5 Things I Learned About Painting a Mural for the First Time

5 Things I Learned About Painting a Mural for the First Time

If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to do a mural, or you’re considering painting one or maybe you’ve already been commissioned to create one… Here are the top lessons I learned from painting my first mural for Kaelepulu Elementary School. 

  1. Having my work on display under public scrutiny was very stressful. It was already stressful working with a new medium that wasn’t exactly turning out like I thought it would. I also went from creating my art in the privacy of my home to having a very (very) large canvas on display in a public place where anyone could see every step and mistake along the way. I overcame this stress with the help of my mural partner and mentor, Aloe Corry. She reminded me that this is a very normal part of creating art and that I had the power as an artist to change anything, but to make sure I’m changing it in ways that make it better to me. It also helped to have planned out the mural beforehand. I decided to stick to the plan and make small adjustments in color and design along the way.

  1. I had to learn to be patient with the whole process and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. From start to finish, things didn’t always go the way I had planned. I underestimated the sheer scale of the project. There were technical difficulties using a projector to map out the mural so we ended up doing it by hand. There was a lot of wall to cover, and we had to wait for each layer of paint to completely dry before the next color could be applied. I 100% put all my time and energy into this project. I wish I could say there was a healthy balance between home/work/mural… but there was no balance - I gave this mural everything I had and had to be patient to watch it all unfold.

  1. Changing from water color/digital art to acrylic was a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. I underestimated the medium shift. I thought I understood what I could do with acrylic, but I was wrong. House paint dries fast and you can’t erase it. I couldn’t get the blended, transparent style of watercolor that I prefer and quickly realized that I’d have to change my artistic style to more solid, linear lines. I had to be smarter and more strategic about my colors and how I was using the paint.

  1. Having the right set up makes all the difference. Here are some quick tips that helped me…
  • The scaffold was a life AND time saver. I could have used a ladder, but just thinking about the time it would have taken to paint the mural with a ladder stresses me out. 
  • I wish the projector would have worked to map out the mural - that would have saved me so much time and ensured it was mapped out exactly how I wanted it to be. In the future, I would consider the surrounding area before deciding whether or not to use a projector. Are there bushes? Are there other buildings? Is the ground flat? do you have access to electricity? All good things to think about.
  • Having access to a bathroom and water was super important for the flow of the project and all of our safety. Be sure to have access to these things before you get started.
  • I did my best to create a safe environment by using cones, tape, signs, people, etc. Since this was at a school it and over a long period of time I worked with the staff to keep us and the students safe. 
  • I requested a place to store all of my materials and that saved me so much time not having to haul everything to and from the site each day. I also staggered shifts of the people who were helping me paint so we could take breaks without having to put everything away first.
  • When planning, I gave myself as much time as possible for the project to allow for bumps in the road (which there were).
  • This was a huge project (for me) and having help made all the difference. Yes, I’m super pregnant so it was extra physically exhausting for me, but even if I wasn’t I would still have as many extra reliable hands on deck as possible. My husband, sister, cousins, and friends all helped me to paint. I couldn’t have done it without them.

  1. Passion projects are a great way to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. That’s what this mural was for me. I really wanted to work with the organization that connected me with this project. The meaning behind the mural itself is close to my heart (I share more about it here), in addition to the idea of creating something so culturally rich in Kailua, my home, that will last for years to come really appealed to me. The school itself is in a beautiful location, landscaped with the mountains behind it was just too perfect… there were so many reasons I couldn’t say no to this opportunity. Maybe I should have… it was honestly, so exhausting and everything was put on hold, but I am a sucker for a challenge, especially when it represents so many of my own values. 

  1. I don’t know that I’ll ever paint another mural. It was so much more work than I anticipated. I wouldn’t consider myself a muralist just because I’ve done this one. BUT if I was ever to consider another project like this, at least now I have a more realistic idea of how much time and energy it will take. I also know that I wouldn’t do another mural unless it was in alignment (as this one was) on the deepest level with my passion and values of perpetuating Hawaiian history and culture.

The whole mural process has been fascinating and pushed me beyond my limits. I am grateful for what I have learned and am happy to share my experience to help others considering or about to paint their first mural. 

I will never complain about having to “get out” my watercolors again. Before the mural I was so invested in digital art because it’s so easy, but now that I’ve painted a mural - painting anything at home is easy! I can’t wait to break out my watercolors and get painting with those again.

I learned so much. What an amazing experience as an artist. What lessons are you learning from your projects right now? Can you relate to anything that I shared?

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1 comment

Wow. Those are some good, hard lessons! So proud of you for taking on the challenge and the mural looks
AMAZING! (Maybe you really are a muralist 😉). I’m excited to see what you paint next!


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