This morning, Shaun Dziedzic of Zurich, Switzerland wrote, “I’ve been invited to paint some murals in an ancient abbey in Cyprus. I need to either paint them here and transport them there, or perhaps I might make smaller ones here and project and repaint them there. What do you think of this latter idea and what projecting equipment do you suggest, and, as I have a fairly limited budget, should I buy or rent?”
Thanks, Shaun. These days, digital projectors range from inexpensive ones with fuzzy, not-too-bright images of limited size to high-end models that can project huge, bright, non-keystoned images in sunny situations. My current choice is an Epson Powerlite Presenter. It has terrific brightness and size augmented by a zoom lens. Its best feature is that you don’t need to run it through a laptop. You just shove in a flash card or a disc and away you go. Others among us may be using even better machines that I’m not aware of.
If your job in Cyprus involves some clergy, they may be able to loan you one of their own. Priests project power points.
I’ve always noted, when I make a copy of former work, it never quite measures up to the first pass of the brush. Idea: Do the mural in a smaller size, get it digitally scanned, and make an enlarged giclee on mylar or canvas and take it to the abbey and glue it up. Pro-muralists are commonly using this method, particularly in outdoor or strongly-lit applications where fading is a factor. You own the disc — you and your heirs can keep making your mural to perfection for eternity.
Idea: Go to a second-hand equipment or camera shop and resurrect an old slide projector. Check to see if the bulb lights up, and check online if bulbs can still be bought. Shoot your work on 35mm slide film — there are still several brands being produced. If you can’t afford a digital projector, an old Kodak Carousel or other model is the most economical system. Excellent image too. If you’re thinking about an opaque projector, they tend to be the dim-bulbs of the projector world — pretty feeble in big-image applications.
PS: “What one has most to work and struggle for in painting is to do the work with a great amount of labour and sweat in such a way that it may afterward appear, however much it was laboured upon, to have been done almost quickly and almost without any labour, and very easily, although it was not.” (Michelangelo)
Esoterica: Another way of doing the job is to take over the abbey for a few years. A steady flow of onlookers will watch you up there on your skinny scaffold. They may even leave a few Euros in your modest pot. Idea: Don’t stand back to admire your work! Michelangelo drew his figure outlines on paper, traced them with a pounce wheel, pounced them with chalk or charcoal, retraced his lines with paint and went through three popes.
Authentic mural methodology
by James Gloria, Bangor, PA, USA
I was a mural painter for 20 years, doing primarily interior work on new construction in water based media on a large scale. My training is as a Scenic Designer for theater, so I am used to working very large, having completed some murals up to 10×20 meters in dimension. I also have experience in true Fresco technique as well. My first impulse is that if the murals are for an ancient abbey, that they should be done in fresco directly on the walls. This would be the most authentic technique, and fit the aesthetics. If budget and time constraints are limited, then artists’ acrylic on the existing masonry would be the next best option. Acrylics will breathe and flex with the movement of the masonry. Mural painters who want further advice can contact me directly at this address.
by Wayne Haag, Sydney, Australia
Another method is to draw the mural digitally and have it printed onto canvas, then glued up onto the wall and then he can paint directly onto it. This eliminates the need for projection which may be impossible due to distance from the wall, distortion of the projection etc. The digital drawing can be downsized for the painting of colour roughs as well. This method also allows the drawing, colour scheme and composition to be approved prior to final painting. When it is approved you simply print out the final size and glue it up onto the wall. Extending that idea he could also do a digital ‘under painting’ so as to lay in basic values and/or colours. An acrylic medium over the printed canvas to seal in the print and away you go!
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Advantages of working directly
by Liz King-Sangster, France
I would advise Shaun to dump the idea of projectors, to prepare the drawings beforehand and paint directly in situ, because then he has the margin of changing and tweaking the designs to suit the actual space. Light and wall texture can play havoc with preconceived designs. Walls are never perpendicular, there is never a straight floor for your horizontals, you have to rely on your eye to decide what is level and what is not.
The way I worked, and still work when painting murals, is to draw or paint the design to scale, 1:25 is best, square the artwork up into 2cm squares, then square up the wall (in chalk) into 50cm squares. Basically you need the wall to be divided in to the same number of squares horizontally and vertically as you have on your design. Then, with coloured chalk, pushed into an 80cm stick of thin bamboo, split lengthways at the top with a strong rubber band to hold it, draw directly on the wall. You would be surprised at how quickly you become accustomed to the scale. I always painted with a brush on a stick — you need to get as far from the work as you can. If Shaun is unused to big scale painting, then he should do a few trials on his walls at home (great for getting your own place decorated at the same time!) Check out the availability of paints in Cyprus; it may be better to take his own with him. However, if he uses local paints they may be better suited to the local climate.
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Michelangelo’s learning curve
by William McCarthy, USA
I was impressed with your comment by Michelangelo, after having read the book The Pope’s Ceiling, I have a correction for you. Michelangelo did start off with the cartoon and the pounce wheel, but after about a third of the work was done he abandoned that approach and painted directly onto the wet plaster. If you can get an image of the ceiling in its fullness you will see that it starts out very tight — lots of figures and detail, and by mid-ceiling it explodes into a more free form expression. Not only did Michelangelo hate painting, he hired assistants from Florence to scrape the existing mural off and teach him how to paint the fresco style. He had never done a fresco until that ceiling. Oh, yes, he hired assistants from Florence because he didn’t trust the ones available in Rome.
UV coatings for inkjet murals
by Mark D. Gottsegen, Greensboro, NC, USA
Robert, your idea is good, but there are complicated consequences. Inkjet inks are highly vulnerable to outdoor exposures, especially direct sunlight. Even the best inks can still use colorants that are not very good, no matter what the manufacturer of the ink or the printer says. There are UV filtering coatings that can be put onto the installed murals, or applied after printing, while the print is still in the studio. The coatings have to be renewed every ten years or so, depending on the quality of the coating material and its contents.
Getting professional information
by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA
Digital giclees — absolutely not! You can get more accurate data from the National Gallery in Washington DC where they have an extensive restoration department. Also, the canvas or paper it is printed on might not stand up. The canvasses used are generally inferior.
You should check the condition and makeup of the wall and learn something about professional mural applications. You cannot just slap up whatever you want. The charm of these old places depends on the handwork. If you could not afford to do the job properly for the amount of money, you should have turned it down. On the other hand you would be a part of history if you could manage it beautifully and do it with all your heart.
You could try what the original method was — creating a squared-off drawing enlargement from your cartoon or modello. Get a pattern tracer to create holes and pounce some charcoal or pastel dust. You can then copy your cartoon in whatever your method is.
Here is a PDF of Raphael’s cartoons for the Sistine Chapel. You can see the gridded-off lines.
The small cartoon can be your keepsake as some are very valuable.
A mural adventure
by Bill McEnroe, Tumwater, WA, USA
When I was in the US Navy in San Francisco, waiting the commissioning of the troop transport, USS Rodman, I took liberty every night — I talked the owner of the “Cable Car Café” on the waterfront, at the roundabout of one of the cable car lines, into letting me do murals on the walls of the bar and restaurant. I’d made friends with a skilled artist, also waiting to be shipped out, and together we jerry-rigged scaffolds of 12″ planks about seven feet above the floor. We invented scenes of SF as we went along, as it might have looked in the Roaring 1850’s, crowded with men and women wearing clothes of that period, Paper Boys hawking their wares, Horses and Buggies, Classy Molls — the works — first lining all in black, then filling in (sparsely) with oil paint. We worked after 5 pm, three nights a week for about a month, hurrying before being shipped out. Of course, this drama attracted huge crowds of kibitzers, many of whom would, “Send the artists up a drink,” so we had to really be careful teetering on those narrow planks. I`ve forgotten how much we were paid — not much as I recall — but it was fun and I learned a lot. After the war, my brother took black and white 35mm pictures of the murals, but soon after, the Cable Car Café was razed for another building — and of course I can’t find those pictures. Tell Mr. Dziedzic to build sturdy scaffolds.
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by Deb Marvin, Worcester, MA, USA
I recently purchased a digital projector made specifically for artists — a new product from Art-O-Graph. I haven’t tried anything as large as a mural but I really like the quality of what I am getting when transferring sketches to paper and canvas.
“This revolutionary new projector from Artograph eliminates the need for printed photos and sheets of paper: now you can instantly project digital images from virtually any source, including digital cameras, computers, SD cards, and smartphones. Sturdy construction and maintenance-free LED lamps, combined with customizable image controls and layout grids make for a fantastic projector perfect for any artist or muralist.”
I have only had the projector a couple of weeks but compared to the prices of Epson and others, this projector was very reasonably priced. I purchased mine from ASW for $599.99. It is small, too, which surprised me, and comes with a carrying case. I am going to keep playing around with it to see what else it can be used for. It is also a useful tool when showing my portfolio of work to someone.
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Tricks of the projecting artist
by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA
Through the ’70s to ’90s I was an independent vendor doing some illustrated billboards on the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas, as well as other projects that were presented. Now I make most of my sustenance money from public and some private murals. There was a time I used a 1000 watt projector but that “keystoning” you refer to in your letter was/is a big problem plus there were many situations when it just had to be drawn from either too much size or brightness. So I learned that copying creates a slavish looking image at least in my mind and since I keep getting calls apparently some other folks enjoy the enhanced expressive capacity of just drawing and painting the darn image. There is a process I feel is most important that is not present when I used projection anyway. That is my getting more deeply connected empathetically with the work and getting my noggin to more fully wrap itself around the image in what I guess is an intuitive way … my being able to more correctly sense when something was off while up close and personal. I have used many pounce patterns in old days before computers came to destroy the sign art trade. I like the energy contained in a sketch and find that the closer I am to the first time through with a piece the more it speaks. So many decades ago, I gave away that old projector and now I just grid and “loft” the small work or its reference parts with that old trusty tri-scale ruler. I am doing one now that is 33 by 58 feet from an 18 by 24 inch painting and my trusty Staedtler-Mars Architect ruler. One of the main joys is to be up there on the scaffold really painting and not just doing some laborious copying or being just another “soft tissue pantograph.” In fact I need to go get on that wall this morning so thanks for your letter — it’s focusing my energy this fine a.m.
And also, a great little helper while way up there is the modern DSLR since it takes a picture and lets you look at it small without having to climb down and take a look see. It still pays off to climb down every now and then but the digital camera saves a lot of climbing and shows stuff that is wrong rather easily.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Stan Leavitt of Hilton Head Island, SC, USA, who wrote, “Be sure that what you buy is compatible with the voltage where you are going to work.”
And also Tom Andrich of Winnipeg, MB, Canada, who wrote, “You forgot to suggest an overhead projector — cheapest and very easy.”
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