Mural Painting 101

Artist David Macomber from Shark Sugar Creative, a New Jersey art and design brand rooted in surf, was asked to design and install a 2,200 sq ft mural on Morey’s Piers, a local amusement pier that goes out over the beach into the ocean. The request was for the seven large storage containers that line the sides of the pier to be adorned with “photos and words that invoke thought and empowerment to the young people who frequent the piers.” The owners were looking for something with an urban edge that was inspired by ocean and beach culture. This was a huge leap forward for David in the direction of larger art production. In this installment of ‘How Do,’ David shares his insights into creating a large-scale mural.

What are the keys to extracting from a client what they want and then melding your style with their needs to make it a reality?

  1. QUESTIONS – I try to ask a lot of questions that help me (and them) figure out what the client wants. Far too often people say “I want it to look cool.” – That doesn’t help me at all.
  2. EXCITEMENT – I want to know what excites the client. What would make them thrilled to see when this project is over?
  3. STYLE – Have a distinct style. I’ve worked hard to stay true and develop a style that is recognizable. So, when people hire me – they are wanting me and they will be happy when I produce like me.
  4. BUDGET – Everyone hates talking about money, but what is the budget? Can we work together to find a balance that will keep everyone smiling and food in my babies belly?

Above: Some of my smaller art work that helped get me this latest gig

What is your process to mural painting on a large scale canvas such as a shipping container?

  1. MEASUREMENTS – Getting measurements so you can design everything to scale.
  2. BRAINSTORMING – I spent a while just sitting and staring at the 7 containers in this project. Imagining what would look good and where. These containers were in an environment surrounded by roller coasters – How do I enhance that environment with my art?
  3. SKETCHING – Pen to paper and then mouse to screen. Much of my work is rooted in photo and type but I still sketch out on paper first. I feel I can capture the “flow” of the project faster that way, before I hit the computer.
  4. GRID – Once the whole design is finalized in small scale. I draw a one inch grid on paper and a one foot grid on the wall (or container)

Above: light pencil grid to help with perspective and sizing

Are there any specific tools that you use in the process that you couldn’t do without?

  1. SCISSOR LIFT – Working out in the heat all day is taxing on the body, so having to climb up and down a ladder or scaffolding will add so much time to the project (and make your thighs burn)
  2. TAPE MEASURE – When creating on a small scale you can view the whole piece as one, which makes composition and layout much easier. But on the larger scale, I have to rely on measurements. This saves time and keeps me from having to lower the scissor lift and step back every 2 minutes.
  3. ASSISTANCE  – I hired a teen from my church to help me for this last project. The kid was a work horse. We worked 12 hour days, 8 days straight starting at 5:30am and he never texted or complained (except when he complained about his mom texting him.)
  4. ROPE – It helps you pass things up, tie things down (during quick summer storms) draw big circles when tied to a pencil and makes a great makeshift belt when you sweat off 10 pounds and your pants stop fitting.

Above: My assistant Noah taking a quick break

What are some tips that could help to avoid messing up or even disaster?

  1. TAKE YOUR TIME – When working up close to a large mural you can’t see the whole picture, so my biggest fear was spelling something wrong and having to start over.
  2. HURRY UP – All my other work has to stop during these larger projects, and I quote the job for a specific time. As fun as it is to work on these murals – I can’t wait to finish (get paid) and move onto the next thing.
  3. PROPER ESTIMATES – For this last job I bought way too much paint and didn’t figure in parking ($20 a day in a busy beach town gets pricey). The estimate is where you make or loose money. The more of these I do, the more I will learn how to do this better. I think that is to key is to always be learning so you can do it better next time.

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