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The Mural Painting Process

Mural painting takes a lot of planning to get it just right. It's a lot of work, but it's a fun process which I wanted to share. Here's a step-by-step behind the scenes look at a coral reef scene that I painted in my own bathroom as a portfolio piece. Enjoy!

Consultation – Time: 1 hour
The first step for any mural is to visit the site, measure walls, take photos, and discuss the subject matter. I work together with the client to visualize a design and during this time I take detailed notes. The consultation is the most important step in clarifying what the client wants so that I can create the magical environment they want! The client can provide as much or as little information or guidance as they want, and photos and other references are very helpful in this step. It’s also important to discuss color at this time. Should the colors of the mural coordinate with any textiles you have in the room? Will the flooring or wall color for the rest of the room be changing? All of these details are very important to the planning process.

For this mural, I wanted a coral reef scene with sea turtles and lots of color. The wall measured 8ft x 8ft. The flooring will be changed out after the mural is finished, and the walls will be painted a light sea-green. I wanted the mural to pop in this space, so I chose a nice deep sea blue as my main color.

Research and Sketches – Time: 6 hours
Once the consultation is complete, I begin work researching references to create a pencil sketch of the scene, ensuring that I have included all of the elements discussed during the consultation. Once the black and white sketch is complete, I send the image to the client via email for approval. Here’s the black and white sketch for the coral reef mural:

After the client reviews the black and white sketch, I make any changes requested and begin working on the color sketch. These two steps are very important to the mural process. The sketches are as accurate to the final product as possible, and will be my guide while working on the full wall. In this case, I decided to make some minor changes to the coral on the right to add some variety.

When creating the color sketch, I work from the same jars of paint that I will use for the mural, to ensure that all of the colors are as accurate as possible. I create swatches which you can see above, and make mixing notes for future reference. This helps me to work much more quickly on the wall. The color sketch is sent to the client for approval, and now that it’s finished, it’s time to tackle that wall!

Evolution of a Mural: Part Two
In the last installment, I explained the planning process from consultation to color sketch. Now we get to the fun part: Wall prep and painting! Before we start, I’d like to say a word about the paints I use. All of my paints are water-based and lead-free. The acrylics that I work with have a very low odor which is barely noticeable. I use artist quality acrylic paints and latex—the latex does have an odor that’s a little more noticeable. Acrylic paints dry incredibly quickly, and this allows me to work very quickly to get the job done!

Wall Prep and Base Coat – Time: 2 hours
Prep for this wall was fairly simple. Wall prep is something that can easily be done by the client ahead of time, or I will be glad to do it myself and include the time in the commission. Two towel bars had been removed from this wall, so the holes were patched up and sanded, and the wall was washed down with mild soap and water, then dried. The background blue was then painted and left to dry. After the wall was relatively dry, I painted the basic background light in the water and sea floor.

Drawing – 1 hour
The next step is to translate the sketch onto the wall. For this mural I drew it in by eye, using a watercolor pencil. Watercolor pencils are cool because they show up nicely but can be wiped off easily with plain water. Here you can see the basic shapes sketched onto the wall. If I’m going to be leaving the mural at this point, I’ll usually go over the sketch with a thin line of paint so that it doesn’t accidentally get wiped off before I return.

Blocking In – 2 hours This step is the most exciting to me, because you can really begin to see what the final wall is going to look like! Blocking in is when the mural finally begins to take shape. I use solid color to fill in the lines of my sketch and paint the basic forms. This really helps the detail work to go quickly. Once the blocking in is complete, I like to consult with the client to make sure everything looks right. I will either make a mental note or write directly on the wall with my watercolor pencil so I remember to make the changes requested. You can see in the pictures below that the turtles’ heads and flippers were a bit too green compared to the color sketch, so in this case I made a mental note to make those colors more accurate.

Detail Work – 18 hours
The detail work is the most time consuming and tedious, but also the most fun. This is when you can really see the mural coming to its finished state. Many times while painting a mural, I tend to add things here and there in this detail phase to add more interest to the piece. I always check with the client beforehand to make sure they agree with any changes I decide to make. In this case, I was my own client, so I really had fun adding some more fish, starfish, a seahorse, and a jellyfish! Please enjoy the pictures of this finished 8ft x 8ft mural!

To view more pictures of the finished Coral Reef mural, click here.

Please note: All images on this site are property of Missy Sheldrake and cannot be used or reproduced without express permission of the artist.