The Mural Process
My murals begin with thumbnail sketches that are proportional to the wall I will
be working on. Sometimes a client will request a watercolor rendering of the final
mural to make suggestions or edits on, but most just stand back and let the
process happen after we come up with a theme, because they know and trust my
work. At this point I can usually already see the finished mural in my mind.
Sometimes research is necessary for locales or animals or plants that are
unfamiliar. Research for the mural at the National Zoo led me to the very kind
people at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C. where I was loaned books
and resources for the Sumatran-themed mural. I also met with Don E. Wilson at
the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for a discussion of bats and a tour
through the Smithsonian’s extensive collections to actually see specimens of the
bats I would be painting. I also usually buy several reference books per project.
Work on large murals is tricky proportionally, and it takes years of practice to be
able to free-hand sketch the drawings up onto a large wall. There are some well-
known muralists who will only work from a grid system to enlarge their drawings.
(A grid on their drawing, and a larger corresponding grid on the wall.) I have
always drawn on the walls free-hand and painted my first large mural in high
Once a rough sketch is on the wall, sometimes rendered in pencil, chalk, or sharpie
depending on the wall surface, large areas of color are laid in… almost like the
large blocks of color in a coloring book. These color fields begin to build the very
basic composition of the mural, and allow me to make any adjustments to the
scale or design that might be necessary.
Depending on the make-up of the wall (the National Zoo provided a poured
concrete wall with rough surfaces, crags and holes that had to be filled in with
these initial layers of paint) the beginning stages of the mural can progress quickly
or slowly. The rougher the wall, the more time necessary to properly fill the
surface with paint… and the harder it is on brushes. This is tiring, physical work.
Once the initial color is on the wall, I begin to build the composition slowly from
the background to the foreground, adding detail as I go. My mural style is bold
and graphic, and I always hide surprises for children (and sometimes adults) to