Scaling a design to mural size:

Method #1 (the Albrecht Durer method or “grid” method)

This method is for the most complex designs and extremely large murals.  I suggest artists who have never painted on a large-scale use this method the first time they paint a mural – it offers the best chance of success.  I still do this myself when the size or complexity of a project dictates, although I now use a number of shortcuts.  The grid gives you a great point of reference for where everything is and how large it is in relation to everything else.

Begin with a design drawn in color to a relative scale – I usually use 1 inch = 1 foot  when possible.
Draw a one inch grid over the original design and a one foot grid on the blank mural area - a chalk line does a good job on the mural surface and is easy to clean off after the drawing is done.

When painting on brick or cinderblock – count and measure the blocks and draw them to scale over the original.
They save you the trouble of drawing a grid on the wall - but the added time and frustration of painting on such a rough surface more than makes up for it.

 I recommend at least on your first few murals that you do a full b/w rendering on detailed sections where absolute accuracy is required - it is just a personal preference.  I find that it is faster to have much of the dark - light value in place before I begin painting.  Value can get a little blurred when you are standing close to a large painting and there is a strong tendency to over-shadow or under-shadow.  One other advantage is that you can colorize the drawing quickly with transparent paints.

If you do not want to draw the grid directly on the original design, draw the grid on a piece of rigid plastic or thin Plexiglas and lay it over the top.  If you always use a 1 inch = 1 foot ratio this plastic grid will save you the time and trouble of redrawing the grid each time.  The same applies to bricks and cinderblocks as well - you will find that most are standard sizes.

The MOST(!) important thing is to frequently back away from your painting to the distance that it will be viewed when finished.  Do this as often as possible and make corrections as you go (a golf cart is very handy for extremely large projects.)  Do not remain close to the painting through the duration of the project, problems that can easily be fixed at any stage can be difficult to repair later, – they have a domino effect.  I once made the mistake of not backing away and did not notice until much of the background was finished that; at an early stage of painting I had miscounted my grid squares and had ruined the rest of the painting – I had no choice but to wait for it to dry and repaint everything from the point of my original mistake.

Method #2 (Simple quartering)

This method is for medium to relatively small murals, simpler designs or large stretched canvas paintings and/or painters that are more advanced.  If you have strong drawing skills, this is by far the fastest method once you have a little experience painting large scale.

Fold the original design into quarters and unfold or draw two lines if you don't want to fold it.  Find the exact center of the mural and place tiny a dot there for reference and use it as the intersection of the horizontal and vertical line.  This will usually give you plenty of reference for murals up to about 8 x10 feet.  Roughly sketch the design from the center outward until the main subjects are fairly proportioned – back away frequently and study it against the original, make corrections as needed.  Although all of the examples I have used here are realism of one sort or another - I use the same techniques when I paint abstracts and surrealisms, although I'm much looser about sticking with the original design. I tend to get too busy in my designs and when I see it at size, I often modify the designs and colors considerably.

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Introduction to mural painting        Scaling a design to mural size       Paints, brushes and materials for murals

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copyright 2003 Doug Myerscough