Continuing from a previous post, this was my first large scale mural project. However, Charles has done more than a few murals in his time and developed a few techniques and tools to make the job easier.
There is a lot to consider when doing an outdoor mural. Weather plays a big role. Staying hydrated in 90 plus degree heat and Baltimore humidity is a job in itself. The last thing either of us wanted was a bout of heat stroke three stories up on an eight inch board. The wind plays a role too. If the winds are too high, beyond 15/20 mph, paint starts to dry in the can between strokes. This is solved by keeping a spray bottle of water handy. Worse yet, the wind can make paint fly from the brush and land someplace all ready completed. Of course rain stops all progress and we had to wait for the wall to dry before we could start to paint again. Water kills a mural faster than anything.
Another challenge was height. I had to lean heavily on my balance and the ability to ignore fear of bodily harm. I got really uncomfortable on the top level and spent as little time as possible up there. I’m not really afraid of heights, more of an unsteady platform. While the scaffold was stable and bolted to the wall in a few places it still rocked and wiggled. And the boards were only 8 inches wide. It wasn’t all bad though. I did have fun monkeying around on a what was basically a three story Jungle Gym. I managed to loose a few pounds, tone up and get a tan too.
We could not have done the job without scaffolding, but the most annoying part I found was to paint an area that was covered by it. It’s like trying to draw around a corner. The scaffolding sits only a few inches away from the wall and obstructs it, so there is no good angle. One either has to stoop down and paint below “ground level”, or balance on tiptoes and paint out of reach.
Speaking of out of reach, Charles has some pretty ingenious methods for working on areas further than arms length away. A tool of his own creation was a bamboo stick with compressed charcoal on one end and a paint brush on the other. We would use this to sketch out the subjects. The long stick allowed us to not only get some distance and see what we were working on, but also gave us the ability to make a stroke two or three times longer than our arms can alone. Another important ability, considering when I work on a canvas my strokes are maximum only a few inches and we had such a huge space to cover.
When drawing the church and museum we used an 8 ft 1 x 2 as a straight edge to keep everything in line and in perspective. One of us would stand 50 or 60 feet away from the wall with the reference and holler to the other one on the scaffold telling them where to put the straight edge to make a line. It took a day just to draw the church in charcoal.
Another can’t do without; a reference book. Charles and I pulled together a lot of reference to make this mural happen. We printed out one page shots of what we needed, then stuck them in a photo album that we had on site. Everything was in there. The buildings, flowers, people, logo, and insects.
Another indispensable tool was Charles’s truck. It did doubled duty as a mobile paint box and an extension for a ladder after the scaffolding was removed and touch ups had to be done.
In the end we used 15 gallons of primer, and had over 60 individual gallons of colored exterior paint at our disposal. Beyond that we mixed up 16 special colors that we put in small Tupperware containers and we each had our own soda crate tray we carried up and down the levels. It took us a combined total of over 400 man hours. Just over a month and a half from start to finish.
Maybe next time we get a bucket truck or accordian scaffold like Chuck Close uses.
Next installment we’ll see the whole mural come together in a video.