A mural in the making

In January 2016, fifteen Art club students and I took on the challenge of creating a new mural for a 10 x 16 feet wall next to the MS/HS library.

As art-making is all about the process, this post would not be complete without talking about the HUGE amount of thinking, research and experimentation that went into the project.

CHALLENGE 1: TIME… Only 10 hours of club time and a huge wall! How would 15 students paint at the same time? How would we deal with the need for scaffolding in a crowded area?

SOLUTION: Instead of painting directly onto the wall, we decided to paint forty 2 x 2 feet stretched canvases which would be assembled on the wall afterwards. Apart from being a more practical solution, it would also result in a more durable end-product.

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CHALLENGE 2: BUDGET! Canvases are not too cheap. Convincing the admin team that this project would be worth the cost of materials, as the club budget couldn’t cover all of our expenses.

SOLUTION: Write multiple emails and keep insisting… until they say “yes.” It is hard not to realize the value of a bright and beautiful hallway!

CHALLENGE 3: Coming up with a smart idea. Finding that perfect overall design concept that could be broken up in squares, while still forming a coherent whole.

SOLUTION: Spending a good amount of time brainstorming and investigating ideas. Looking at other inspirational murals. Thinking about ideas that would reflect our school’s philosophy and context. We came up with the idea of creating a mosaic of icons representing school life at CIS. The icons would act as symbols reflecting various academic subjects, sports, cultures, values, technology and an Indian context.

CHALLENGE 4: Making aesthetic choices. As a group, we needed to come up with an illustration style and colour palette, which was probably our biggest challenge.

SOLUTION: Once again, spending a good amount of time brainstorming and investigating ideas. Looking at other illustrators’ work. Choosing an aesthetic that would appeal to the school community and complement the campus. If there are too many opinions… vote! We agreed on a simplified illustration style using flat colour surfaces in a limited range of 5 colours. We would put each illustrated icon in the center of the canvas, leaving a 12cm border of negative space around it to create balance and consistency in the overall design.

CHALLENGE 5: Deciding on 40 icons and drawing them.

SOLUTION: We made a huge list on the whiteboard, grouping icons according to the different categories. Each Art club student could choose 2 to 3 icons to draw and put their names next to the icons so we could keep track. After a rough sketch, the image was drawn onto the canvas with light blue coloured pencils, which could be erased by using a damp cloth.

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Initial sketches and ideas

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Light blue coloured-pencil outlines. A centered image with a 12cm border.

CHALLENGE 6: Visualizing the full picture and working out where each colour should go.

SOLUTION: Utilizing technology, I took pictures of each of the 40 sketches on canvas and imported the images into Adobe Illustrator CC. Here I used the scanned sketches as under-drawings to recreate small vector images of the illustrations. It took an average of 30 minutes to create one vector image, which means a solid 20 hours in front of the computer! The computer software made it easy to visualize the full picture and to arrange the images and colours to form a balanced unity.

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I printed some A3 copies of the final digital file, which we could use as reference guides when painting the canvases. It worked really well!

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CHALLENGE 7: Sourcing the colours that we’ve chosen. This took a weekend or two, visiting art stores in Bangalore to try and find acrylic colours that match our designed palette. The aim was to find the exact hues and shades, as mixing large quantities of paint is difficult, and colours could become inconsistent with every mixed batch. Acrylics also become significantly darker when it dries, so one has to do some tests first.

SOLUTION: Buying a range of colours in the Camel Artists Arcrylic Colour range and experimenting by creating colour swatches with different colour combinations.

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It was impossible to find the right pink / magenta straight from a tube, but after many trials and errors, a mix of Crimson Lake and Titanium White finally did the trick! The light blue was also a challenge and I ended up finding the lightest blue in the range (Light Blue Permanent) and added loads of Titanium White. I had to measure the paint in a measuring cup, so that I could repeat the process and get the exact same colour!

PINK:  white – 400ml from tub with 6 tubes of red

LIGHT BLUE: light blue – 400ml from tub with 3 and 1/3 tubes of white.

Our final colour palette consisted of:

Pink (mix of Crimson Lake and White), Turquoise (Cobalt Teal), Dark blue (Phthalo Blue), Light Blue (Light Blue Permanent plus White) and Yellow (Permanent Yellow Medium).

CHALLENGE 8: Human resources! By the time we started painting, it was the end of the term and the end of this club.

SOLUTION: Tap into the IB1 Art class or any other willing students to help out during their free periods, weekends or after school. This helped a lot and, while having loads of fun, we could at least get most of the backgrounds done, which didn’t require too much fine paint work. By the time it got to the finer details, all my helpers were in exams or on middle school excursions and as the person who started this “crazy idea”, I had to jump in and get the job done… Needless to say, as with most art projects, it took quite a bit longer than I anticipated.

That being said… watching the project unveil itself with each layer of colour, made the 150 hours (plus) spent on it worth all the effort!

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Forty finished canvases ready to go onto the wall…

Now the facilities staff had the tedious task of doing all the measurements and getting each nail in the right spot. Each canvas had to fit perfectly, as there are no spaces in between and almost no extra wall space to play with.

And voila!

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Photograph taken by Paul Raj George, August 2016.

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Not only will this mural be adorning the hallways at CIS for many years to come, but it will also be made into an interactive wall by using the Aurasma Virtual Reality platform. More about this later…

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3 thoughts on “A mural in the making

  1. Pingback: A mural in the making | melaniekells

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