A Mural for Elke

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What makes painting a mural so different from other kinds of painting?

You might think it’s because of scale, although murals aren’t necessarily big. In fact, they come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve done a few over the years, ranging from epic to intimate. Despite being a seasoned painter, every time a mural project comes my way, I feel as if I’m embarking on an exotic journey. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s The Wall. The actual wall. Unlike a canvas that gives a little under pressure, a wall can take whatever you throw at it without bending, without the slightest bounce back. A wall doesn’t get all delicate on you. It’s a solid and substantial surface against which the painter goes into battle. Strategies involves rolling, brushing, scraping, and spattering. The artists needs measuring tape, rags, gloves, spoons, stir-sticks, and buckets. Your trusty Number 2 sable brush just ain’t gonna cut it. 

My friend Elke ask me to paint one of her living room walls. Actually, she requested something much more modest, but you gotta be careful when you give an artist friend carte blanche. It was an ideal situation. She had a wall (first prerequisite) and a desire for something other than the color blue on it. I mocked up a possible landscape and presented it to her for approval saying, “it’s gonna be some work, so you have to love it.” She responded, “I love it.” 

I showed up first thing in the morning with my art supplies, shoved aside the couch, and evaluated the site. In addition to the density of the wall, there’s also another, equally important element to consider-the texture. In Thailand, you can pretty much expect a rough and uneven surface. Okay in my book! This lends itself to a painting technique called scumbling, where one color “rides” or skims on top of another, creating a subtle (or not so subtle) harmony of value and hue. 

The first job of the muralist is to lay out a cartoon of the image. Without a projector, I resorted to using a simple grid, getting down all the big shapes. Next came color, but not the final color, no. That would be way too easy and not particularly interesting. The first color becomes the undertone for the next, generally working dark to light in the tradition of oil painting. 

I got so absorbed in the process, I hardly noticed Elke and her friendly dog Domino popping in now and then to take photos and video. Before lunch was served, it was done. 

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