My recent Mythology Room mural in St. Catharines brought back many good memories from earlier days! I will share some of them with you. My very first mural of playful calves was painted for my ranch-baby nephew when I was 14 years old, in Saskatchewan. Since then, I have had opportunities to paint murals from Vancouver to Ontario.
You might wonder how a person can pick up a 4" wide brush and begin painting on an 8 x 12" foot wall. Let me try to walk you through my personal process of creating a mural: I begin with a brief or, if none is provided, I begin with my imagination.
I ask the customer what the room will be used for and what furniture and items will be in it after I am done. I seek out hints, asking if they have any favourite artists or pieces of art or even favourite items they own for inspiration.
I enter the room and stand in the middle of it and pick up on the atmosphere and any architectural style it already possesses. Sometimes a room "speaks to me"...For example, an arts and crafts era windowed sun room on a second floor of a farmhouse suggested I create a grape-laden arbour on its wood slatted walls. (NOTL, 1990). I look out any windows and note the amount and type of light. I take measurments. Then I research places or themes connected to the prompts I've gathered and take to my sketchbook, loosely drawing out ideas. I often pick up watercolours to add some colour too.
I present the colour palette and the sketches to the client. It takes anywhere from one to several days to complete a mural. It does take a bit of nerve to paint that first stroke. I usually take a DIG-IN approach knowing if I don't like how it is turning out, I can paint over it and start again. (A skill I picked up at uni when forced to paint on 4' x 5' canvasses - I've never looked back!) I haven't had to paint over any mural work yet, but this approach helps me keep my style from becoming contrived (forced). I always aim to keep loose brush strokes, even with my trompe l'oeil (to fool the eye) techniques - At a distance it gives an impression of looking 3D and real but up upon second glance, you see only brushwork. I was first taken with this effect when I first saw in-person, Ingres' 1850s Portrait of Princess Albert de Broglie. (BELOW).
I fulfilled a specific brief and design in Niagara Falls in '91 but added my own personal touches to tell stories on an outdoor two story mural. For example, the silhouette of a girl receiving her ice-cream cone and a cat going after a bird..
When a general idea was given for a "garden-like" room for a teen girl in Port Coquitlan BC (1997), I was free to design and have built, a real picket fence and an arbour around the window seat. I added flowers to the arbour, a formal French Garden and a lilac grove behind the fence and other trompe l'oeil touches including an ornate frame around a mirror and cheeky peeling wallpaper up in one corner.
When presented with bare walls, three arched openings and the announcement that the room would showcase a white designer dining set, I immediately imagined a stunning French Blue backdrop to feature not only the furniture, but to complement a group of full-sized herons gracing the walls. The Heron Room, Burnaby, BC, 1996.