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Even the most accomplished amateur artists need a little help sometimes. Although I have some basic cartoon drawing ability, when tackling a mural for my baby's nursery, I wanted to give myself a break for a number of reasons. First off, I am a perfectionist, and I am very critical of amateur versions of well-known characters. Second, I will be spending a lot of time in my little one's room, looking up at the art I did, and I don't want the characters to look off. Also I knew that when the time came to actually do the project, I would be rather pregnant, and I wanted to take the pressure off myself. Finally, I've only ever drawn characters on paper, never painted them on the wall.
So I came up with this idea. I found images online that I wanted to use and traced them onto transparencies. Then I rented an overhead projector to project the images onto the wall to trace. I am sure others have come up with this idea as well, but still, to toot my own horn, I was pleased when this little light bulb above my head went off.
I am a child of the '80s, so I decided on two of my favorite groups of characters: the Muppets (more specifically the Muppet Babies, since this is a nursery) and Super Mario Brothers (again, baby versions of them).
I really wanted to do Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, and Baby Princess Peach. I thought it was a nice way to tie in two things that my husband and I both love; I love Mario (plus my eBay-procured Mario stuffed characters will be displayed in the nursery), and these characters appear in Mario Kart, a racing game, while my husband loves racecars (and some of his racecars will be displayed in the baby’s room). I planned to incorporate the characters' racecars as toys next to them in the mural.
I first focused on these characters; there were not a lot of options to choose from, and they were all separate, so I picked three individual images for the characters and then scaled down Mario and Peach’s racecars to look like toys. I couldn’t really find exactly what I wanted for Peach’s car, so I did end up drawing it myself.
I was strategic about picking the characters from the Muppet Babies, since I wanted the colors to match up with the Mario characters—both for continuity and so I wouldn't have to buy every paint color in the rainbow. Mario and Luigi are primarily green, blue, and red, and Peach is blonde with pink clothes, which perfectly matches with three main Muppet characters: Kermit (green), Gonzo (blue with red), and Miss Piggy (pink clothes with blonde hair). Unfortunately, that meant that Fozzie was left out.
I was able to find a lot of images online for these three, and I quickly selected an image of Kermit and Gonzo riding a two-person (two-Muppet?) bike and an image of Miss Piggy also riding a bike. I thought this coordinated with the racecar theme of the Mario characters. I traced these to transparencies and decided to wing it the day of the project. We would just see how it went the day of as to whether we had the time and energy to do both murals on two separate walls or just one.
The day we rented the overhead projector, we started by projecting the images on the wall, one grouping at a time (in the moment, we decided, "What the heck, let’s at least trace out both while we have the projector rented for the weekend"). First we traced the outline of the overall picture in chalk, then my husband, Chris, painted within the chalk outline with primer (I couldn't stand the smell of wall paint with my heightened pregnancy sense of smell). We opted to work exclusively on getting the outline of one set of characters with the transparencies in place first.
We taped the transparency to the machine while working to ensure that, even if we turned the machine off, it would line up while we were getting the outline on the wall. We waited for that to dry fully before I went back and did all of the outlining for the characters with black paint. After that was done, we repeated the process for the Mario characters.
Once the characters were fully outlined in black, we were done with the overhead projector, and then it was just a matter of coloring in the characters. Ultimately, it wasn't too much time and energy to get both murals set up. It helped that, once the outlining of the images was complete, I could take my time with coloring them in.
Note: My husband painted the white primer onto the image, and he did use the blue wall color paint as well to touch it up. In some spots, he painted a wider area with the white primer paint, then when I did the black paint outline using the projector, it was clear some white was out of the image lines. Then he went back and repainted those areas with the blue wall paint.
1. Trace your images onto transparency paper using a thin-tipped black marker, like a Sharpie.
2. If you have a color printer, it is a good idea to also print a color copy of the images to refer to when planning your paint colors and when you are actually painting. If you don't own a color printer, make sure you save the images on your computer for reference.
3. Plan out and buy your paints. You will also need white chalk and white paint primer.
4. Rent an overhead projector from a rental store. Alternatively, you could also buy one on craigslist or eBay for around 30 dollars, or you could try to borrow one from a local school if you have a teacher connection.
5. Figure out where you want the mural to go and how big you want it. You can adjust the size both on the projector and by physically moving the projector closer or further away from the wall.
6. Once you have a general idea and you place your first transparency, it is a good idea to tape it to the machine with painter's tape so it doesn't move while you are doing the chalk outline.
7. Outline the image in white chalk onto the wall. You only need to do the overall outline, not every line within the image.
8. Paint within the outlined area with white paint primer. Allow this to dry fully. You don't need the projector on for this step, which is why it is a good idea to tape the transparency to the machine (since you will need the projector in the next step).
9. Using the overhead project again, trace the entire image with an outline paint color; we used black.
10. Once the entire image is fully traced onto the wall, you don't need the overhead projector anymore.
11. Paint the image using either the color print-outs or by setting up your laptop and referring to the color images on your computer.
Overall, this was an easy project. The hardest part is the detail work with the projector on, doing the chalk outline of the image, painting the white primer over the entire image, and doing the black paint outline of all the detail within the image. We did small images, and these detail steps took a few hours for each of our images. Once the work with the projector is done, you can take your time 'coloring' in the images with multi-purpose paint.
We have since moved out of the condo where we did this mural and into a house. In fact, as I'm getting around to finishing up and posting this article, my daughter just turned three. Time flies when you are a new parent, and I have been loving every minute of it!
I love this idea of a cartoon character mural for a baby's room because it is a great way to incorporate something you love into their space. My daughter has her own preferences, but the Muppets and Mario characters are in the mix. We had a lot of fun planning and doing this project. It had some detail-orientated steps but for the most part was not hard. Plus, as a perfectionist, I was really happy with the way the characters look. We knew we'd eventually move out and have to paint over our creations, but the project was short enough to complete, and it was worth it to us to have personalized wall decor for our little one while we lived there.