Painting Murals: How to Make Money and Get Started

Famous Street art mural in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

As an artist, you may have wondered how to make money painting murals. Is it even possible? The good news is that there is a market for this type of artwork, and it can be a great way to earn money and even make a living.

To make money painting murals you will need to make a portfolio of designs and any previous projects, target your preferred clients, promote and market your services, calculate your costs, provide a written estimate, agree on terms, deliver and get paid on time.

That’s just the basics, then you have to follow through and make a great mural as specified.

This guide will be in two parts. The first part covers how to make money painting murals, the second part explains how to paint murals as a beginner.

Let’s get to it.

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

Part 1.

1. Create a Portfolio to Showcase Your Artwork

You must be able to demonstrate your ability to paint murals on a variety of surfaces. Ideally, you should provide references from happy clients who have used your services.

In the beginning, this will not be possible. That leaves you with two choices. Offer freebies to friends and family and get some examples made and photographed, and/or make professional digital mockups that showcase your designs.

You can even do a Banksy and share your work with the public. If your designs are good enough there are plenty of businesses with graffitied and tagged walls that would be happy to oblige you.

2. Create a Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan should include a website and print materials that will help you promote your business. It is important to have a well-defined target market for your mural art business, You’ll need to focus.

You can start by targeting the types of clients who would most appreciate your style of art. We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, but the more flexible you are, the more work you will find.

Research the types of businesses and clients who would commission a mural. These are just a few ideas:

  • A Baby’s Nursery or Child’s Bedroom
  • Playgroups and Kindergartens
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Surgery Waiting Rooms –
  • Office and Hotel Lobbies
  • Restaurants and Bars
  • Local Business for Advertising
  • Local Authorities with a Public Art Budget

Think outside the box and you will see opportunities everywhere.

Famous mural on the mural trail in George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Famous Mural of “little children on a bicycle” by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

3. Finding Clients and Marketing Your Business

You must be proactive and reach out. Hoping to be discovered will get you nowhere.

One way to get noticed is to make a stand-out mural in a public space and invite the media. Local news outlets are desperate for stories and your mural is perfect.

Any business with an ugly wall, blighted by graffiti, will be more than happy for you to offer your services and get free publicity. It will be great for your portfolio, testimonials, and networking.

Always carry business cards and ask for cards in return. Follow up that evening and pursue inquiries.

Use your friends and contacts to get you through doors and meet the right people.

No one sees an artist as anything but interesting. It’s not being pushy to put yourself out there. What’s the worse they can say? They aren’t in the market, or there is no budget. That’s all.

Keep an eye out for refurbishments and empty premises with new tenants moving in. Restaurants may be looking for an eye-catching mural. Get in there while they have the budget.

4. Estimate The Cost of Painting Your Mural

you need to know how to properly price your services. If you charge too much, you may not get any clients. If you charge too little, you may not make enough money to cover your expenses.

The best way to determine how much to charge is to compare your services to those of other providers in your area. You can use the internet, newspapers, or Yellow Pages to find these providers.

Then, you should contact them and ask for their rates.

Sounds underhand but hey, that’s the way everyone has to do it. It’s that or trial and error, and an error could cost a lot of money.

Your price will usually be calculated by the square foot or meter. To use this method reliably you must have a standard way of painting, with a constant style in order to estimate the time it will take to complete and the cost of your materials.

Your client will be happier to commission you if you can calculate your service with a simple price formula. If you charge $35 per square foot. you can measure the space and quote the price.

The time it takes is not so relevant to your client, as long as you do the work as promised, they won’t mind.

A quick job means they get what they want quickly, they won’t think they paid too much. They don’t know how long things take.

It’s almost impossible to advise on a universal price structure, there are too many variables, but if I know one thing from selling my own artwork, size is always the determining factor and NOT TIME.

In most cases, the client does not appreciate your time, not in the same way they would when dealing with a tradesman. There isn’t a premium for complicated and very clever art.

In other words, quick and simple art pays more. A craft that takes time, and wows the public, may not be economically viable. You must be realistic about this. It’s just the way it is.

5. Getting Paid For The Job

You should consider drawing up a contract for your services. A contract will help protect you and your business from liability if something goes wrong. It will also help ensure that you get paid for your services.

I know not everyone does this, but at the very least you should ask for a deposit upfront to cover your material costs. No one is committed without putting money on the table.

Let’s be honest, not every business owner is straight and reliable, although in my experience, the majority are fine. It means you must be prepared for things to go wrong occasionally.

Some people do pull out of agreements and some business owners are bad payers. More commonly, you’ll be asked to change things for free, as if it made no difference.

A signed agreement protects you from these issues. You should provide a clear and unambiguous design before you commence, agree on the size and rates, and get the client to sign it off.

Any add-ons or changes will involve a fee. You can calculate the extra cost in the same way you calculated the original quote.

Many businesses, in the UK anyway, pay at the end of the month, and some try to stretch it further. Find out when you will be paid, and have that in your agreement. There is nothing worse than chasing late payers.

I know it’s tempting to get paid in cash, but you do that at your own peril.

If this is a genuine business you need to show accounts with cash going in and cash going out. If you hide money you’ll have to be clever about it.

Remember everything you buy for the business is a deductible expense. You can’t deduct what you didn’t declare in the first place, and it is so easy to keep your tax liability in check.

Buy more stuff for the business and write it off as expenses. Get a better laptop, camera, van, etc. That’s how I’ve done it for years.

Always get receipts for everything, and always write receipts when asked.

One word of caution. If you intend to borrow money and get a mortgage, you will need a good credit score and show a high enough profit to get the loan. You can’t do that if you are hiding cash.

6. Get Some Public Liability Insurance

Remember you will need public liability insurance when you are working in a public space. This is not something you can skip over. It shouldn’t cost a great deal and besides, you add the calculated cost to your quote.

Public liability insurance will protect you in the event that someone is injured while you are on their premises. This can be very important if you work in a busy area where there are a lot of people coming and going.

It will protect you outside too. As long as you do everything required by law to guard and warn the public, you’re covered.

Stuff happens, get some cover.

As a fun twist on the mural theme, check out this Domestika course on paper collage murals.

7. How Can a Mural Business Grow?

This is a business that you can do, with very little initial investment, but it will take time to get established. However, it’s an excellent way to turn your passion for art into a viable career, and there is a step ladder, of sorts.

You can start with freebies to get your name out there, get some feedback and testimonials and build your portfolio. Then. as you get known in the mural business, your prices can rise along with your popularity. You can progressively target bigger clients.

It’s the same amount of work but for more money.

If work rolls in, you can also hire other artists to help with your workload. Sub-contract them on fixed terms. Don’t employ anyone until they have proven themselves to be reliable.

As your reputation spreads you can target wealthier clients.

At the top end, you can do what Jeanine Hattas does and become the proprietor and let others do the work for you. Take a look at Hattas.com and you’ll see what I mean.

As with all forms of art, your profit will be determined by the spending power of your customers.

Part 2.

How to Paint a Mural for Beginners – Time to Get Started

A mural can be a great addition to any home, office, or public space. Not only are they visually stunning, but murals can also be used to tell a story or convey a message. If you’re thinking about painting a mural, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

1. Planning Your Mural: Sketching and Materials

When planning your mural, it is important to sketch out your design and choose the right materials. Start off by sketching a basic outline of your design, on paper or digitally.

Muralist Will Cottrell prefers to sketch out his designs by hand, with pencil and paper. As he explained to me, “I go over the sketch with a Unipen Fineliner, a 0.3 gauge, and rub out the pencil lines”

He scans the drawing and opens it in Photoshop before adding color. He emphasizes the importance of drawing bold, clear, strong lines to help photoshop to recognize the edges.

There’s no reason why you couldn’t use a different photo editor. Many people will use the Procreate App on their iPad to do the whole thing, and as if by magic, I found someone to show you how.

Sign up to Skillshare to watch Ellie explain her method.

When he has finalized his digital design and color scheme it’s ready for projecting onto the wall. He points out that a low-res image of 72dpi is fine.

To use a digital projector you’ll need a power source, that’s easy enough indoors but Will uses a battery connected to a power inverter for use outside. (US = 120v and UK = 240v)

The other way to scale a design is to use a grid. For very large outdoor murals you might have no choice, but for interior jobs, grinding will take much longer than tracing a projection. Time is money after all.

2. Preparing the Surface: Cleaning and Priming

Before painting a mural, it is important to clean and prime the surface. This will ensure that the paint adheres properly and creates a smooth, even finish. To clean the surface, simply use a mild soap and water solution, in the case of exterior walls scrub it down. Once the surface is clean and dry, you can apply a primer.

In some cases, indoors, you might have to fill a few holes and cracks. Use a filler and paint over it when it’s dry.

Most artists will use a water-based acrylic primer for their murals. Get a large tin from a hardware store, and seek advice from your merchant. They will want to know what surface you are painting on.

You can also use BIN Shellac primer, sealer, and stain cleaner for interior walls and use it outside as a primer before adding a topcoat but be warned, don’t leave the primer exposed to the elements for longer than a few weeks without overpainting. The primer will calcify and prevent your topcoat from adhering.

Apply the primer with a roller to save time and guarantee a smooth base.

3. Painting the Mural: Techniques and Tips

The next stage is tracing around the image. You can use chalk, or paint if you’re more confident. This should be a relatively quick process depending on the complexity of your design.

Time to add the first color. William explains how he paints over the edges slightly. The lines look a little messy but that’s corrected later.

After the first layer of paint dries, Will decides whether or not to add a second coat. This depends on the type of paint he’s used and the surface he’s painting on.

Generally, Will uses paint from his local DIY store. It’s the most cost-effective way to paint large areas.

His next step is to tape the edges. He uses frog masking tape which is flexible and can bend with the curve. He follows the line, ensuring the tape remains just behind the roughly painted edges.

Next, Will applies his second color. This may, or may not require a second coat. Again he paints right up to, and over the edge, this time onto the masking tape.

When the paint is dry enough, Will peels away the tape to reveal a seamless and crisp borderline. If any anomalies occur, he uses a fine brush to correct any mistakes.

He pays special attention to the focal points where any obvious errors will be noticed. That’s usually the face and hands; the eyes in particular.

Not everyone will use this technique, others will do it all by hand and eye, while others will paint a bold dark outline.

See how Liz Lamanche paints her murals in her Skillshare class. She has good reviews.

Painting Outdoor Murals

The planning process is not dissimilar to painting indoors, but you’ll have to factor in the weather and outdoor murals are usually far bigger.

Obviously, rain will stop work, but so will the wind (the UK is very windy) and strong sun can be problematic. If time is precious you must allow for delays when you are quoting for the work.

Very large murals can be gridded with chalk or string guidelines, and you may need a ladder. Be careful and don’t ignore health and safety rules, it’s not just for your safety, it’s for the public and any claim that may arise from an accident.

If you are using volatile liquids, such as spray paint you’ll need to wear a mask and be aware of how it may affect the neighbors.

4. Finishing the Mural: Sealing and Protecting

Good muralists go the extra mile and varnish the final painting. William always seeks advice from his local hardware merchants before deciding on an appropriate varnish.

Exterior brickwork should be fine as long as you used the right exterior paint in the first place.

For interiors, I advise brushing a final layer of Polycrylic topcoat over to seal your mural for long-term protection.

Polycrylic is a water-based clear acrylic polymer that offers durable protection against chipping, fading, and flaking. It is a matter of taste what finish you prefer. Most people will choose a satin finish. You can use a gloss but the reflective shine may not be suitable for such a large area.

The varnish will appear milky upon application, that’s OK don’t worry, it dries clear. Just remember to cover the whole mural in one session to maintain an even finish.

Painting Murals For Money: Final Thoughts

As with other ways to make money with art, nothing is easy. You will need to put as much time and effort into marketing yourself as you will painting murals.

The most successful artists are able to adapt to their client’s needs whilst retaining their own unique style. The more flexible you are, the more commissions you can accept.

Realistically, most artists use murals as a side-line. It’s another revenue stream that supplements their other work. Indeed it’s a great way to passively promote your paintings and prints.

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If finding ways to make money with your art interests you, then you should check out my eBook. It details exactly how I made a living making art for over 20 years. Just copy how I did it.

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