a little more time, but the effects are still amazing and can still deliver your desired “Pop.”

You will find that the best airbrush jobs are the ones that don’t overdo it. It’s easy to “muddy up” your mural by relying too much on airbrush. Let the pure, “flat” colors in your mural do most of the talking and let the airbrushing support that color. While some artists will airbrush the entire mural, I find that gives the mural a streaky or splotchy look without enough flat, solid color to support it. Occasionally you may have a call for a mural with a very airbrushed look, otherwise give your mural the support of a very strong undercoat of brushed-on latex paint.

Latex paint does not flow through an airbrush easily so you may choose to use acrylic paint for your airbrushing. Choose shadow and highlight colors that support your main colors and the different paints will work well together. As a general rule, avoid airbrushing with black paint. Black paint will quickly harshen your mural’s look. Shadow with darker tones of your main color and save the black for small, specific areas you want to make stand out from the rest of the mural. (6)

Finishing Up

Wait’ll They Get A Load of This!

completed kids park muralAt this point your mural work is in the home stretch. It’s time to make the details in your mural start standing out. This is where I will add details to flowers and other accents. You will notice in this mural I have decided to add some forest animals at this point (7). The animals were created exactly as I did the rest of the mural, with brushed-on latex paint and then finished up with airbrushing (8). These final details are the things that make your mural interesting and will make your kids excited about being in the room. Plan your details carefully and realize that they will be the main focus of all your work. Make it fun!

When your mural is all finished you’ll feel like you’re in a different room! You’ll be amazed at how a little bit of paint can completely change the flow and energy of a room. Suddenly your plain, ordinary room is getting gasps and raves from kids and they don’t want to leave! Good murals open up the environment to even more theming so feel free to add more items to your room that coordinate with your walls. Chairs, couches, beds or other furniture pieces can be painted in the same style and subject as your mural. Now you’ve themed an entire room!

Painting large murals for kids can be fun and exciting. It’s artistically rewarding and the reactions from the kids are priceless. We hope you’ve learned something new from the Imagination Atmospheres way of painting murals and hope you’ll share your own techniques with others as well. Feel free to drop us a line and tell us about your project.