How to paint a mural with students! - Part One

I’ve had a lot of questions about painting the mural at Springville Elementary and how it was accomplished in a WEEK! I decided to write about the experience and offer some insight on a few things I learned along the way. Please know that I am no expert and I am happy to hear suggestions for future projects. In this post, I am going to go over how we prepped the wall first!

It all started with an ugly wall right outside my classroom door.

BEFORE

BEFORE

During the school year, this area of our school sees a lot of traffic. The wall sits in between the elementary school and middle school (right outside of the cafeteria). Honestly, this area of the school was not the most glamorous and it needed a little TLC. In the past, it had served as a garden planted by the students. My classroom sits directly in view of this area and I just wanted to give life back to the space.

After my principal approved the design for the mural, I started planning how to prep the area for paint. Below are some things I learned through the process.

1.Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you are planning to tackle a large wall, interior or exterior, don’t turn away help. People will be excited to be a part of something neat like painting a mural. Even more so if its at their child’s school. If you have a few adult volunteers to help, don’t be afraid to accept their help. There will always be a task that needs to be done. Also, some parents or teachers may want to support the endeavor by offering materials or supplies instead of giving time.

I love the community I live in and I am fortunate to have had so many people donate supplies, time, and energy.

2. Clean the wall

Like any surface you paint, make sure it is clean. This wall is an exterior wall that had seen a lot of dirt, grime, and water drainage. If you were to paint an interior wall, this would obviously be a different scenario. In order to clean this space, a pressure washer was necessary. Renting one can be very expensive. Instead, I asked on social media if any one would be willing to lend one. Several people offered in a few minutes!

Below was the first pressure washer we tried to use, but it was taking a little longer to clean the wall than we wanted (1700 psi). We ended up using a pressure washer with 4200 psi. My friend, Brittany, and I took turns cleaning to save our arms and shoulders. It only took an hour.

This pressure washer did not have quite enough power (1700psi).

This pressure washer did not have quite enough power (1700psi).

Brittany working hard!

Brittany working hard!

The pressure washer we ended up using (4200 psi). I needed windshield wipers for my classes!

The pressure washer we ended up using (4200 psi). I needed windshield wipers for my classes!

ALL CLEAN!

ALL CLEAN!

3. Let it dry!

Now, let’s paint! NOOOO. Concrete will retain water for up to 24 hours after pressure washing or rain. The wall will need to dry out completely before any paint or sealer is applied. If any moisture is in the wall while it’s painted, it will become trapped and eventually crack the concrete. Fortunately, it did not rain after we pressure washed and was completely dry the next day.

Look at that clean wall all dry!

Look at that clean wall all dry!

4. Prime, prime, and more priming. Make sure you know what paint you are using. (optional)

If you’re like me and are planning a mural within a budget, you have to get a little creative. Right after the mural was approved, a teacher told me her husband was a professional painter and they wanted to donate paint to the school. He had various types of latex interior and oil exterior paint left over from jobs that he wasn’t able to use. I gladly accepted. I also knew that there was no way I was letting students touch oil paint and worrying about cleaning that up. NOPE.

Oil or One Stroke enamel is honestly the best for painting an exterior wall and doesn’t need a primer. HOWEVER! If you plan to paint a mural as part of a class assignment, with students, you may need to consider a water based paint. I chose to prime the wall to allow the paint I was using to adhere better.

Below is the primer I used. TIP: have the store tint the primer with a few drops of gray.

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There are a lot of primers out there but I have used this one before and I didn’t have any problems with the coats. It’s pretty thick and went on pretty smoothly. Make sure to edge with a smaller brush any areas a roller won’t quite touch. The roller pads will also need to be designed for use on concrete to endure the texture.

2 inch angled brush for uneven areas of the concrete.

2 inch angled brush for uneven areas of the concrete.

Thick, roller covers.

Thick, roller covers.

I bought one gallon of primer at first because the wall is less than 400 sq. ft. Unfortunately, I had to buy an additional can because I ran out! I also tinted the second can too dark so the wall looked a little funny in the process. Whoops!

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The concrete slabs had a lot of seams to cover and weird textures.

The concrete slabs had a lot of seams to cover and weird textures.

Can you tell where I ran out of primer and had to buy a new can? Barely noticeable, I know.

Can you tell where I ran out of primer and had to buy a new can? Barely noticeable, I know.

5. Let it dry! Again!

I allowed the primer to dry for 48 hours (because, life). Make sure to check the labels on any primer paint for drying times. Alabama summers are no joke and the humidity alone will choke you. Humidity also can cause paint to dry slower. Instead of sitting around literally watching paint dry, go home and relax.

In my next post I will cover drawing the mural and teaching students to paint! Click here for part TWO!