28 SEP 15 | mural morals

tips for painting a mural

The team—front: Kate, Emily, Melissa, Shawn; back: Chelsea, Brandy, Amanda, Marcel, Joseph, and me (Ivan).

how it began

Every Monday morning, promptly at 11-ish, the WORKSHOP8 team assembles for “stand up,” an hour-long meeting where we discuss opportunities and the status of our projects. It was at one of these meetings when Brandy mentioned that it was time for our annual community engagement project and suggested that we could design and produce a mural. The idea was well received by all of us…little did we know all the work we getting ourselves into!


how do we do this?

Not to sound cliché, but you know the saying, “the first step is always the hardest?” Well, that applies to making murals too. Before we could start doing any of the fun, creative work, we first needed to get our ducks in a row and obtain permission from City officials. The City of Boulder requested a written proposal package with our design intent. It turns out that donating “permanent” art to the city can be a really complicated process. Luckily, temporary art, not so much.

After all of the bureaucratic work was handled (Thank you Brandy!) and a mural site had been selected, it was time to conduct a design charrette in order to develop an original design.

Brandy selected the 55th Street Underpass for our first foray into mural painting because it was close to her house (for potty breaks) and offered easy access for parking. It turns out is is a very heavily-used underpass and has experienced a lot of graffiti. Where some may see a blank wall, others see a canvas.

Using a stitched panoramic photograph as a base, everyone in the office contributed different design vignettes that illustrated their vision for the mural. All of the ideas were collected, reviewed, and critiqued. Believe it or not, narrowing our options to one final design is a difficult and critical step. Too ambitious and the design becomes unfeasible; too conservative and the design becomes easy, but dull.


After the final design was selected, it was presented to, and approved by, a the Boulder Arts Commission. Then it was time to assign jobs and set a plan of action.

designers: ready, set, go…

The design was divided into sections and every piece was blown up to a life size scale. Each design piece was then printed using our large plotter.

The mural design was analyzed and broken down into layers and steps. Each person on the team was then assigned responsibility for a step of the design. Shawn took care of backgrounds, Brandy handled the “Let it Fly” text, Emily was on stripes, Joseph on painting dots, Marcel on planes, Kate took the bee, Chelsea took the honeycomb, Melissa took the dandelion, Amanda took the cloud, and I took the butterfly. 

On Friday, September 18th, promptly (as always) at 8:30-ish, a crew of motivated designers arrived at the underpass intersection of 55th and Pennsylvania, knowing exactly what needed to be done and ready to unleash creative mayhem.

When we arrived we were surprised by a brand new piece of “Nasty” graffiti and needed to make some last minute adjustments our design.

Using the printed templates, each person placed their drawing sections at the corresponding mural location, where they were then cut, using x-acto knives and scissors. Then we traced the cut templates on the mural wall, leaving behind a guide of where paint needed to be applied.

Brandy concentrates while working on the bird.
Shawn helps me out with the butterfly.
Watch the time-lapse video on YouTube to see us at work.
See even more photos in our Let It Fly Facebook album.

let’s crunch some numbers. . .

So, what does it take to make a mural like this, you ask?


The team—Amanda, Brandy, Shawn, Melissa, Emily, Marcel, me (Ivan), Kate, and Chelsea—enjoying our lunch break. Joseph had to run and grab more supplies. 

hard work, but lots of fun. . .

In retrospect, even though it was a lot more work than any of us expected it to be, I would do it all over again if given the opportunity. The positive community response we received was incredible and the comments only got more frequent and more heartfelt as the design unfolded. My favorite part of the whole process was hearing what people said as they passed by.

One little girl said, “That is exactly what I want to do when I grow up”, to which we all responded in near unison, “Go to design school and become a designer!” as she zipped by on her bike.

Another guy said, “Interesting…I’ve done similar work elsewhere; I should really learn how to do this legally.”

Two kids going back home after school said, “Wow, that was definitely not here this morning—it looks great!”

And my favorite—two women walking by stopped to admire the mural. One of the women exclaimed, “Gorgeous!” to which I replied, “Well thank you, but I’m taken.”

These were just a few of the positive and humorous comments that we received throughout our time working on the mural.




tips for aspiring muralists


…or as we say in the Navy, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. Painting a mural is going to be a lot of work. Breaking all of the work into small steps will simplify the entire process.



not enough hours in the day

Daylight is a precious resource; try to do as much prep work as possible before execution day. Communicating what needs to be done, assigning jobs, collecting supplies, figuring out where templates go, as well as cleaning and preparing the wall surface are all tasks that can be time consuming and will eat up the working hours of sunlight you have (it’s kind of hard to paint well in the dark), so label pieces and establish who is doing what in the days before.

Marcel, Chelsea, and Joseph tag team on the daunting task of painting the black dots.

a total charity case

As it has already been established, painting a large mural is going to take a lot of work, time, and of course, money; however, this does not mean a single entity has to take the whole burden alone. For our project, we managed to save some time and work by asking the city to help us prepare the wall with our base color. We also managed to save some cash by partnering with Boulder’s Sherwin Williams store, who donated our paint. Do not be afraid to contact local community groups and other local organizations who may be interested in lending a hand, but remember: the more people on site-the more management that is required.

Hey, stop checking out my backside. Look at those puffy clouds!

music to my ears

Painting a large mural can be tedious work, so it is very important to keep everyone motivated. We used two Bluetooth speakers that played our favorite tunes which, coupled with the constant cheers of passersby, helped keep our spirits high.


don’t hit it and quit it

It is easy to continue to develop an idea and add details that enhance the appearance of your design, but just keep in mind that someone will have to paint it too. No one likes a quitter, so don’t start something that you may not be able to finish. Be prepared for the project to take longer than expected.

Melissa starts the dandelion

three sheets to the wind

One big problem we had to deal with while painting our mural was keeping the templates from blowing away in the wind. Since our mural was in an underpass, wind channeled through and strong gusts kept us constantly chasing paper. One solution to this problem was to use spray adhesive along with painter’s tape. (And you thought this tip was going to be about drinking…)

Shawn helps to direct while everyone else works in the hot sun

keeping it fresh

So you are finally done with your mural and you are left with a quart of paint here and a pint of another color there. What to do with the leftovers? Store them! All it could take for your beautiful work of art to become another city maintained blank wall is offensive graffiti and deterioration. Keep in mind that you may need to touch up your work every so often and keep it well maintained if you want it to stick around.

Emily is thinking, “Please don’t make me come back and touch this up later…”

love them or hate them

There is something about mural art that resonates deeply inside my artistic soul. I’m not entirely sure if it is their grandness and the way they seem to swallow the viewer into a world of its own, the way they seem to freshen up the scenery, or maybe it has something to do with the subliminal message that mocks traditional art forms for being elitist, exclusive, and private. Whatever the reason may be, I can’t help myself from admiring them.

Unfortunately, the same things I love about murals are also the things I dislike most about them. Due to their size, being public, and exposed to the elements, mural art is hard to maintain and temporary. One day you may be walking by your favorite piece of “deteriorating” art and the next day it may just be a freshly painted, empty canvas. That is the kind of heartbreak only a new love can mend.

Let if Fly mural in progress. Check out our portfolio page on our website


Photos by Brad Haynes, video footage by Ivan Patino, Marcel van Garderen and Brad Haynes, video production by Ivan Patio. Video soundtrack “Flight of the Bumblebee”  by Rimsky Korsakov.



Ivan is a recent graduate of the Colorado University at Boulder Environmental Design Program, and an aspiring architect. When Ivan is not at WORKSHOP8 enthusiastically working on projects, he can be found enjoying Colorado trails on his mountain bike.