Art of Walls

Figuring out what to do with big blank walls is a problem that haunts homeowners and designers alike. Regular decorating standbys such as wallpaper and paint can’t quite capture the personality of the people who live in a home; the same goes for artwork. For those who seek something one-of-a-kind, there’s an oft-overlooked option: professional murals.

An original work of art designed specifically with your home and family in mind, murals are fast gaining popularity, say Bay Area artists. Valerie McNeal, a San Jose-based artist, says that most of her recent mural clients have been families. She describes them as “people who really loved their homes and are interested in staying where they are.” McNeal adds that most of these families have established lives with hobbies and interests that make them much “more aware of what they like to look at.”

Murals are perfect for homeowners with specific hobbies and interests because they are extremely individual and flexible.  Most artists will work very closely with their clients to design an original mural that will satisfy homeowners for years to come. Popular designs include Tuscan land- scapes, sky-themed ceilings, vineyards and playful children’s rooms.

Oftentimes, the most difficult part of creating a mural is coming up with a design concept. Muralists such as Sausalito-based Dan Fontes, who has more than 20 years’ experience, recommends keeping a folder of photos and clippings that you may want to incorporate into your mural. “It really helps when they see something they like,” agrees Morgan Bricca of Los Altos. “Sometimes it’s a greeting card, a children’s book, a picture from a vacation, or a calendar, and we can create something from that.”

Prior to painting, most mural artists conduct an in-home consultation, where they get to know the clients and their taste, as well as figure out a budget, time frame and, of course, the design of the mural. “We kind of brainstorm creative ideas and then decide what we want to do,” explains Bricca. “I pick stuff up in their surroundings. You can tell what makes a person comfortable by what they place in the home, and I try to reflect that. I like to be responsive to my cli- ents’ taste.” To help clients visualize the mural, many artists draw a sketch on the spot.

Prices can range anywhere from $600 for a basic design to $5,000 for something more intricate or elaborate. While some artists base their prices on size, others work on an hourly scale or charge according to complex- ity. The more experienced artists will also cost more. The painting itself can take anywhere from about three days to three weeks. “It depends on how elaborate people want to get,” explains Fonte. “One mural I did in San Leandro last year was about 9 feet by 13 feet and took eight or nine days.” Mural artists are generally aware that they are being welcomed into someone’s home, so they act accordingly. McNeal says that she tries to be done in a week or two so as not to overstay her welcome.

To speed up the process, homeowners can help prepare the wall for painting. Before a muralist can work magic on the walls, holes need to be filled, and bumps and blemishes need to be smoothened or removed. Fonte recommends laying a base coat before the artist arrives. Be sure to ask the artist if they do the prep work themselves or if another painter needs to be hired. Doing it yourself can save you some money, especially if it’s simple. Thoughtful touches such as providing snacks and beverages for the artist always make an impression, adds McNeal.

Once completed, murals are virtually maintenance free, except for the occasional gentle cleaning with water, and will last for years to come as a natural focal point and conversation starter. “A mural has a wow effect, even if it is subtle. There is something so classy and special about it. It can define a room or house in a very unique way,” says Bricca.