Images from recent murals:
Phantom City Mural
The West Whittier School Mural
The Whittier Museum Mural
The Big Picture Mural

Creating a Mural

By Dennis McGonagle

The process of creating a mural typically begins with a dialogue with a potential client. We talk about the subject matter while we examine the wall where the mural is to be painted.

This is the time to carefully analyze all of the nuances of the wall such as, dimensions and surface texture, as well as consider viewing distance, surrounding environment and audience perspective. Ideas are exchanged and preliminary decisions are made so that I can begin to create a draft of the project.

The next step is to gather visual reference material and create a rough sketch of the mural composition. At this point I am trying to strike a balance between responding to the ideas of the client and maintaining sufficient creative control of the project. I typically spend two to three weeks in my studio sketching the draft and creating a series of detailed studies called cartoons for the mural. The cartoons are valuable references when I work on the actual wall.

Once everyone is satisfied with the sketch, I begin working on an inch-to-foot scale plan. I map out the mural on a grid that I can then transfer on to a larger surface. The final plan is like a miniature mural, showing all of the colors and content that will be painted on the wall. Once the plan is finalized, the actual mural painting can begin.

The first stage of painting is to put a coat of gesso, or primer on the wall. This insures the best paint adhesion to the surface. When the gesso has dried, I snap a one-foot grid with a chalk line. Then, using the mural plan like a road map, I sketch the outline onto the wall.

The final step is my favorite part, the actual painting of the mural. Because so much thought and planning has gone into the composition, the execution of the mural becomes something akin to a joyful dance with exaggerated gestures and movements. I paint one section at a time (until the entire surface is blocked in. I then use the cartoons in order to zero in on key areas of the composition making them focal points for the wall. Depending upon the size of the mural, and the other projects that I have going, the painting process can take from a couple of weeks to several months. When the dance is over and paint has dried, and I am satisfied with the mural, I brush on a coat of clear varnish. The varnish seals the paint to the wall and protects the color from the damaging effects of sunlight.

Although I prefer the independence and spontaneity of easel painting, I look forward to the energy and challenge that working on a monumental scale brings. The entire creative experience is deepened and magnified when I work on a mural. In a sense, easel paintings are like paragraphs whereas a mural is like a complete book.

Contact Dennis McGonagle at:

Guanajauto Interior