Creating a Wall Mural in a Kid's Room

See how a family transformed their kids’ bedrooms into personalized works of art with the help of a professional muralist. Plus, get tips from the pros on creating your own wall mural.
By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Personalized Walls

Marco and Elena Ciotti hired a professional muralist to turn the walls of their two children’s rooms into inspiring, colorful scenery.

Hiring a Pro

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based muralist Michelle Morse completed two bedrooms for the Ciotti family in four days for slightly less than $1,000 per room. Daughter Bianca’s room features sweeping green vistas; sons Luca and Vincenzo’s walls are covered in a nautical, New England-style landscape. Whether a homeowner is looking to paint a mural themselves, or planning to hire a muralist, Michelle shares insider tips for understanding all that goes into creating a top-notch, lifelike mural.

Consider Scale and Furnishings

To add a bit of a 3-D, layered element to Bianca’s room, an antique desk passed down from her paternal grandmother was placed directly in front of a painted tree. When incorporating tall elements such as trees and buildings into murals, it’s wise to stick with proportion and scale, which works well not only with the room’s furniture, but also in relation to both the height and vantage points for children. Buildings and trees painted too small can get lost behind furniture, and they may also lose their visual impact from different points in the room.

Highlights and Shadows

The key to adding lifelike tree branches to a mural is using different hues of one color. Highlights and shadows are what give the branches depth and make them seem more realistic by establishing where the light source is coming from; it’s important to keep the room’s light source in mind prior to adding the shadowing detail. Without these highlights and shadows, the overall effect can be flat.

Double-Loading Brush

In order to add depth to painted objects such as trees, bushes and mountains, it’s important to “double-load” the brush. On the sweeping vistas, the same shade of green takes on different hues due to dry-brushing green and cream together on the same brush; the double-loading creates a line which blends the colors together, creating a gradient effect. This is what gives the hills and vistas dimension.

Light Colors Advance and Dark Colors Recede

To delineate foreground from background, muralists use lighter colors in the front and darker colors in the back. Michelle explains, “If you look at a landscape, you will notice the softening of the colors in the distance. The colors and lines become less distinct in the background; they recede because of the dark coloring. In the foreground, the colors advance because they’re lighter.”

Cloud Effects

To create lifelike clouds, it’s all about choosing the right color which, surprisingly, is not white. Michelle notes, “Clouds are not true white, they’re different shades of gray, white, blue and lavender. So when brushing clouds, it’s important to not just use white. In Luca and Vincenzo’s room, and in Bianca’s room, the clouds are made of blue-gray and white.”

Adapting Logos or Emblems

Experienced muralists can take just about anything and make it more artistic and adaptable for a wall. For example, local Fort Lauderdale sports team the Nova Titans had a simple logo which wouldn’t translate well as a mural due to its lack of ornamentation and contrast. By adding layers including contrast colors as well as a pronounced sun, Michelle turned it into a much more interesting scene. Homeowners interested in having an existing logo or emblem revised can request the change directly from a muralist, or through a graphic designer at an average of $45 to $75 per hour.

Transparency Transfer

In order for sketches to make their way up onto the walls, they have to be transferred onto a transparency. This is simple to do with a commercial copier. Instead of loading the copier with basic paper, replace the paper with transparencies. If a homeowner has no access to a commercial printer, most office supply stores will do this for an average of 11 cents per copy if the transparency is brought in. To have office supply stores use their own transparency, it will be an average of 50 cents per copy.

Custom Sketch

When it comes to selecting mural designs and styles, there are stock options which muralists use again and again, and then there are custom designs which require original sketches. Since sketches often require several revisions between muralist and client, keeping the amount of revisions to a minimum will save costs. The best way to avoid multiple revisions is to scan and email revisions over email, avoiding the cost of in-person consultations.

Project Onto the Walls

In order for transparencies to make their way up onto the walls, they need to be placed into a projector which can be purchased or rented at an art supply store. As far as what type of supplies to use for tracing the design to the wall, Michelle suggests col-erase pencils noting, “They’re water-soluble, and they allow you to wipe off or erase marks easily. I prefer these over pencils, which even though they create a crisp line, once painted over, show their marks through the paint.”

Complicated Murals

Pricing of murals is based on the level of skill and time required to complete the application. While a simple, graphic mural can be as quick as five hours to project and paint, designs with multiple layers and detailed elements are likely to take several days. This fresco design of Michelle’s is an example of a much more costly mural due to the level of difficulty and precision required for proper application.

Wall and Ceiling Tree

Depending on the level of detail requested, walls and ceilings can be adjusted for a more seamless effect, specifically for blurring the edges between ceilings and walls. Since Marco owns a residential contracting business, he rounded the tops of the walls near the ceilings in Bianca’s room, allowing portions of the mural such as this corner tree to carry on upward without visible lines. This involves extra contractor costs and must be done prior to the muralist arriving to project, trace and paint.

3-D Elements

Effects from layering are what give murals their lifelike appearance. For an extra layer of detail in Bianca’s room, Marco had a custom white picket fence installed. In order to achieve this effect, several pieces of MDF (medium-density fiberboard) were cut to size with the tops mitered at two 45-degree angles, then installed with a nail gun and joint compound, caulked and painted white.

Bird's Nest

Murals, specifically landscapes, can continuously be updated as time goes on. For example, when first conceived, Bianca’s design simply called for trees and vistas. Once the project neared completion, she asked if Michelle could incorporate a robin’s nest into one of the trees. Since the nest could simply be painted onto the existing surface, this was an easy addition that only took Michelle an extra hour to do.

Specialty Supplies

Homeowners seeking a professional muralist should take into account the various elements which determine their pricing. Something to take into consideration is transportation and the use of specialty materials. Michelle’s SUV is packed with just about everything she could possibly need to complete a project, from sealers and custom colors to unique brushes and applicators. To account for wear and tear of these specialty items, muralists will calculate their fees and project prices accordingly.

Projection Supplies

Some key supplies essential to proper projection tracing and application include: a level, spackle knife, colored pencils, No. 2 pencils and black ink pens.

Painting Supplies

As far as the supplies required for proper painting of murals, Michelle suggests having the following before starting the paint process: colored markers; paint pens; tape measures; protractors; utility knives; acrylic paint; mixing cups; latex paints; quick-drying joint compound; hand sanitizer; and erasers.

Pink Accents

Instead of painting Bianca’s room in every girl’s favorite color, pink, it was instead used sparingly in accents which contrast beautifully against the vivid greens, blues and yellows featured in the mural.

Playing With Corners

In Luca and Vincenzo’s room, Michelle added decorative mural elements to take the focus off hard edges, including the top right corner of the entry door which features a round sun enveloping both sides of the corner.

Neutral Furniture

Since the nautical landscape behind Vincenzo’s crib is supposed to be the main feature of Luca and Vincenzo’s room, Marco and Elena chose an antique white finish which blends in with the mural.

Blending It Together

Color placement is key when it comes to furnishing a room in relation to the mural. The wall against which Luca’s bed is placed is made up heavily of blue paint, which creates the look and feel of a New England bay. To keep the blue carrying into the furniture, Marco and Elena outfitted Luca’s bed with a blue comforter featuring the same hue as the water of the mural.

Red Accents

For contrast against the overall blue and white landscape of Luca and Vincenzo’s mural, Marco and Elena added accents of red, which contrast nicely and also create a classic, American palette.

Proper Height

Luca and Vincenzo wanted a fishing shack incorporated into their mural. To ensure such a detailed feature wasn’t covered up by bulky furniture, the bottom of the shack sits even with the top lip of Vincenzo’s changing table and storage chest.

Advance and Recede

Similar to the depth achieved in the sweeping vistas of Bianca’s mural, the same process was used to achieve the horizon effect seen in Luca and Vincenzo’s room.

Added-On Detail

Once Luca and Vincenzo’s mural was complete, Luca requested the added detail of a boy fishing off the jetties. Details this small and simple, although additional in costs, are minimal since they’re quick and don’t require many extra materials.

Paint Pens and Detail Brushes

As far as the supplies in Michelle’s kit are concerned, she relies mostly on small detail brushes and paint pens for tiny illustrational detail such as script or ornamentation such as the hand-painted signage and graphic lobster of the small shack in Luca and Vincenzo’s room.

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