This entry is part three of a three-part series called “The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural”. To read the first two parts of the series, start here.
The wall with the completed sketch. You can barely see it here due to the low light/low contrast. But you can get a good idea of what the bare wall looked like. 🙂
Note: The pictures taken at the end of each day aren’t the best – it was dark by the time I left and the lighting in the hallway is dim. I chose not to use flash to avoid overexposure, and in the end, they were underexposed. (I am going to see if I can go back to get a better final shot.) The detail images are better representations of the work.
Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once.
Detail of sketch to the right of alcove. Notice the lack of finish at this stage. It doesn't need to be perfect - what you are going for is basic composition and shape.
Eighteen years after my first thought of doing a mural, I arrived at my client’s home, supplies in hand. All the searching for somewhere to learn about murals, doors closed in my face, research on my own, planning with the clients, tenacity and stick-to-itiveness were finally coming to fruition. After walking my friend’s mother through what I was going to do that day, I set up my equipment consisting of a drop cloth, old t.v. tray, sketches, several #2 pencils, white eraser, a protein bar, Diet Dr. Pepper and my iPod with a mix of mid-tempo music to keep me moving. Over the course of the next five hours, I sketched, erased, considered the composition and made adjustments until I was pleased with the position of the vines. A smattering of leaves were sketched before I packed up, scheduled the next session and called it a day. I left feeling satisfied and hopeful that my first mural would be a success.
First layer (of vines) is done, dude! 😉
Two days later, I was back at it and rarin’ to go. As I was filling in the sketch with leaves, my friend’s mom (one half of my client pair) came by to see what I was doing. I reminded her that if she had any questions or reservations about what I was doing along the way, to please speak up. This was her house, and she would have to live with it, so I was willing to do whatever they wanted. (Of course, I would let her know if my expert opinion differed from hers and why, but as the client, she was always right.) She pondered what I was doing, and asked me to remove a group of three leaves from one part of the sketch, saying she thought the composition was too cluttered. After some discussion I agreed to take them out (they were toward the bottom of the alcove on the left) and they remained out of the final product. Rule #1: When you are painting a mural in someone’s home … while you can guide and suggest things, it’s their home and the client is always right!
My assistant, Maggie. Her sister is off creating kitty havoc somewhere, too "busy" to pose for me.
Once the sketch was finished, I went back to their laundry room to pour the base colors into small containers, put water in a jar and retrieved the paint brushes. For this project I was using two sizes of filbert brushes, three sizes of round brushes, one flat brush and a detail brush. Setting all of this up was becoming a bit of a comedy because … well, its time to tell you about my “helpers”. Maggie was a feisty four-month old kitten with only ½ a tail and more energy than any one being should likely have. Her sister (lighter color with a full tail) was actually the feistier of the two, tearing around the house like a demon and doing everything she could to jump onto the t.v. tray with the paint. (For the life of me I forget her name.) Each time I went to work on the painting portion of the mural, ½ of my attention was spent ensuring the dynamic duo didn’t redecorate the rest of the house with painted paw prints. It was half amusing and half annoying, but we developed some sort of understanding along the way. (If I didn’t leave things unguarded, they wouldn’t destroy it 😉 ). I pressed on.
Change of composition under alcove now apparent (check against the last sketch from part two). No matter how well you plan, you have to be prepared for changes if things don't look right up on the wall.
By the end of day two I got all of the base coats on the leaves and vines, beginning a bit of detail in the vines. After 5 hours, stopping only for a protein bar and the occasional swig of Diet Dr. Pepper or water, I was tired. I packed up, conferred with the client and called it good.
Detail from early on day 3
Day three came the following Tuesday. When setting up this time, I poured all six paint colors into containers so I was prepared to work the entire image. The first step was to “clean up” the edges of the vines and leaves using the wall color. By going back and forth over the edges with background color, then repainting the edges of the vines and leaves, a more natural feeling is achieved along with a sense of depth.
Detail: end of day 3
After initially touching up the edges, I began adding darks and lights to the mid-tone base, creating a more natural, dimensional feeling. 4 ½ hours later the vines were well under way and I had started adding darks to the leaves. I was clear I had another day’s work ahead, so I chose to tear down for the day. That now entailed pouring six different colors of paint back into their containers, wiping the smaller “working” containers off with paper towels, rinsing/scrubbing out each container and cleaning all of the brushes, actual cleanup time was now 30 minutes. That didn’t include time to confer with the clients at the end of the day.
More progress on day three.
That Thursday, I arrived ready to finish the project. The vines were well under way, so it was time to start tackling the leaves. As I was working on them, my friend’s mother stopped by to watch and said, “Wow. You are very talented.” Spurred on by that and a great mix of music that included David Bowie, Steely Dan, Roxy Music, The Beatles, Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw and Elton John, I finished the leaves, worked on details to create more depth in the vines and stepped back to call it DONE. My friend’s mom said she was very happy with it … I checked with her several times to make sure. If she was satisfied, so was I! I packed it in, and she handed me a check that included a bonus, and we were both smiling as I left. I checked in later to hear that her husband also liked it.
Maggie modeling - end of day three. They will be changing the carpet to a lighter color once their remodel is almost complete.
They went out-of-town for a bit, and I have been working on taxes and the like. The final step for me will be checking back in to make sure they are both happy, taking a picture of the final image during daylight hours and thanking them for their business. That should happen over the next two weeks.
Detail shot, coming close to finishing!
While I still have a few steps to complete to ensure 100% customer satisfaction, for all intents and purposes I have completed a project 18 years in the making. It started with the tiniest inkling that I could be a professional artist, sparked by watching a famous artist in action, spurred by my pursuit of employment at said artist’s gallery, going on to starting college, transferring to art school and graduating with a 4.0 and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree concentrating in painting. Along the way I asked to volunteer with artists painting murals so I could learn the ropes, being told no or ignored each time. I bumped into obstacles along the way, but never gave up on the idea of creating work that was an integral part of a home’s design. It took almost two decades, but I can now say that commitment is complete. Next step – a large-scale mural? Could be. Stay tuned!
Final mural - detail around alcove.
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. – Albert Einstein
Text and images © Amy Buchheit 2011 All Rights Reserved