Over the last few years I have received a number of requests for advice. I guess that my internet presence in strong enough to allow people to find me and my work is strong enough to prompt other artists to ask me for my advice. Both of these things, in and of themselves, are wonderful. I need to put my work out there and the greatest compliment is when another artist admires my work.
However…. Please do not tell me that you are a fine artist who just isn’t selling enough work so you want to branch out. What more natural thing than to start painting walls and, clearly, you are qualified. Painting a mural is not easy. In fact, I find it much simpler to paint canvases and, if you aren’t selling those than please do not try murals. There is something about murals that seems simple. I am not sure what it is; maybe the size, maybe that there are so many bad muralist in the world (it is easy to say to yourself that, if they can make a living then, so can I). I would be willing to bet that those ‘bad muralists’ aren’t really making a living and, for every few bad artists you will be completing with there is at least one talented artist who is skilled, professional and experienced.
It is hard for muralists to be taken seriously by other artists but that does not mean that the work is easy. It is a different sort of ‘art’; many might even choose to think of it as a craft rather than art but, regardless, it is not easy.
If you think that you have what it takes to join the fray and I am happy to advise you but beware of a few things and know yourself before you get started.
First, you must be flexible. Artists put themselves and their hearts on their canvases every day and, as a result, every little criticism or constructive suggestion is like a stab to the heart. You must be able to take advice (even bad advice) and use it. These paintings aren’t for you they are for your clients. You must take the work seriously enough to make it good and you must put enough emotion into the work to energize it but you must be able to let go. This is MUCH harder than it sounds. I believe that much of my success is a direct result of my education in theatre. As a costume and set designer all of my work was open to collaborative discussion. Often a beautiful design was discarded because it didn’t ‘fit’ with an overall vision for the production. It is often harder to take direction from clients than it was to take direction from brilliant colleagues but it was good training. “The client is always right”. Your challenge as an artist is to take designer and client suggestions, process them, and make them work. Again, this is not always easy.
Second, you must be able to access your left brain. You can’t ever use excuses like, “I am just not good at math”, “I’m not a morning person”, “Sorry, that bid took me two weeks to get together. I got distracted”. A successful muralist is a contractor first and an artist second. This seems counterintuitive but it is true. You will be bidding against other artists and nine times out of ten the artist who the client believes will arrive on time, finish the job efficiently and, stick to budget is the muralist who will get the job.
Third, painting on walls with latex is a whole different ballgame then painting on canvas with acrylics or oils. Many muralists solve this problem by painting murals with acrylics. I think this is a cop out. Latex is made for walls, tubes and tubs of acrylics are not. Latex will hold up longer, it will not change the wall’s texture and it will give you a nice matte finish that is what we all love to see on walls. All this being said, the first time you try to paint a mural with latex you will likely be very frustrated. It dries VERY quickly, it is chalky, and it will not glide off your brush in a way you are familiar with. This is where experience comes in. I have managed to find ways to add glazes and extenders to create beautiful, translucent (watercolor like) latex paints. I took me a long time working alongside faux and decorative painters to discover my technique. You should not market yourself as a muralist until you understand your materials and if you have never done any decorative painting then you cannot possibly understand the materials.
I have spent ten years developing skills and techniques. These have allowed me to gain some recognition for my work. And, as I said before, the greatest compliments are those from my fellow artists.
Doctors cannot sell themselves as such until they are degreed. Lawyers can’t represent you until they pass the Bar. Even my dog’s groomer has some professional training. If you do not have experience in mural and decorative painting then I will find it frustrating when you tell me you want to sell yourself as a decorative painter. Call me and tell me that you are hoping to find someone to apprentice for or classes to take and I will happily talk with you and teach you everything I know.