When I was in high school, through a series of dumb luck circumstances, I acted in a series of television commercials. (Addidas, McDonalds, Minute Maid). With my earnings, I bought the cheapest condo ever built. This is how I entered into homeownership at an early age. In my twenties, when most people my age were whooping it up, I spent my weekends at Home Depot. I scraped the popcorn off the ceilings using the “garden hose” technique. I hand-troweled over the “orange peel” walls. I learned how to tile and also mosaic to fight back the linoleum covering every horizontal surface. I painted the bare concrete patio to look like natural stone. I mastered many trades, and this love of house beautification projects one day led me to take on the challenge to paint a mural on one of the many windowless walls. To me, painting a mural was a natural progression in my skills as a handywoman and a homeowner. Of course I would use house paint to paint the mural. I was not an artist, just another weekend warrior with a new house project.
It turns out that was another stroke of dumb luck in my life. Today, house paint is my secret weapon in creating soft effects in my murals. No self-respecting art student would consider using house paint. However, it is ideal for covering large areas and would withstand the wear and tear of real life, that is to say, ideal for murals. House paints mix towards grey tones, which is incredibly useful if you want to go easy on color.
The Glen Community Pool Room at Scripps Ranch in San Diego, CA
The softness of this Echeveria and Gnatcatcher mural is achieved by mixing the cream base wall color with my artist’s acrylics.
Most of the advice of what to do for diversion during this shelter in place revolves around a computer screen. Do we have to spend all our S-I-P time online? Is anyone else getting tired of Zoom and Netflix? My family knows one of my favorite board games is Pictionary, but when I saw that the video chat platform Houseparty is now offering its own version to play with friends online, I found the idea depressing.
If you are over the age of 35, then your childhood might have included, as mine did, long spells of boredom, especially during the summer months. It was uncomfortable, but it was also the birthplace of so much first-hand research, silliness, and creative endeavors. We should know better by now the fruits that come from the pain of boredom. I preach the benefits of boredom to my children, but, like most every adult I know, I avoid it myself.
The first mural I ever painted emerged from boredom, when I was sitting around looking at my walls thinking, “What can I put on that big bare wall to make it less of an eyesore?” The best part about some of the home improvement painting ideas I am about to suggest to you (don’t call it art, most people find that word intimidating) is that you probably have all the supplies you need already sitting in your garage.
The Canvas: Start with a “low stakes” wall for your first effort, perhaps the inside of your garage door. Save your living room wall for your second painting attempt. Painting the inside paneling of a bookshelf a solid accent color is a great starter project. It adds a fun pop of color to a room. Bonus: it will probably inspire you to “KonMari” your bookshelf clutter while you are at it.
Brushes: I paint most of my murals with 3” chip brushes, the kind you get at any hardware store. Most households have one sitting at the back of a drawer somewhere. I use them for painting but also for teasing dust out of corners (have you cleaned your cabinets out yet?) and even basting the annual turkey. (A fresh brush for the basting, in case you were worried.) If the design you like has thin lines, then yes, you will need a few narrower art brushes, though you can get a clean line with the edge of a chip brush.
Paint: What colors did you use to paint your house? Use that same palette to create an artistic accent wall.
Dog, in need of a haircut.
I painted these spring branches on my wall ten years ago by mixing the blue color from the base coat (Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue HC144) with the white trim color for the blossoms, and same blue wall color mixed with a darker color (BM Templeton Gray HC-161) that I used in the closet for the dark areas in the branches. This year, I added more blossoms with a touch of pink. The artwork keeps evolving and I never get tired of waking up to spring, year-round.
Setup: Tape the top edge of the baseboard with painters tape. Cover a small table with an old towel to set your supplies on top of. Your hamstrings and back will be unhappy at the end of the day if you keep all your supplies all on the floor. Cover the floor with a drop cloth or newspaper. (Put all that bad news to work for you.) Clear out a handful of plastic containers you have been meaning to reuse from your Tupperware drawer. Large yogurt containers are great for holding water and brushes. Small yogurt containers work well for holding the mixed colors. A piece of chalk is perfect for drawing out your desired design on the wall. Chalk is easy to erase with a damp rag, and you can play around with the scale of the elements right on the wall, and see what works best. Alternately, and even easier, try an abstract art piece or faux finish.
The fade to darker blue towards the bottom is calming.
For this ombre abstract art wall, I pre-mixed three colors using base color + trim white and base color + the dark closet color, in different proportions. I created the faux finish by thinly applying the paint with a chip brush, then spraying areas with water, and letting the drips run down the wall. I used the lighter color at the top and incorporated the darker color at the bottom. The orchid painting is originally a photographic print on canvas from Ikea (discovered at Goodwill). The original was an X-ray image of an orchid, colored unnaturally. It was vaguely disturbing, but I bought it for the wide aspect ratio of the canvas, which would fit well in the narrow space above the bed. I painted right over the canvas print, using the shapes of the orchids as a template. I used the same thin paint wash I used on the wall, including letting drips run down the painting so that some of the drips seem to come off the painting and down the wall. The painting and the wall work together. Do you have a cheap print somewhere you could use to launch an original creation? Take a page from Wierd Al Yankovitch and take a great song and have fun with it to make it your own. You can tweak the colors so it fits your space exactly.
During this “life on hold” detour, I have gone back to my roots. I am painting baseboards, installing shelves, and rearranging furniture. Beautification projects are my happy spot and best coping mechanism. I tune out the rest of the world and put on my favorite tunes (this weekend it was Bob Marley Radio), put on my work clothes, and putter away the hours. If house projects are not your thing, I hope that during this time you can tuck back into some of your favorite pastimes that you may not have had the time to pursue in recent years. Watching the news and fearing for the worst outcomes is one type of anxiety. Putting the computer away and facing the raw materials of our own lives can create its own form of anxiety, but it leads to more constructive outcomes.
Creative endeavors, like painting, tickle a different part of our brains than we typically use in daily life. There is no right answer to a painting, it’s a different sort of puzzle. Like this pandemic, it’s open-ended, with more questions than answers. With art, you can dance with the inputs and outputs to satisfy your own expressive taste. Creative expression is not actually as risky as our minds make it out to be. It is a powerful avenue for reconnecting with the joy that can be difficult to find in these challenging times.
Good luck with your house projects!
P.S. I could paint these super-soft succulents for the rest of my career. I love the look. If anyone has a wall that needs a soft succulent, let’s line up a project!
Morgan Bricca is a mural artist living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her clients run the gamut from professional creatives, including architects and designers to building owners, school administrators and community advocates. When she is not making art, Morgan enjoys sipping boba tea with her kids and taking naps on the couch.