You Need a Mural

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Lately, I've been noticing the plain, brick walls as I drive or bike throughout the city. And with apologies to Robert Frost, "Something there is that doesn't love a blank wall."

Credit the 46 for XLVI murals program, which tackled the blank and boring walls dotting the cityscape. The Arts Council of Indianapolis commissioned -- you guessed it -- 46 captivating murals throughout our fair city in 2011. And just last week, the 11th annual SubSurface Graffiti Art Expo added five new murals in Fountain Square.

So, to all you civic-minded property owners with a brick or concrete tabula rasa, I gabbed with Indianapolis artist Carl Leck about how you, too, can add a professionally produced mural to your building.

Carl is a seasoned muralist who works out of a studio in the Harrison Center for the Arts. He has an impressive portfolio, boasting work for K through 12 schools, businesses, a suite in Lucas Oil Stadium, kids' rooms and nurseries. For 46 for XLVI, he painted that beautiful mural depicting an aquarium under the Michigan Street bridge along the canal. He also helped corral dozens of volunteers for the annual Lilly Day of Service to paint a series of murals entitled "Trivergence" under the 10th Street overpass of I-65/I-70. So, after talking with Carl, I would now like to share the secrets and answer all your questions about getting a great mural on your wall.

Carl Leck's mural "White River Canal Aquaculture Preservation Aquarium" under the Michigan Street bridge on the canal.
  • Carl Leck's mural "White River Canal Aquaculture Preservation Aquarium" under the Michigan Street bridge on the canal.

Where Should I Put It?

Begin with a good location. The wall should see a decent traffic flow of cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Who Should Do It?

Find a local artist by consulting the Arts Council's Artist Database or the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association (IDADA) roster of member artists. Choose an artist whose work you really like, and make sure he or she has experience painting murals or at least has painted on a very large scale.

Do your research on the artist, too. "If you want an abstract expressionist painting, I'm probably not your guy," Carl quips, who specializes in perspective paintings and trompe l'oeil.

What Should It Look Like?

Consult with the artist and have some general ideas of what you'd like represented on your wall. Carl says he asks "a bunch of questions" to hone in on keywords to create an idea. "If people are very specific in what they want, it's sometimes a breeze," he says. "Other times when they leave it up to me and they have no vision, I'll be throwing shots up in the air, and it ends up hit or miss."

It's important to note, Carl says, that by ordinance, you can't really put up a blatant ad for your company because it might be classified as a billboard. That doesn't stop you from being creative, business-savvy people. Central Ace Hardware recently commissioned Carl to paint a mural, so he painted some hardware. Subtle, right?

What Do I Have To Do To My Wall?

Before you start a mural, you'll need to prep the walls properly. This means restoring any peeling paint or cracks and cleaning the surface of dirt and excess mortar. A good power washing should do the trick.

What Paint Do I Need And How Do You Do A Really Big Mural?

For the Super Bowl murals, Carl used regular Sherwin-Williams exterior house paint. Like most muralists, Carl grids the image out from a much smaller version. "The grid system is tried-and-true for me," Carl says. "It always works."

For multistory projects, expect the artist to rent an outdoor scissor lift powered by gas or propane. When Pamela Bliss painted the super-cool mural of giant Kurt Vonnegut on the Massala Building, she used a boom lift. Other artists will use stationary or rolling scaffolds.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of a mural depends on the size of the space, the detail, the prep work and the equipment. Carl says a typical large mural he paints will run about $5,000 to $10,000.

But you also need to include the artist's compensation in the price, which should add another thou or so.

"Some people think that an artist's work on the wall is an advertisement for his work and that you can get him to paint for free and that will just go into his portfolio," Carl says. "But you really need to pay the artist. There's a lot of work and time invested in painting a mural. We don't just whip them out."

How Long Will It Last?

Carl says the Arts Council has guaranteed its murals for ten years. "After that, it's open game," he says. The property owner then can choose to have it restored or commission a new mural. You'll want to budget for touch-ups and have a similar plan.

Making sure your mural is in good shape relates to the "broken window effect": If a building shows just one sign of disrepair, it invites vandalism.

Is Vandalism a Problem?

You might be surprised to learn that murals aren't usually marred by vandalism, even in the roughest neighborhoods. "Taggers really tend to respect murals," Carl says. "If a place is in shambles, that's when they bomb it. I've been pleasantly surprised that all the murals I've painted have been left alone."

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