Mural painting is something you won't undertake as often as small-scale work. But is is an interesting art that always enjoys considerable demand. Many soldier artists have executed murals for service clubs, chapels, recreation halls, day rooms and other buildings within military installations. The technical requirements for a mural are similar to those for oil and tempera easel pictures. In addition, the following requirements should be kept in mind:
(1) ;It must be absolutely permanent under the conditions to which it is exposed for the life of the building.
(2) ;It should present a dead flat (mat) finish so that it may be viewed from all angles without undue glare or reflection such as one gets from an oil or varnish surface.
(3) ;The design or structure must be laid out with the understanding that the spectator will view the painting from many angles.
(4) ;The two dimensional feeling of the work should be maintained. Subjects, whether pictorial or decorative, may be presented in full perspective or recession but not to the point of destroying the impression of the wall as a flat plane.
(5) ;Perhaps the most important thing about a mural is that it be related to the building, in particular to the wall on which it is painted. It should "belong" there and not appear as merely an enlargement of an easel painting.
A good example of mural work is that which appears in the new War Department Building, in
Washington, D. C. Various stages of this mural are depicted on the next page.
Before starting your design make a very careful study of the wall on which it is to be placed. Consider the surrounding space, the relationship to doors, windows, and other decoration, and the functional characteristics of the building in that section. As we are considering the lobby of a large building, our mural must not be so large in scale that it will make the room look small. The figures in the mural should not be greater than life size. Architectural designs should be in scale to these figures. Now look at the complete design of the mural as shown (fig. 255). Notice the pattern of subject matter. The elements dealing with war and defense are all kept in the proscenium, or outer ring. The activities depicting the freedoms enjoyed in a democracy form the central part of the mural. The underlying idea is, of course, that the elements of war and defense will achieve and protect the desired freedoms. This is what we mean by grouping or arranging the pattern so the mural will be a well integrated theme carrying out whatever idea you choose to express. At the very outset, then, you will do well to give much thought to subject, scale, color, and medium. These are your important problems. When you are ready to commence work there are definite steps which should be followed.
(1) ;First, make a small drawing of the wall and specific space for the mural. With this drawing go to your studio or workshop and develop what you feel to be the best design for the space.
(2) ;Next make a color study of this design and render it in the same surface technique desired in the final work.
After your design is thoroughly studied you arc ready to make studies for the details and figures. This is best done in the following manner: make actual size drawings in crayon, chalk or pencil of the details and figures of your work. The drawings should be as simple as possible but contain all the principle elements necessary to your design. These final drawings are usually called cartoons. You are now ready to transfer your cartoons to the wall itself. There are two satisfactory ways of doing this.
Trace the reverse side of the drawing with a soft pencil or chalk. Then tack or tape the drawing to the wall. Trace over the original side, thus leaving the desired impression on the wall.
The second method is to put pin pricks along the outlines of your drawing. Place the drawing on the wall and transfer the design by "pouncing," that is, by taking a soft, dry rag or blackboard eraser and patting powdered pastel or charcoal dust over the drawing. The colored dust will penetrate the pin holes and leave desired outline on the wall. The most satisfactory medium for mural work is tempera on gesso. This medium is quite low in cost, easy to handle and has good lasting quality. Do not try to cover too much ground in one cartoon. Divide your material in such a way as to facilitate handling. You can't paint more than one thing at a time anyway and it is difficult to transfer very large cartoons to the wall.
This chapter merely attempts to point out a few practical things to be considered. Bear in mind that each mural presents problems of its own. Correct analysis of these factors in advance is a vital part of your work. It is a challenge to your imagination and judgment.
The dry powdered pigments which may be purchased at any art supply store are generally so finely ground that they will not require further treatment. I f they should, however, a mortar and pestle may be used or a sheet of glass and a milk bottle. Grind until pigment is reduced to a fine powder. Add linseed oil to the powder, mixing thoroughly with a palette knife until it reaches the proper consistency, about that of soft butter. It is then ready to use and may be stored in jars or tubes which have been well coated inside with oil.
Many pigments tend to separate from the oil in time. To prevent this dissolve 1/2 ounce of pure, unbleached beeswax in 1/2 ounce rectified turpentine by heating them together in a double boiler. Care must be taken to heat slowly and at a low temperature, as turpentine is highly combustible. Add this wax solution to 25 ounces of linseed oil and combine with the dry pigments as above.