How To Paint A Mural

This summer, a man named Carlos Gutierrez decided to organize a mural project in the park across from the school in Pescadero and invited the Baja 100 Artists to participate. His mission is to bring Pescadero more vitality and attention to this little Mexican town, 15 minutes away from the much more famous Todos Santos. I immediately said yes with out knowing what I would do or how I would do it. Then I panicked. What would I do? How would I do it?

Elias Calles Kinder Mural Project 2014

Elias Calles Kinder Mural Project 2014

I do have some previous experience with murals. The first was when I organized the students of the kinder in my town of Elias Calles (less than 100 people) to create a kinder-garden themed mural. Kids as plants, flowers and trees. I did that with out having ever put paint to a wall, in Spanish. It took us a whole school year to do it. It all started in 2014, when Hurricane Odile blew the roof off the outdoor classroom. I had already been volunteering art classes with the kids, and I decided it was time to get the mural project that I had been dreaming of off the ground. It took a category 4 hurricane to stir up my courage. I decided to create a bilingual public storytelling event, Mariposa Night, in Todos Santos, where people would share their stories of the storm, and we would also raise money to fix the school. We didn’t raise enough money to fix the roof, but we did raise enough money to paint the inside and outside of the bodega, which would became their new classroom. And thus my first mural project was born. The next year, I discovered it had been painted over in white. (For more about my experiences with my kinder art project, click here. )


Last year, for Día de Muertos in Todos Santos, I was invited to particpate in a group mural project headed by Miguel Ochoa (the owner of Hotel Casa Tota across the street) and Michael Cope (painter, gallerist & chef) - to paint the wall of the Cultural Center with a series of Calaveras (skulls). The basic design was given to me—all I had to do was decide on the colors and the details. I worked all day, it was exhausting but exhilarating. I had no idea when I started if I could pull it off, but I did.

But this new mural project was more daunting. I was to come up with my own design in my own section of wall. The overall theme of the project is the town of Pescadero, a small modest fishing town, but instead of going for the ocean theme, I decided to do the garden idea again, featuring only indigenous Baja plants. Ever since I moved here, I have fallen in love with drawing plants. I started the mural two weeks ago, and I will be finishing this weekend. I have been making many mistakes along the way, because my methodology of working is really no methodology. I like to dive in, improvise and learn by all the mistakes I make along the way. My style may not be the most efficient, but I like doing things that way. It makes me feel free and open. So I’ve decided to share with you the top 10 things I learned from this project and share some images of my process.


Here are my top 16 lessons, many of which I learned the hard way:

  1. Start as early in the morning as possible to beat the sun, the heat and the onlookers.

  2. Bring a snack and plenty of drinking water so you don’t have to have leave your spot when you get hungry and thirsty.

  3. Bring a sunhat and sunglasses and if possible, a large umbrella for shade.

  4. Bring plenty of water & a rag to rinse out your brushes.

  5. You can do a mural with basic house paint in the colors red, blue, yellow, black and white - it’s so fun to mix your own colors!

  6. Make sure you bring cups for mixing paints that are large enough to dip your larger brushes into.

  7. Paint dries darker, so make sure you mix a color slightly lighter.

  8. Be aware if you’re wearing sunglasses with a tint! Make sure you check your colors with sunglasses off! In my case, I was wearing sunglasses with a yellow tint (my personal favorite) All my colors looked better to me with through my sunglasses.

  9. A black sharpie looks fantastic if you like to create black outlines, like I do. It’s much easier to manage than a thin paintbrush. Make sure you bring a few, as they get damaged with a bumpy wall.

  10. If you do use a black sharpie, make sure you draw after you paint, otherwise you will have to draw twice.

  11. Paint your background first! Otherwise you will have to painstakingly have to paint around every little detail. (Can you tell I learned this the hard way?)

  12. Bring a pencil too - to sketch out the mural

  13. The natural bumps of a wall add nice character to your lines, rather than going for perfect and straight. Let go of perfectionism!

  14. Make sure you pick a subject that you love and if you don’t know how to paint something, don’t be afraid to copy from photographs or even other drawings.

  15. Use actual living plants (or people or things) for inspiration, if you can, and if not, bring photos or drawings.

  16. If painting intimidates you, remember painting a mural can just be like drawing on a wall and then filling in your lines with paint.

  17. Don’t worry if you make a mistake. You can easily paint over anything and do it again!

Happy painting!