How to Paint a Mural

Painting a mural requires a great deal of preparation, equipment, and effort, but few art forms can be presented on a similar scale. Planning and attention to detail will help you succeed if you face these challenges.


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    Plan the details of your project. Some of the most important details are these:
    • Location. Painting a mural requires a suitable location, with a surface that can be painted. Flat, smooth surfaces are ideal, but with planning, even rough-textured or round surfaces can be used for your project.
    • Type of paint. For exterior projects that are expected to last for years, using an oil based alkyd enamel or polyurethane enamel, or newer 100% acrylic exterior paints may be your best bet. For interior walls, latex paints may offer easier cleanup, lower costs, and less odor, but regardless of your choice, make sure the paint you use is available in colors which are suitable for your project.
    • Quantity of paint. Because a mural can be dozens of feet long, and even dozens of feet tall, large amounts of paint will be required. By measuring the total area to be covered, the total amount of paint can be calculated, but since mural painting can require many different colors, figuring the actual area to be painted each color is necessary to allow purchasing the right amount of each one.
    • Method of paint application. Large areas like backgrounds may be rolled or sprayed with a paint sprayer, where details may be added with brushes or an airbrush.
    • Protection from the elements. Paints are sensitive to direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and humidity, so planning to deal with these factors before beginning will make your job easier. Obviously, interior projects don't have as many complications as exterior ones, but in public places, keeping the project protected may still require attention. You can consider using varnish for your mural.
    • Design. Begin your project with a design you choose, either a photograph or sketches, to give you a sense of proportion and ideas for the color scheme you will use. Landscape scenes are greatly different from still life or portraits, and each will have unique requirements and elements.
  2. Image titled Paint a Mural Step 2
    Produce a scaled down version of your finished mural. Use a photograph (or pasted photographs) or accurate sketches of your subject, and measure at scale the distances and locations of various points of your subject. An example would be the horizon in a landscape, possibly being located at the one-third point of the total area to be covered. Measuring key features will allow you to calculate the amount of paint when each feature is identified by its color.
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    Prepare the wall or other surface to be painted. If the surface is low enough the whole mural can be painted standing on the ground or from a stepladder, you are ready to begin cleaning and priming it, but for higher work, you may have to build a scaffold or rent an aerial lift.
  4. Image titled Paint a Mural Step 4
    Measure the location of specific features for your mural after you have primed the surface to receive your choice of paint. On a landscape (or seascape), you will want to mark the horizon line, since this is the place sky will become land, a distinctive change of background colors.
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    Paint in the base coat of the background, again, if your subject is a landscape, painting the sky a pale blue (for a daylight sky, of course), the foreground grey, brown, or green, depending on the type of landscape you intend to portray.
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    Allow the background and base coats to dry, then begin marking, using your scaled sketch, the location of key elements of objects located in the foreground. Depending on the complexity of your choice of subject, you may want to actually plot enough points to create a connect-the-dots effect, or if you are confident in your artistic ability, you may choose to sketch all of the details in freehand.
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    Work from the back of your picture to the front, covering large areas in single colors as you go, being careful to keep clean transition edges from one color (an element of your subject) to the next, but keeping in mind that mistakes can be touched up later. Blocking out the largest areas of color first allows you to apply the paint with the most efficient method, whether you choose a paint roller or a sprayer. Always allow each color to dry before proceeding to the next adjacent color unless you need to actually blend the two (or more) to create shading or intermediate hues and tones as part of your design.
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    Paint in details with brushes of suitable size for the portion of work you are painting. An example would be painting a large tree, using large brushes (or even a roller or sprayer) for the trunk and large limbs, then using small brushes for tiny limbs and twigs, if you choose to work in this detail.
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    Cleanup your work with the original paints. If you have a drip or run, paint over it with the paint appropriate for that location, sharpen lines if they are blurred between colors, and add highlights or deep shadows if these are desired.
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    Overcoat your entire project with a clear sealer if it is intended to last a long time on a surface that will require cleaning.


  • The more accurately detailed your sketches are, the easier it will be to successfully finish your project. Because painting in large proportion may skew your sense of proportion, scaling individual identifiable points is helpful in maintaining these proportions.


  • Use caution when working from high scaffolding or in elevated positions.
  • Avoid exposure to concentrated fumes from paints, especially when spraying them.

Things You'll Need

  • Detailed plans for your subject.
  • Sufficient paints of each color.
  • Brushes, rollers.
  • Solvents for cleaning tools.

Article Info

Categories: Exhibited Arts