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Make Your Own Murals

Photography: JIM FRANCO

Source: Martha Stewart Living, September 2002


A mural can solve a number of decorating quandaries: It can make a cramped interior feel more expansive or give a large, stark room a sense of intimacy. And where windows are lacking, it can present a fanciful view of the outdoors. With imagination, a few easy-to-find materials, and a little bit of courage, you can use basic techniques to transform rooms of your own.




  • Paper and pencil

  • Acrylic latex house paint in a dark, neutral color (we used a brownish gray)

  • Flat-bristle paintbrushes in various sizes

  • Chalk

  • Water

  • Painter's palette

  • Clean, wet rags

  • A variety of natural sponges

  • Stencil templates, optional (cypress leaves, houses, cows, and sailboats)


  1. Sketch the mural on paper as a guide. Choose an imaginary light source -- the direction from which it shines will determine placement of highlights and shadows.

  2. Prepare the wall, painting it with a very pale shade to color the lightest areas (highlights and sky) of your mural. When the paint is dry, use chalk to outline the mountains, water, and other background features. With a very thin dilution of paint (test the color on your palette), fill in those shapes. Represent water by leaving areas unpainted and then going over them with a faint wash of paint for a hint of reflection. Increase paint concentration as you move to the foreground.

  3. Using a clean, wet rag, remove paint to make highlights and blend transitions between shades of paint. If desired, darken shadows with brush.

  4. Next, use chalk to draw trees over background. Trace chalk lines with a dark solution of paint, using a medium-tip brush for foreground trees and a small-tip brush for those in the background. Then, with your fingertip and a wet rag, wipe away highlights along branches.

  5. Create middle-ground foliage by bushing: Dip the tip of a dry, flat-bristle brush in a light concentration of paint, then jab it on palette until bristles separate. Repeat jabbing motion against wall to create foliage. Continue (jab brush on palette each time you dip), layering with darker paint to add depth.

  6. For larger, foreground foliage, dab a natural sponge dipped in a 50 percent concentration of paint on wall around branches. Alternate sponges to vary texture; use darker paint for shadows and denser areas.

  7. Create shadows beneath trees by dry-brushing: Dip a small, dry brush in a dark paint, then wipe it on palette to remove most of the paint. Cast fading shadows by using a quick, scrubbing motion against the wall.

  8. Draw foreground fern and grass shapes with chalk. Go over lines with a round-tip brush and dark (undiluted) paint. Use short, simple strokes for leaves.

  9. Finish by using stencil templates to add small details, such as cypress leaves, houses, cows, or sailboats, if desired.

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