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Dream Big by Creating Small—6 Steps to Design a Faux Mural

Murals often take our breath away with their sheer size. These large-scale paintings make statements about who we are and what we believe. They invite passersby to stop and consider the imagery, symbolism, and cultural references. They are also a fun way to interact with the local community.

Many schools have student-directed murals that record a moment of school spirit in time. Unfortunately, a full-scale mural is not always possible or worth the endless approval meetings. Are there any alternatives?

Let’s consider the faux mural. While the faux mural is a smaller-scale approach, it can still spark creativity and wonder within your students. It can also kickstart conversations about the historical permanence of murals.

faux mural with leaves

Here are 6 steps to guide the faux mural process:

1. Engage in discussion.

Many urban areas are home to giant large-scale murals painted by contemporary artists. In some towns, they depict the area’s history. Students who walk to school may pass these every day. Engage students in a discussion on the function and purpose of murals as an art form. Likewise, expand on what murals portray—visually, sentimentally, and courageously. Share images of murals painted in diverse styles to inform the conversation. Check out the complementary resource below for some inspirational muralists to include.

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Students often become excited about painting their own murals in their neighborhood or school. Discuss the process of getting a mural approved and the longevity and lasting effects associated with murals. In comparison, smaller faux murals allow students to dream, plan, and consider possibilities without the time commitment and permanence of a traditional mural.

Jessi Raulet is an artist who creates faux murals. She dreams what it would be like to apply her art to the façade of a building and creates a digital rendition. Her bold and colorful creations have strikingly realistic results.

2. Take and print photos.

empty school hallway and door

Start with locations students know personally. Maybe the gray school hallways, devoid of character. If a specific grade participates in this lesson, take photos of spaces within their grade-specific hallway at the school. Take pictures of different locations and print them in black and white or color. The results are more realistic with access to a color printer.

3. Make a plan.

Armed with pencils, students can start dreaming up possibilities for their faux murals. Will the image be bright, colorful, and abstract? Or, will the design reflect the character of the school and its legacy? There are countless ways students can approach their design.

hallway photo with circles drawn on walls

Remind students that erasing a printed photo may erase some of the printed image. If this happens, it is not a big deal as students can paint over the missing areas. One consideration is to prompt students only to decorate the walls of the image and not the ceiling, floors, doors, or windows. This way, the final result will be as realistic as possible.

4. Paint directly on the photo.

Fill in the drawn spaces of the photo using high-quality tempera paint. Students should work in layers. They can go back on top of dried paint to forge new details with a thin brush or a permanent marker. The more thoughtfully students apply the paint, the more realistic the final image will appear.

faux mural with painted circles on walls

Instead of paint, some students may opt to use permanent markers to fill the photograph with high-contrast black and white imagery or a multitude of patterns.

5. Consider the next steps.

Display completed works in the school halls or the specific community space that prompted the mural designs. Next to the images, post discussion questions to guide viewers on exploring and processing the faux murals.

faux mural with landscape scene

The faux murals can end here, or they can be the impetus for a traditional large-scale mural. For a short-term solution that is also large-scale, transfer a design from one of the faux murals to long sheets of butcher paper. These can be hung as a temporary installation and can even be recycled when finished.

faux mural with stars

6. Think globally.

During student teaching, Amelia Golec prompted her students to think more globally about their mural plans. Using Google Earth, students selected a scene from around the world on which to design a mural. Students could use imagery from France, Egypt, Brazil—or the corner store in the next town. Students printed photos in black and white, and removed pieces of the photo with a craft knife. Drawing paper was placed behind the removed spaces and filled with colored pencil designs.

faux mural on Eiffel tower
Image courtesy of Amelia Golec

Sometimes to think and dream big, we need to start small. When a massive, traditional mural is not possible, these faux murals can be a great substitution. Engaging students in discussions about familiar physical spaces will prompt them to see new possibilities. Exploring new artists who create murals and faux murals will connect art history and the world around them. Painting or drawing wall designs on a photo will allow students to take risks without extensive pressure and planning. Use this lesson idea for a fun, quick, and creative way to teach an art form that might be skipped over in your curriculum this year.

If you have the time and resources to create a traditional mural, click on the following to guide you through the process:

What spaces in your school or community would be perfect for a faux mural process?

What benefits do you see in the faux mural approach?

What murals in your local community could you incorporate in this lesson?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.

Jonathan Juravich is an elementary art educator in Columbus, OH. A self-described Social Emotional Learning enthusiast, he explores this essential concept with his students and with fellow art educators via the podcast The Art of SEL.

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