How are murals made?

Design Considerations

  • Where is the location? Is it visible to the community?

  • Who will see the work most often?

  • What is the wall surface? Murals can be painted onto most any surface. Smooth stucco, block or brick are most ideal.

  • Is the wall accessible for painting with a group of volunteers? If a mural can be painted on site, this method best connects the makers to the community, since the daily progress is visible.

  • Sometimes because of a wall's height or safety concerns with nearby traffic, it is best to fabricate the mural off-site by painting on polyester interfacing. This also allow the painting to happen most anywhere. The mural is later attached to the wall with a clear acrylic adhesive (like wallpaper).

Public Art Designs can Reflect the Site and Community

Porque 'Vinimos
Why We Came

This mural is located in a community garden, and was created with a core group of students whose migrant families work in agriculture, so the garden location made a perfect theme. Pedro and Stacy are brother and sister. They are posed as though they are working in the garden. Pedro takes a break from his work to look out at us, and Stacy holds up something she has just picked out of the garden (the world). The hibiscus flowers reflect tropical home countries of many of the core group of students, and the garden gate is open and looks out onto Reading, their new home.

Our Wings to

At first glance, this mural looks like many Instagram-ready murals that feature a set of large wings, but as one looks closer, finer details reveal a much richer story. The mural began with the idea to memorialize several local arts individuals who had recently passed away. Conversations with their friends and family identified objects that reflected their personal style and their art. Viewers can see dance steps taught by Jerry, who ran the Olympian Ballroom, and Dean's favorite poem by E. E. Cummings. The collected items were carefully woven into the tracery design of the butterfly's wings.

Looking Back,
Facing Forward

The goal of this mural was to educate the youth of the city about the history of its canal system and also beautify a waterfront artifact from this time period. Working together with a local historian, several iconic photographs were selected to illustrate this history. Several community paint events were scheduled at local community centers which began with youth being introduced to these images before they began to paint. Over 100 painters were invited to model for a photo where they imagined themselves showing someone their artwork about this history. Six portraits were selected to be included in the final design.

The are Many Ways Public Art can be Fabricated

Painting Directly on the Wall

Painting directly on the wall is one of the best ways to create a mural when the site is in a safe and secure spot for people to work, and the wall is a width and height to allow for easy access for a group of painters without everyone depending on ladders. The neighborhood can watch the artwork as it is being created, and they can engage with the artists to encourage dialog about the work and their community. Collaborative paint sessions often encourage more people to come help since everyone can see the positive energy of the event and they want to become involved.

View multiple images of the project's creation above.

View multiple images of the project's creation above.

Painting a Mural without a Wall

There are situations when a mural is best not painted directly to the wall. If the weather is too wet, or too cold, or the surface is too high or too far away to allow large groups of painters help, there is a method of fabricating murals off-site. Painting on polyester interfacing allows one to paint in a studio environment on portions of the mural. When finished, the polyester panels (usually 5 ft. square) are attached to the wall with a clear acrylic adhesive (like wall paper). Some suggest that this method allows the material to stretch across small surface cracks and keep the wall more impervious to moisture.

Making a Mosaic

Mosaics can be a bit more labor intensive than painting, but the rich sufaces created by this method are worth the effort; especially when viewers are seeing the work up close.

Mosaics can be made with most any material, but our experience has included glass, premade tile that was hand cut into smaller pieces or broken into random shards. Clay can also be used to create individual tiles.

View multiple images of the project's creation above.

Jazz City, on the 200 block of Buttonwood Street in Reading, painted in 2004 by youth in the Olivet Boys & Girls Club, was lost when a fire took the building in 2011.

How Long will it Last?

If a wall is structurally stable, an outdoor mural can last for 15-20 years without many noticable changes. Most problems with murals and mosaics are due to the health of the wall. In Berks County, Pennsylvania, we have constant freeze-thaw temperatures for months which will gradually open up cracks if moisture is trapped in a wall.

Bright paint colors will gradually soften in time, and walls that have more sun exposure may show this change more quickly. Bright reds and warm colors tend to show fading more than other colors. Mosaics (glass or glazed tile) will generally not fade, but the surface may need to be resealed in time to prevent freeze-thaw cracking.

Does it need to last forever?

While it is understandable for funders to want a notable return on their investment, public art does not always have to last for years. Museums have permanent collections, but it's the special exhibits of a limited time that often get viewers' attention. Making ephemeral works of public art can often make a larger impact, involve more participants, and use less expensive materials.

Street stencils are just one possibility for these fleeting works of art.

Also look at WRMOTA.

View multiple images of the street stencil projects above.