How to Paint a Mural: Materials, Contracts, Pricing, & More
So you want to be a muralist eh? You’ve come to the right place.
Murals allow you to deliver a bold message in a unique and positively obnoxious way. They create impact and can help companies with huge branding campaigns.
But are you ready to start? Do you know what you need to create a piece of work this size? Do you know how to pitch a mural to a client?
Here are some things you need to know before you get started.
The first things you should be aware of are the materials needed. If you are an artist, some of these may already be in your toolkit and others may surprise you. To source these items check out Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, or your local department store!
Everyone knows painting IS messy. To avoid getting paint everywhere and ruining anything like your client’s beautiful hardwood floors, you will need a drop cloth. I recommend purchasing a sustainable canvas drop cloth for multiple reasons:
The canvas can be reused over and over again.
It reduces your carbon footprint.
When you already have one, you do not need to spend time running from store to store looking for one with each new mural.
They are easy to clean.
Rollers are going to save you a huge amount of time when painting. You can also use spray paints, but rollers cover a much larger area than a can of spray paint.
Wall Trim Brushes / Artist Brushes
Wall trim and artist brushes will help you with more detailed areas. I recommend getting brushes of multiple sizes to help you here.
There are a couple options when it comes to paint. Most people think of spray paints when it comes to murals, but wall paints are much cheaper and cover more area. But yes, sprays can make things much quicker - assuming you know your techniques. Acrylic paint also does a great job of withstanding weather and can be used for murals but will cost you more.
Frog tape is preferred over painter’s tape due to its patented technology. It locks out paint keeping lines extra crisp and tidy. Both however get the job done. Tape is essential for achieving clean lines, taping around the edges of a wall to avoid mess, and keeping the painting in its frame.
Paint tray & Cups or bucket for water
Hoping this one is self explanatory.
Chalk will be used to outline your mural.
Projector’s will cut the time on a project dramatically. Do not underestimate this advice. Projectors (especially high quality projectors) are not cheap, but are very much worth the investment. If you are taking the mural world seriously, you will be making thousands, so buy one!
Levels will assist with straight lines and angles that need to be calculated. Slopes of lines are tricky when you’re up close to a mural vs. when you’re far away. This will save you a good amount of time.
Varnish is optional as clear coats can give murals an artificial look. It is up to your client’s personal preference whether or not you want to use this. We only recommend mural protection for walls that are highly likely to be tagged.
Getting the Mural Up on the Wall
When you are a new muralist it is important to keep costs low. Putting the mural on the wall is one of the most important steps and these 3 techniques will get it up while keeping expenditures low.
Method 1: Projecting
This is by far the easiest and fastest method. Time is money. When you work for a flat fee as opposed to by the hour, it is important to paint quickly and efficiently so you can achieve a high hourly wage. This allows you to cut down the time spent working while still maintaining a quality mural that your clients will love.
Method 2: Grid Wall
Impose squares over the photo you are planning on painting.
Make sure the squares correspond to the wall.
Paint square by square.
Method 3: Doodle Grid
Draw doodles all over the wall before you paint.
Impose your image on a photo of the wall and turn down opacity to see where different parts of your painting would be in correspondence to those symbols.
The important thing to remember when painting a mural is that it must look good from far away. With any method it is important to walk away and see how it looks from afar.
Composition and the Client
Many of you reading this are artists and already know what composition is. For those that do not know the definition or want a refresher here’s what you need to know:
Composition is how the piece is layed out, the color palette, and the placement of elements.
Composition is going to be really important when designing a piece for a client. You want to create art that is reflective of their branding.
Clients have a certain number of revisions where they will ask you to change many things and this can sometimes cause headaches when they keep asking you to revise. To avoid this and ensure you understand the client’s needs it is wise to give them a questionnaire about the direction of the brand. This way you can cater the composition accordingly and avoid wasting time.
Contracts are VERY IMPORTANT because they:
Stipulate everything you need to facilitate a mural deal on time
Clarify what needs to be done to do the job correctly
Establish a proper timeline
Set the price
State how many concepts and revisions the client gets
Clients will get used to taking advantage of you if you do not set clear enforceable boundaries at the beginning of the process. It is standard to have 2 concepts and 2-3 revisions. Anything they request that is not stated in the contract should cost extra. Always remember that your time is valuable! Additionally you need to clarify who is paying for what. Scaffolding or a scissor lift should be provided by the client or included in the price. I would recommend charging at least 2X the price.
Take a 50% UPFRONT DEPOSIT. This will cover materials and time invested in concept development.
If you need a contract, we sell our template online in our shop. You can click here to buy it.
STOP WORKING FOR EXPOSURE OR UNDERSELLING YOURSELF!
This makes it difficult for ALL artists to make money. Be professional, stick to your guns. If a client can’t afford your services, ask them if they want a smaller area of square footage for the design and will paint the background color themselves.
If a client declines and wants you to do a bunch of work for little to no pay, say no!
More clients will come, your time is better spent finding those clients than spending weeks developing a concept, asking your (likely) difficult client questions, revising the concept, and going onsite to paint the mural and break your back for $500.
You just did 3-4 weeks of work for $500. Congratulations, you just paid yourself under minimum wage for a specialized job that only few can do.
If you think this judgement is harsh, you need to toughen up! This industry is known to take advantage of people and create starving artists. Don’t sign up to be one of them, our team refuses to be.
There is only one exception to free work…
When you are first starting out as a muralist the first mural should be done for free or really cheap if no one is coming to you. Why?
This establishes you as a muralist because if you have no work in your portfolio clients have no proof that you are talented at painting murals
It allows you to get a mural in your portfolio
It opens doors and opportunities
It will build good relations with the client who will recommend you to others, generating you new business
Remember: It is important to ensure you have room for artistic freedom. Artwork should represent your brand because when potential clients see your art they know what they will get. Your clients will understand your style and you will not have to do work that does not represent your style and personality.
Anyways, your pricing should factor in multiple things.
Rules of Pricing
Do not itemize pricing - It should be a flat fee
Do not agree to give receipts for materials. A mural is more than paint and paintbrushes - the client is paying for your time, insight, art direction, knowledge of software, services and art.
Numbers for Pricing (This is not an exact formula, but these are good general guidelines):
Year 1: Charge about $10-20 per square foot
Years 2-3: Charge about $20-40 per square foot
Year 3: Charge about $40-60 per square foot
Veteran Status: After you have established yourself as a muralist and are a veteran with a large portfolio, you can charge a lot more per square foot. Depending on how much demand you have, you can charge upward of $100 per square foot.
No matter your level, as the complexity of a piece rises so should your price. The more intricate the mural, the more time and resources spent which should be reflected in your price.
Bottom line: Square footage, complexity, and your experience / portfolio size determine your price
What adds to the price of a project?
There are many variables that can increase the price of a project.
Rush Fees: If a client needs a mural in 3 days time, you need to charge more for working long hours and late nights to make that project come to life. Your client is already desperate, and likely is willing to pay more anyways (as they should if you are working double the hours each day).
Lifts/Scaffolding: Take your base price and double it. Lifts and Scaffolding are not cheap.
Crazy Weather Conditions: If a client wants you to paint during a storm, for whatever reason. You need to charge accordingly.
Travel Expenses: If you are travelling to paint factor in the price of your hotel/AirBnb, car rentals, and food expenses.
At the end of the day, murals are hard and time-intensive work.
They take specialized skills, a lot of manual labor, and expertise to put together. You need to charge accordingly and value yourself as an artist.
As you continue to grow and create impact one wall at a time, you will learn more tricks of the trade and really develop yourself as an artist and muralist.
I hope this article was helpful and you learned something new about the mural world and the new profession you are seeking to take on.
Now use the information you learned here to go out and start your career as a muralist!
We believe in you.