The act of personalizing a home always comes with a well-known tip: It’s best to go bold with paint. But there’s another solution that happens to be even more of a personality pick-me-up, and it’s not as involved as it seems.
“I love the scale and the uniqueness of murals,” says Leslie Murphy, a designer from Memphis, Tennessee, who is the owner and creative director of Murphy Maude Interiors, and recently launched Mable to provide bespoke artwork alongside her designs. “It’s this wonderful conversation piece when you’re hosting people and it gives them insight into you, your personality, and your life.”
Murphy currently uses a production team to transfer the murals she, or a local artist, make from a smaller canvas to a larger installation, but the business began with a DIY approach of painting each mural directly onto a wall. Murphy admits that painting a mural is more time-consuming than difficult, particularly when it comes to the planning phase. “To keep myself motivated, I play music and dance,” she says. “Generally, I just try to allow the process to be therapy in and of itself. I find solace in painting a custom mural.”
To follow her brushstrokes, here are the five steps to transform a blank canvas of a wall into a work of art.
Step 1: Plan and measure
While you may be tempted to lean into your artistic side and start painting immediately, the best murals involve a lot of careful planning before you dip the brush into paint. “It’s imperative that you take good measurements of the space,” Murphy says. “If you’re hand painting, you can either map out a light grid and sketch out your composition first, or you can start with a high-resolution graphic of your piece of art and use a projector for correct placement.”
Step 2: Prep and prime
Remove or protect surrounding furnishings, paying special attention to the floors. “If you get paint on hardwood, drapes, or other surfaces, it can be a real nightmare,” she adds, advocating for drop cloths. Next, use painter’s tape to seal off any doorframes, baseboards, or vents.
Apply primer to the wall. “KILZ or Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 are my tried-and-true favorites,” Murphy says. Once primer is dry, use painter’s tape to section off portions of your mural or to create a pattern. For very clean lines, paint the mural’s background color slightly over the tape to prevent bleeding through, she advises.
Step 3: Mix and properly save the paint
You probably need at least three paint colors to create a vibrant mural. “Keep the colors you have mixed together in small cans or jars, especially if you are working over several days,” Murphy says. “You definitely don’t want to run out of the colors you mixed before you finish the mural.” Low-VOC paint will work, but Murphy also recommends having paint thinner on hand to keep the coats from drying too quickly and creating a blending effect. Use one dose of paint and one dose of thinner, or less, depending on desired thickness.
Step 4: Invest in paint tools
You’ll probably want to use a roller to cover the large portions that create the background. Then switch to large brushes (think 4-inch brush) for big patterns. Palette knives work wonders to add texture on almost any surface, but are particularly useful on Sheetrock, concrete, or wood walls. “Just as there are paint thinners, there are also gels to thicken paint [to use with a palette knife],” says Murphy, who recommends Liquitex, a fluid medium. A palette knife can create sharp, thin lines, as well as delicate detail (which can also be done with point-tip brushes). Murphy uses a palette knife for dragging colors into one another, or scraping away paint to fix mistakes. For subtle texture, sponges are an easy go-to.
Step 5: Protect your work
After you’ve completed your mural, there’s one final step that’ll ensure your work is admired for a long time to come. “I like to finish off with a spray sealant to add sheen and keep the integrity of the mural,” Murphy says. Look for clear, water-based archival varnish with a matte finish, like Lascaux UV Protect spray varnish. “Golden and Liquitex make great sealants as well,” she adds. To apply: Murphy suggests lightly spraying a thin layer in a steady, sweeping motion. “I would say one coat is best.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest