Becki Griffin's Curious Details

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DIY Wall Mural

Let’s talk about taking creative risks in our homes and in life. Just for the simple fun of it.

I began painting this inexpensive temporary wall mural last fall when our twins went away for their freshmen years of college. It’s profoundly jarring when all of your kids leave at the same time no matter how prepared for it you might think you are. I needed an activity to distract my worried mind during the long evenings and weekends when I missed them the most and was adjusting to the sound of an empty house.

I wanted a large scale, creative, whimsical, artistic experience that didn’t cost a bloody fortune (college for twins = a bazillion dollars, start saving now, people!) This coincided with the fact that my dining room was still not “done” and had begun to annoy me. Again. Here’a little peek into my creative process and how my mind works when I’m feeling funky; I made up an entire story of how I stumbled across the perfect rare find at a French brocante that would solve my decorating issues and be a balm to my sad heart. Let’s say the rare find was a room sized scenic, hand painted grisaille mural. Pretty dramatic, right?

What I actually did was make a quick trip to the hardware store for the biggest cotton painters drop cloth I could find, picked up a few tubes of acrylic craft paint in shades of brown and unearthed some ancient sidewalk chalk from the garage for sketching. The plan was to paint a grisaille wall mural and thumb tack it to the wall. I didn’t want to paint on the actual wall because I wanted the mural to be temporary. I do intend to address the dining room decor situation someday and taking out thumbtacks is a lot faster than repainting or removing wallpaper.

Listen, I’m not a trained artist so if you’re a perfectionist or purist this post and project are not for you. What I am is a willing creative that is not afraid to conjure the magic. My place in my own creative journey is mostly held in uncertainty, plenty of self doubt and creative failures. That’s just part of it. But on good days my inner best friend Curiosity, and her best friend, Willingness, come to call and the big magic shows up. I’m just here with good snacks and some basic supplies. Experience tells me this is gonna be fun and I love being open to the divinity that keeps company with me while I am making something beautiful out of one simple tube of paint and a splash of water. I love being connected to that feeling.

Unlike my styling work which is certainly creative but also technical for the camera, loose projects like the mural are purely for my own personal artistic growth. I want the rooms in my home to feel creative as well as comfortable. For me it’s all about atmosphere.

Now, on to the process. Have I ever painted a wall mural? No. Have I ever painted a grisaille? No. Did I really even know what that was? No. Was acrylic paint even going to work?

How the hell do I know, I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE!

What I had done was some faux finishes back in the day and I like to dabble in watercolor painting when I have time so I combined those two very basic ideas and got busy making marks on the drop cloth.

First, we tacked the cloth onto the wall (after running it through the washer and dryer). My husband didn’t even question this. It comes with the territory here. Then I sketched out the biggest elements like the trees very lightly with the sidewalk chalk. I based the scale of the drawing to the room and my chandelier. I would sketch, then step back to take a look and then sketch more. Sometimes the shadows from the wrinkles in the drop cloth would help me form the next details so I just went with it.

Then I started painting. Acrylic craft paint is water based so I mixed a big squirt of paint with quite a bit of water to start with a very light color application. The paint was very watered down (this is important). As I painted, the drop cloth would become pretty wet and the paint would bleed through. No need to panic, that’s exactly what created the atmosphere of the mural. Starting with a light hand lets you build up layers and detail as you go. While wet sections of the cloth were drying I would move to a dry area of the cloth to paint.

I brushed, smooshed, and jabbed the paintbrush around to get the suggestion of trees and leaves. Sometimes I would use a small sea sponge or cheesecloth instead of a paint brush. I used whatever felt right or would give me a nice texture. Practice on an extra cloth if you like. I didn’t do that as the entire project for me was practice.

Side note: I’m rearing Monarch butterflies in the dining room this summer. More on that later. They love the mural!

I’m very happy with my first attempt at a grisaille mural and could see a few ways to apply this kind of painting for future projects. I would love to paint the next cloth a pretty blue and paint flowers in a watery white on top of that.

I did this project by feel so if you have questions I’m happy to answer them and share more details. The entire process was a great reminder to not take things so seriously in our homes. I’ll get around to decorating the dining room one day but for now I have the story of the empty nest, the brocante and the drop cloth.

ps. the boys are home for summer and we eat in the dining room more than we ever have before.