I am quite obsessed with murals, especially the ones that look to be real.
There was a blank wall in the laundry (ideal for a trompe l’oeil mural) and a blank week in my diary. What better thing to do, than to spend 18 obsessive, rapturous and agonised hours a day painting ‘Muriel’ – as she is now called?
I confess I do become obsessed – thinking about the next step, wondering if something is going to turn out alright, marvelling when something does.
I don’t have a before photo because I become completely sure of my inability to create a decent mural (despite this being my fourth or fifth), and my certainty I will jinx it. And it just looks so HIDEOUS for the first two or three days. Really. That is the tough bit, where after sleepless nights and hours painting, I’ve created something that a 5 year-old would be embarrassed about. I have to motivate myself to carry on.
It inevitably gets better. After the mid-point crisis, it starts to gel, and I start to think that maybe I won’t have to paint it all out before anyone can see.
I’ve been asked several times where I learned to paint murals, and the honest answer is – from a book. Just like following a recipe. There are several tricks. Perspective is the main one. Hundreds of tiny illusions convince the eye that the image is 3D: strong light, clear shadows, looking through an archway, curtain or window, lines pointing towards the vanishing point. After that, technique is a secondary issue (thank god, as I don’t really have any). You can see below the strong shadows (and the poor technique!)
I wanted an image reminiscent of England (my mother country). So I played around with some hills, woods, irises and a walled garden. The perspective is only right from when you’re about to walk into the room (which is where I thought most people would see it).
There are many fabulous books on murals, and how to do it, but my favourite is “Painting Murals” by Patricia Seligman. There are step-by-step instructions and pictures. As you rough it out in paint first, and build up layers, it does look very amateurish until you reach the final layers. The suggested additions of highlights and shadow transform a roughed out image beyond belief.
So, if you did some art at school, or do some hobby painting now – you can definitely do this. And if you’ve done one already – send me a photo – I’d love to publish it!