It has been interesting, over the years, to hear individuals’ thoughts on the difficulty of doing exterior murals.
I would say on a whole that their views are split about 50/50. About half think it’s a walk in the park (“I mean, how hard can painting be?”), with the other just standing in amazement.
The fact of the matter is the reality differs from person to person, season to season, job to job.
Tampa Bay Artist, Ana Livingston, restoring the Avenue du Jardin mural in downtown Clearwater, FL.
I’ve worked on what I would consider substantial jobs (120′ horizontal walls on a graveled decline, meaning extreme attentiveness as well as four stages of scaffolding at the bottom,) to a 6’x6′ piece I could do standing on a 2-foot step ladder.
One of the biggest factors, and one most don’t consider, is the hoisting of one’s body weight up one, two, three or more stages of scaffolding dozens of times each day. And then there’s the obvious climbing back down, using the already-weary muscles. This coupled with the pure exhaustion of being out in the elements for hours on end can have quite a cumulative effect.
Another aspect most never think of is the fact that once you are up on scaffolding–which you are entrusting with your very life and never, ever, forget for a moment–is the fact that muscles are constantly tensed: legs and pelvis for support, torso for control, and ultimately your arm and hand for accuracy.
Additionally, you’d be amazed how one must contort their body–and hold it completely still–for entire sections of precise work. There are other instances, and any artist doing large murals can attest to this, where one must simply use their other hand. Now, I am left-handed, and am obviously very adept at using it artistically. BUT, there are always points in large projects where one really must employ the other hand. This action adds its own stress factors.
The other elements, literally, are the heat index, rain, wind, etc. These can have a profound effect on you, especially when you are elevated and at the wall’s edge. Winds are funneled which contribute to stability issues, and tend to rapidly dry out the paint; all in addition to leaving you physically parched.
Of the elements, the sun and heat are the largest factors. I currently limit my mural painting to that time of day when the sun is NOT directly beating down on me. This is just common sense, but even with that tactic I am not escaping the humidity (or, in the case of mural creation in Florida during the summer months, extreme heat anyway). The overall heat issue can be unbearable to many, but I just take it in stride.
Now, I’ve only talked about some of the physical and environmental factors extant in executing a mural. The rest are mental and artistic. When you are up in the air ten, twenty, or more feet and are standing two feet from an enormous wall surface, one CAN get lost in it. An artist has to continually “view” the entire work from, say, 30′ back from the wall. This is an interesting concept for sure, but without this ability, one would spend ¾ of their day climbing down and stepping back to see what they need to do next. Not very efficient. One has to maintain an overall sense of where everything is and their exact strategy on what comes next.
My current mural has an additional ingredient that makes it even more demanding. The original concept art was 8.5”x11”. I have had to recalculate that out onto a 9’x55′ wall. All this without throwing anything out of proportion. I’ve drawn in markers on the entire surface, but with many things, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate into the real world. All this is to say that there are constant refinements and alterations taking place as I paint. Yes, more to make the project interesting!
In closing I want to add THE most important point in all of this: it is done very happily and for the sheer love of the work. This is my most favorite of art forms, and the gratification that comes back to me, when people go out of their way to tell me that the mural has touched them, is enormous. But even with that said, I don’t do what I do for me; I do it for anyone and everyone with the hope that it uplifts them, if only for that moment.
The Making of a Mural: The Mural Chronicle of Artist, Ana Livingston