A very special client of mine has spent the past year getting a poolside retreat created at her home.
Part of this project included turning a former shed into a Tiki Bar and she asked me to create a custom mural for its door.
She sent along some suggestions for what she had in mind and I came back with a mock up that used the Tiki theme but added her and her husbands looks/personality into the piece by creating a Tiki of each of them. I began by first drawing them out on old fashioned pencil and paper. Then I scanned the drawing into the computer and used Adobe Photoshop to clean up the outlines and fill them in with color as a mock up for the clients.
There were some variations made along the way which included some drawing changes and color variations until we found the combination and look that was just right.
I did all kinds of research on exterior mural paints and went with Chroma Mural Paints which come in this amazing array of vibrant colors. Plus they provided a nice size jar and were nicely priced as well.
I ordered them from Dick Blick (since they did not stock them in the local store) and they arrived last week in preparation for this project.
The computer mock I had created used colors pulled from the swatches online for these particular paints so I knew that I would get a fairly close match and give the clients what they were now expecting.
Due to the humidity and endless storms we seem to be having I brought the door to my house and set it up in my basement studio to keep it climate controlled and dry while the prep, painting and varnishing layers were going to be applied.
First step was to tape off the edge of the door to ensure nice clean edges when the project is completed.
Since this is a metal door that was brand new, smooth and primed not much was needed to "clean it" or "sand it" etc.
So the next step was to apply a coat of Liquitex Matte Medium and allow it to dry.
Once the Matte Medium had dried it was time to apply a two coats of Liquitex Gesso surface preparation. This gives the acrylic paints something to grab onto and is used not only for a project like this one but also to prepare a fresh canvas for painting with acrylics as well.
The Gesso requires 24 hours time to fully dry and cure before paint can then be applied.
So while it was drying I moved onto taking the mockup and expanding it to full scale size that I could then transfer onto the door once the Gesso was dried the following day.
I found that I could print out the design using Microsoft Paint, of all things, and have it print across multiple sheets of paper measured out to fit within the size of the door.
Once all the pages had printed I cut them and taped them together to get a full size template to trace around onto the door. After I had the full outline traced, then I began cutting away sections of each character so I could exactly trace the inner shapes to ensure the mock up approved by the client and the actual finished product are exactly the same. I am sure there are a lot of other methods but I am comfortable working with way.
The entire time I worked on this, the boss (my dog Annie), was there to supervise and make sure I remained on schedule.
After the all of the outlines had been completed I then began working on painting.
First up was to work on filling in the basic shapes with blocks of color.
While I had hoped that I could use the paints right out of their jars because I had pulled the colors in digital from the manufacturers product sheet when I created the mock up design. But the actual paints began to dry much darker than anticipated so I had to start mixing colors to get the tones/shades I was looking for to match my original mock up more closely.
This meant painting a second layer over them but I am much happier with the the resulting colors so far.
Then I proceeded to continue with coloring in the Tiki characters. Mixing my own custom colors as needed along the way.
Once the characters were completely filled in then it was time to apply the red background to the rest of the door.
Red can be a tricky color to get complete coverage on so I know I will be added a second coat over it. And then doing any touch ups to the other colors that have already been applied once it is dry to the touch.
I applied that second coat of red allowed it to dry and then added all of the thin black outlines to each of the tiki's. And that completed the painting step. When all said and done it took me 14 hours to prep the template, transfer it onto the door and complete the painting. Talk about a days work but I loved every minute of it!
On the following day about all I could do was just sit and watch the paint dry and cure.
To me this is probably the most pain staking part of the entire project. Not being able to continue on and keep making progress until you are sure the paint has cured.
Which got me thinking what does "cure" actually mean when you are talking about paint. So I looked it up online and found the following description: At its most basic, curing of a paint is when it turns from a pliable state to a solid state throughout, not just "dry" on the surface. Curing of paint is not the same as drying as it's a change at chemical level, not merely the evaporation of liquid or binder from the paint. And it can take from a few days to a few weeks depending on the type of paints you are working with and the thickness in which they have been applied. Also the air temperature and humidity levels have a direct impact on the amount of time it will take for your paint to cure.
The week in which I was working on this project turned out to be humid with several thunder storms. There was even some severe weather (tornado) in a town nearby as a matter of fact. So I was really glad that I had brought this door to my home studio to work on and did not attempt to do this on site. Plus in my studio I have A/C which keeps the temps consistent and the humidity level low so the dry/cure times were significantly decreased.
After a few days I was now ready to apply the varnish layers. I spent some time watching some YouTube videos on the best way to apply varnish.
While watching I realized that I needed to pick up a synthetic wide brush to get the smoothest application over the large space of the door.
So I stopped by my local Michaels Art & Craft Store and took advantage of a 40% off coupon to pick up a brush
For exterior murals it is recommended to apply an isolation layer of varnish, which is usually done in a gloss. And then a final varnish layer in the sheen of your choice. The isolation layer of varnish is permanent and I used Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish. The reason gloss is recommended at this stage is that it will dry completely clear. If you were to use a matte finish there are aggregates in the varnish that reduce the reflection of light but they can start to cloud up your painting if you layer multiple matte varnishes on top of each other. The gloss varnish is applied in a very thin coat and it is important to not over brush which can cause the varnish and to keep moving. If you notice an area where you had applied varnish already did not receive varnish do not be tempted to go back and add varnish to it. This product starts to setup quickly and if you were to drag your brush back over it you may create brush stroke or streaks and the goal here is a smooth surface. The best thing to do would be to allow this coat to dry to the touch and then go back and apply a second coat (in the opposite direction if possible and if needed).
Once you have completed applying a coat or two of the gloss varnish it requires 24 hours to dry. After the 24 hours have passed it is then time to apply the final varnish layer. For this I went with Liquitex Soluvar Varnish and I go the spray cans to be able to apply a nice even brush stroke free final layer. Soluvar is a solvent based varnish and can be removed using mineral spirits (if needed in the future) without impacting that isolation varnish layer we applied before it. So if a mural becomes dirty due to dust and weather or if someone was to paint graffiti over it, all of that can be removed by taking off the soluvar varnish layer and it will not damage the artwork at all!
The soluvar varnish comes in gloss or matte and you can even use a combination of the two to adjust the level of sheen on your project. I had purchased both but after seeing how the glossy isolation layer highlighted brush strokes in a way that I did not like I opted to use the matte finish soluvar and am much happier with the results.
After carefully spraying on a thin coat, I now have to once again wait 24 hours before the second and final coat can be applied.
This project has definitely been an exercise in patience (which I struggle with) due to all of the dry/cure time involved between each step. But I did not want to rush this so that it lasts for a very long time!
Once the second coat of soluvar varnish layer dried to the touch it was time to deliver the project to the clients Mary and Steve!
I can not even begin to describe how much I enjoyed working on this project and for these amazing people. The entire week I kept them up to date with photos I would text (and used here in this post now) of all the progress I was making to keep them in the loop. And with each text the excitement grew for all of us. Plus having a project like this to work on really gave me a sense of purpose all week long and I definitely needed that! Now I get to look forward to the pool party they invited me to - I can't wait!