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How to Paint a Graffiti Mural or Street Art Mural

Updated on April 19, 2013
Street Art Mural by Barry McGee
Street Art Mural by Barry McGee | Source

Graffiti and Street Art Murals Introduction

What are Street Art or Graffiti Murals? They are large paintings, or graphics, painted directly on a wall. The term street art and graffiti pertains to a specific underground subculture where little-to-no rules exist and a strong passion for urban art.

By being able to colorfully paint the streets, one can create a more beautiful city. The color helps influence our emotions on a day to day basis.

Although there are many methods on painting a mural, below is the general form on how to paint a street art mural. Most important, the artist must be able to pay close attention to detail in; ratio sizing, preparation, proper equipment, time scheduling, and painting. By taking the time to properly focus on these steps, the chances on creating a beautiful mural are much higher.

Ernest Zacharevic Mural Timelapse

Mural Planning

Before you begin on the task, you should ensure everything is properly planned. Planning will include finding the location, painting materials, and designing the mural.

While planning, you may want to take a picture of the wall you will begin painting. This will give you, more or less, a good idea on how the design will look and also where any design adjustments should be made. Scale proportion is very important. Being able to identify key points within the design will ultimately make it easier to paint on a larger-scale size.

The amount of paint is going to be one of the most important sections of your planning. You must be able to estimate the quantity of paint that will be used for this mural project. Last thing you want is for your mural to 95% done and then you run out of paint.


Painting Tools

  1. Paint Brushes
  2. Spray Paint
  3. Paint Rollers
  4. Roller Extension
  5. Painting Tape
  6. Markers
  7. Paint Tray
  8. Primer
  9. Bucket of Water
  10. Ladder


  1. Cleaning solvents
  2. Brush Soap
  3. Paint Sprayer

Street Art or Graffiti Mural Location

Location is also important. Finding a proper location, legal with permission preferred, will be a very crucial part of this process. There are a variety of factors to consider when finding the perfect street art location.

First of all, will this wall get you enough traffic as desired? By finding a location with high traffic, your work is being exposed to a variety of individuals and can help you reach fame. Also, if your work is placed near a high-traffic area but people don’t hang out in those specific locations, for example main boulevard intersections, your work will be seen by more people but easily forgotten. On the other hand, by placing it near a school, park, or other hang-out spots, people might enjoy its true detail and label it a landmark.

The type of wall used for your, graffiti graphic, will also make a drastic difference in the appearance of the mural. Many artists enjoy working with older, worn-out walls since it gives their mural an older appearance and may signify a struggle of some sort. For these type of walls, spray-paint is preferred. However, most artists prefer to work with well-polished, smooth flat walls.

Last thing you want is to get involved with the law because you were too lazy to ask for permission. When presenting this to the wall owner, you want to specify that you are doing either them or the community a favor. Having a photographic collection of previous murals, or artwork, may also influence them.

Barry McGee's Brooklyn Mural

Type of Graffiti Paint

Obviously, the type of paint used can make a drastic appearance on the mural’s level of professionalism. For exterior murals, I recommend going with the longer lasting oil-based paints, enamel, or 100% acrylic exterior paints. These walls will be impacted heavily by the weather, and going the extra step to purchase a bit more expensive paint is well worth it. However, if you are limited on cash, like most of us, you can easily go with cheaper latex paint.

Depending on how you wish to apply this, you can chose on the type of paint application. One option is to go the traditional way and use spray paint for your work. Keep in mind, if you chose spray paint your fingers might get tired after a while. Depending on the mural size, you may wish to consider buckets of paint. This application will be quicker, and will require rollers, roller extensions, and a ladder. Of course, cost is something to take into consideration. If you have access to a paint sprayer, that is also another option you may consider as an application.

Street Art and Graffiti Mural Grid Tutorial
Street Art and Graffiti Mural Grid Tutorial | Source

8 Step Mural Painting Process

1. First thing you must do is create a scaled down version of your desired design. It is crucial that you measure correctly and scale the distances. Many beginners prefer to paint a grid within the design. This will help you locate key points, distances, and allows to best scale the picture.

2. Once you are ready to paint, you must prime the surface wall and prepare it for painting. This means properly cleaning the surface before you prime. Wipe the dust, scrape of old peeling paint, and select your painting section.

3. Allow the prime to dry. Next you should consider base coat painting your background more or less to the specific colors of choice. If you are using painter’s tape, to cover specific sections or create straight lines, do not forget to begin taping the areas.

4. When you begin the painting application, you may wish to create a similar grid like the one on your draft design. This grid should be a larger scale of the draft and it should be exact in proportion. For example, a 1ft by 2 ft paper draft may become 10 ft by 20 ft mural. Begin to mark the key locations identified during your sketch. You may wish to place dots in these places and begin to lightly connect the dots with a light color, one that can easily blend with your colors preferably.

5. The mural design should be painted from back to front. That means; painting the background first, large items second and the details last. For instance, to paint a man you will first paint a large block for the man’s outline, then his clothes, next the shadows, and lastly all the smaller details. During this process, do not fear to make mistakes because they can always be fixed later.

6. While transitioning from one adjacent color to the next, make sure the paint is completely dry. You may need the paint wet if you are blending and shading. Also, some street artists like to use a cover, such as a piece of cardboard, to create straight edges and lines while painting with spray paint.

7. Each layer should include a graffiti tool, proportional to the size of the object being painted. Large objects should be painted with larger painting tools, like rollers. Smaller objects, or details, should be painted with brushes and markers.

8. Lastly, remember to take a good look at the mural. Check for any imperfections, blurred lines, drips, and other mistakes. Make sure you take your time to fix these details. Also add highlights and deep shadows. Imagine your image in high-definition; no one wants to see all those painting mistakes.

Additional Tips

  • You may wish to bring a bandanna or a gas-mask, to cover your nostrils. Exposure to paint fumes is never well for your health, especially if you plan on doing this often.
  • You may wish to apply a clear coat sealant, to the job, to ensure a longer lasting finish and protection against damages caused by weather and time. This will also allow the mural to be easily cleaned and keep that excellent finished look.
  • Painting a large mural will obviously mess with your proportion perception. You need to carefully pay attention to the scaling details, measurements, and design placement. If needed, step away from the job every 10 minutes, or so, to ensure your mural is in proper route to completion.
  • Do not forget to clean your tools after every use. This can save you money, and you may need them for future use.
  • Lastly, remember to take many pictures and upload them on the internet or a street art blog. By signing your mural with your signature tag, website, or logo, you can really help your fan-base grow. This statement is very true, especially if the picture goes viral on the internet. Documenting your mural process is an excellent idea!

Have You Ever Painted a Mural?

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      2 days ago

      Graffiti is an interesting hobby. Thanks for the article, but I still have complications about buying paints. Classic sprays do not suit me, unfortunately. If anyone is interested, I found an great and detailed article about paints for murals - It is not a promotion, just proposition.


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