Last Year’s Mural Project

Family Tree Mural After 1


About a year ago, I had an email from neighbors of my Lemon Tree mural clients requesting I consider a project with them. In two prior homes, they had displayed family photos in a family tree arrangement and wanted to create a similar presentation in their new home.

Since I was still involved with settling my parents into their new Florida life, I thought I could squeeze in the family tree project before hurricane season pulled me back to my current out-of-town Day Job. As it happened, I’d just finished the mural and the paint was drying on a small pedestal that we added to the project when I got the call to dash away with my claims adjuster hat wobbling upon my head.

After six months of adjusting and three months of moving my parents from their temporary rental and into the home my husband and I have extensively renovated for them (read: gutted and rebuilt from the inside out – see here), I finally have the opportunity to post the family tree project results here.

When I’ve had a little more catching-up time, I will write up a process post. I find the creative collaboration with clients a large part of my satisfaction in the results of any project.

Golden’s Just Paint Newsletter

Golden Artist Color, Inc. produces a newsletter that feeds my nerdy tech side. The latest edition of Just Paint includes two mural-focused articles.

The Heritage Preservation article recounts the rescue of an exterior Harlem mural by Eva Cockcroft. It also discusses technical issues encountered when painting on building exteriors and introduces Heritage Preservation’s Mural Creation Best Practices portion of their web site.

The next article, Selecting the Best Exterior Mural Pigments discusses just that – it is a review of how certain pigments react to extended sunlight exposure.

If you’re half as nerdy as I am about paint, you’ll love the rest of this issue too. Then you can get lost in their back issues.


Lemon Trees – Mural Process

Main Wall Completed

Main Wall Completed

DSC_0034 - adjusted smaller

View from Entrance

There were many challenges to this design. The first was how to have lemon trees reaching up into a night sky? I didn’t want the trees directly against a deep blue. My clients were also concerned that the room not become too dark.

I suggested we transition lighter walls up through dusk and into a night sky. I had in mind the beautiful medieval Book of Hours, Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry which moves from day to night in one image.


Medieval Book of Hours

Medieval Book of Hours

This meant taking an ombré effect from night to dusk on the ceiling and into the walls.

Adding to the challenge – as I designed the walls, I knew I did not want a horizon line cutting across the imagery. That meant obscuring the horizon by taking the ombré right down to the base of the image – the chair rail.

Here’s a shot of one wall’s design elevation in progress:

Lemon Tree elevation

Lemon Tree elevation

In order to visualize the overlap of corner trees on the ceiling, I built a rough, white model and attached the wall and ceiling elevations to it. The resulting model was taped and pinned together for easy disassembly and transport. Presenting this to the clients helped them visualize their future dining room.

Model view of entry arch and colums

Model view of entry arch and columns

Watch the slideshow and see further explanation below:

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Of course, I began with the background. The ceiling and walls were textured, which added to the challenge of the gradation.

I worked a textured underlayer beneath the final grassy foreground to give it some movement, then worked over it to lighten the final effect. It took me about a week of tones and half-tones and half-half-tones to get the transitions smooth.

Referencing my renderings, I chalked in the trees, then based and added minimal highlight and shade. I did not want overly dimensional trunks, knowing my leaves would be stylized. I also didn’t want the trunks to dominate the composition. My natural bent is for high contrast so I had to restrain myself from fully developing their form.

I ordered a variety of lemon leaf stencils from Cutting Edge Stencils. These were excellent shapes but I was a little concerned about scale. Would they be too small? So, before starting the project, I cut a bunch of additional leaf stencils in larger sizes. In the end, I used all of them. Layering the slightly different sizes provided a better sense of depth.

The stencils were applied randomly, layered and with mottled tones.

Once an area had the beginnings of leaves, I stopped and added the lemons. I wanted to be sure I had leaves both behind and in front of the fruit. I stenciled the lemons with a base color and then added lights for simple form. When the lemons were dry I continued with the leaves allowing them to overlap the lemons.

My clients had been enchanted by the lemon blossoms at their Sorrento restaurant so I scattered blossom shapes throughout. I had pre-cut little stencils of 7 or 8 blossom shapes.

While I was working on the trees, I chipped away at the starry sky. I used a combination of Swarovski flat-backed crystals and silver mica-powder mixed with clear glaze.

The mural’s other special features are a peace dove, a sandhill crane and a triple merhorse fountain. This unique feature was inspired by my clients’ trip to Italy. There is a large, elaborate fountain in Taormina, Sicily, that has adorable merhorses placed along its outer edge as you can see in my prior post here. My clients requested I include only the merhorses so I created a composition that would provided the best view of all three.

A word about color:  It is coincidental that my mural colors appear so similar to the Book of Hours image. I did not actually reference that work during the design process – it was simply in my memory as an example of a prior artist transitioning from day to night in a single image.

The colors of my mural were based on the existing colors in the home. Every color used in the mural was coordinated with the near-violet blue of the large niche or the warm ochre-tan base color and of the surrounding spaces. Nearly every color in the mural has one or the other or both of these two reference colors in their makeup.

Faux Malachite Process

Faux Malachite Mirrors on Display

Faux Malachite Mirrors on Display

I’d been eyeing some old, concaved picture frames for a while and decided they were good candidates for a faux malachite treatment. Well, they were and they weren’t – but I got there in the end.

Here’s how it went:

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of them before the first few steps but imagine some kind of softish wood, no knots. Not sure what it is.

First I sanded and primed fronts and backs. Then I base coated the inside curve where I wanted the malachite treatment. I used an acrylic mixed to a vibrant aqua.

Aqua base for malachite
Aqua base for malachite

Straightforward so far.

I then divided the concave surfaces with lines to represent each small malachite piece. I used thin card as my bendable straight edge so I could mark the concave areas.

Lines marked for malachite sections
Lines marked for malachite sections

Then, the taping process: Each frame took 4 tape sessions since you can’t work on adjacent sections in a single pass. And, you must wait long enough between passes be sure your glaze is well cured before you tape out the next pass sections or you will lift your prior glaze. Not nice.

Taping out sections for malachite
Taping out sections for malachite

Now the fun part: As is typical with a faux malachite treatment, I applied a dark green glaze –

Testing glaze colors - chose the darkest on far left
Testing glaze colors –  I chose the darkest on far left

using torn cardboard (shirt-box type) –

Samples of torn cardboard for mark making
Samples of torn cardboard for mark making

to squiggle and lift the glaze in order to imitate the malachite formation.

Here’s where it got challenging – the inside curves of my surface made it difficult to get the right kind of marks. With a little practice and some wipe off and restarts I got it done. But I wasn’t able to have the control or variety of mark-making I would have had on a flat surface.

Close up of glaze marks
Close up of glaze marks

Note to self – concave curves are not the easiest surface for faux malachite.

Before final glazes
Before final glazes

The results were remarkably close to my research images of real malachite, but I felt the effect too busy for most home decor. So I over-glazed the surface with several washes of the dark green glaze, careful to follow the direction of the marks.

Once all the taping and glazing was complete, I taped off the malachite and painted the exterior surfaces a dark green matching the glaze. Finally, I painted the inside rim bright red and applied imitation gold leaf and an MSA varnish to prevent tarnish. Then topcoated with a clear gloss.

Final glazes and red rim
Final glazes and red rim

They now hang in my retail booth at the Avonlea Antiques Mall in Jacksonville, Florida – waiting for their forever home.


Lemon Trees with Night Sky Mural

I recently completed this project in Ponte Vedra, Florida. There are few experiences so thrilling as seeing your once-imagined world realized – whether on stage or in a dining room.

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My clients wanted to recreate the feeling they experienced while eating lunch at the Ristorante ‘o Parruchiano la Favorita in Sorrento, Italy.

They explained that the town of Sorrento is all about lemons and this restaurant’s patio dining room was surrounded by fruit-laden lemon trees – blossoms drifting down all around.

They also wished to reference the enchanting merhorse fountains which flank the larger baroque fountain in Taormina, Northern Sicily.

Client's Photo of Baroque Fountain

Client’s Photo of Baroque Fountain with Merhorses

In searching for a muralist they stumbled over a prior project of mine – a night sky with crystal stars. This expanded their vision.

They got in touch and we got to work.

In my next post I will walk you through the design and painting process.

I hope you enjoy the world we created!