A little over a year ago I stood in my dining room at nine o’clock at night and began painting on the walls. Not painting the walls—I’d finished that already. The pale pink field waited expectantly as I splayed the legs of the aluminum ladder. The walls could feel the low current of anxiety that so often comes at beginnings. They waited for the touch of the brush.
Paint is a funny thing. It’s rare to come across a room that hasn’t lived a few lives. Part of the fun of renovating older homes, certainly, is peeling back the layers of paint and paper. Paint is both significant in its impact and insignificant in its expense, making it a great decorative element. This would be my sixth mural of one sort or another. I’d painted geometrics, silver-leafed vines, traditional chinoiserie, but with each, as I’d lifted my brush to make my mark, I’d hesitated. What if I messed up?
With paint I always think, “You can just begin again.” But with murals, the odds are greater. Not a field of flat or glossy, murals offer movement. As we paint rabbits in the nursery, vines in the entry, a geometric in the pantry, we bring life to the room. It makes beginning daunting.
What I wanted was a flower garden. Not a simple row of daisies or columns of climbing roses, I wanted to feel as if I were in it. I wanted blooms as wide as the reach of my arms. As I painted it, I wanted to feel as I had felt as a child drawing on the walls even as I knew the trouble would come.
I began as I had often begun before. Timidly. My vision was bold, but I’ve learned caution. I could see the design in my head, and I wondered if my hand was up to the task. I moved tentatively, sketching the outline in chalk. I worried if this warm and wonderfully blushy color may be enough on its own. Perhaps I wasn’t making it better, only different.
Eventually, I stood in my bare feet on my wood floor, my favorite painting jeans loose on my hips, and dipped the brush into the paint and started. It was then, once I had committed, that I could feel the energy come not from my head, which is so often busy with chatter, but from my heart. Smooth and sure and joyful, it began to direct my hand to see the blooms.
The planning had stopped and hesitated and worried, but the painting sang. It finds its way, unfurling on the wall as if I were only uncovering what was already there. I wondered why I had worried. There was no reason to be concerned. The room had wanted it. Was it perfect the first time? Of course not. I did paint over portions and begin again. Was I sometimes frustrated? Naturally. But I kept going, and in the end, the walls and I were better for it. We learned the way together.
When I paint a mural it feels permanent, though experience tells me it is not. It’s temporary; I exaggerate its significance. There will be a day when I—or another owner—will paint over my work. What matters, really, is being nestled in the comfort of this garden today as I type.
Mural? Yes, but what?
So, you’re all in. Ready to commit some time and expense on custom painting, but to art that will be the wall, rather than merely on the wall? Now you just have to figure out what.
“Chinoiserie” is a term that originated with the popularity of Chinese designs in the Western world in the 18th century. Hand-painted chinoiserie papers, often depicting garden scenes, are a constant of traditional design. Since many of these papers are hand-painted, designers and homeowners often choose to paint those glorious trees and birds directly on their walls.
Whether a strictly repeating geometric or a loose and large floral, nearly any pattern can be translated to mural. The advantage here is, of course, custom. Do you like that paper but wish the scale of the design were larger or bluer or brighter? A mural may be your answer.
These landscapes can range from richly colored rolling Virginia horse country landscapes to grisaille (think varying shades of gray) scenes of ancient ruins. Clients often ask artists to capture the local landscape or one with sentimental value.
A Word to the Wise
Preparation matters. I tend to jump right in, but since I am mostly painting for myself, I can be a little cavalier. It’s smart to make sure that the wall is clean and free of loose plaster. Cracks should be filled and sanded. Priming, though I rarely do it, is a good idea. As a note: Some mural artists paint on canvas in their studios and then adhere the mural to the wall. Don’t be surprised if a painter recommends this application.
Designer Advice on Wall Murals:
“In a contemporary setting a mural can be such a breath of excitement. It could even spill onto the floor and go up an opposite wall just a little bit. A mural doesn’t have to be limited to paint or wallpaper, but it can be ceramic, wooden or metal. Your vision is only limited by your imagination.”
Marie Bertholet Smith
Designer, MLB Designs
Artist and faux finisher
“They work great in kids’ spaces and nurseries. A mural can be a subtle accent wall without overtaking the whole room.”
Midwest Design and Remodel
“Murals establish a unique style in a home and announce that the owners reject cookie-cutter home design.”
TJ Hawks Painting Plus