The VMC mural project
On April 19-22, 2012, Almaden Valley Kiwanis executed phase one of one of the
most ambitious projects it has ever undertaken: painting murals on the walls
of the pediatric wing of
Valley Medical Center.
In phase one, we painted the first eight of the 48 rooms we will eventually
decorate with kid-friendly themes.
This is how it went.
"Bears and Balloons"
Bears and Balloons was designed by Jacquelin Quach from the Pioneer
High School Key Club.
The mural is inscribed with "Key Club D12S 2012", a reference to
Division 12 South of the California-Nevada-Hawaii Key Club.
Outdoor Kids was designed by Angel Trazo, another member of the
Pioneer High School Key Club. The one logistical snafu
in this room was that she was available for
sketching and tracing, but not for the very first painting shift.
She had to leave explicit directions for the volunteers with the
coordinators, but it ended up working out fine.
Angel's mural is inscribed with "Angel Trazo 2012, <3 Key Club".
Zebras was designed by Doug Greer, a member of the West San Jose
Kiwanis club. The zebra painting was based on a watercolor he made
Unfortunately, Doug managed to zip off before I could get a picture
of him with his zebras.
Cats was designed by Chris verBurg, a member of the Almaden Valley
This room used a "decal" style. Instead of covering every square inch
of the walls with paint, the idea was to paint a few stand-alone
decals. There were three large decals, and pawprints around the room
tied them together.
The pawprints were done with a stencil, which worked really well. I would
recommend using a stencil on any repeated patterns you have.
"Clouds and Rainbows"
This room was completely unlike the others because it was not one of the
original designs. The original design by Khanh Tran (titled "Leaves and
Words"; see right) was an abstract pattern
that used dark colors. Originally, it was only an 8.5"x11"
piece of paper, but she improvised the pattern to cover all four walls.
Unfortunately, a dark, abstract pattern did not fit in with the rest of the
other rooms, and a decision was made (on the last day!) to start the room over.
The incomplete design was painted over with multiple layers of primer
and blue paint, and the two project coordinators hopped in to improvise
clouds and a rainbow. (It's the most painting they got to do in the
We followed the following timeline for the project:
- traced (pencil sketching plus sharpie) 4 of the 8 murals
- traced remaining 4 murals
- moved furniture away from the walls
- removed everything attached to walls
- covered furniture/medical equipment in plastic
- taped plastic to walls and floor (we could only paint the upper half of
the walls; the lower half had protective plating, and was too low to see
- moved all our equipment and supplies to the common room
Saturday early morning
- met with artists to explain where to find paint, brushes, cups, etc
- posted someone at the front of the building for volunteer checkin
Saturday late morning
- volunteers arrived, got their room assignments from checkin, and reported
to their room
- lead artists directed volunteers on basics of painting and brush care
- volunteers got a cup of paint and a brush, and filled in their part of the
- lead artists watched for artistic problems, paint drips, and brush abuse
- everyone got in line to pick up pizza, fruit, cookies,
- they sat wherever they could find a spot, mostly in the atrium
Saturday early afternoon
- new volunteers arrived, and went through the same checkin and quick
- painting resumed, and finished up in 6 of the 8 rooms
Saturday late afternoon
- lead artists collected all brushes and handed them over to the paint
station, where they were washed and laid out to dry.
- paint that needed to be used the next day was covered; remaining paint
was either poured back in its original can or tossed, depending on
how much it had dried out.
- coordinators checked all rooms to see how the plastic was holding up
- lead artists and a handful of volunteers work on touchup and final details
- same procedure, but different food
- particularly tall volunteers run around each room with a brush, outlining
all walls with polyurethane.
- other volunteers followed behind with foam rollers, rolling over the
remainder of the wall with polyurethane
- plastic and tape is removed from walls, floors, and furniture
- medical equipment is reattached to walls
- furniture is moved back
- spot-cleaning of paint drips on the floor
- lastly, heavy drinking. Not that the paint and polyurethane fumes didn't
create the same effect.
Equipment and supplies
What we had
- LCD projector. For tracing out the more detailed artwork onto the
walls. Most rooms could freehand their art, but some where just too much.
We also had an art projector, but it was useless because it requires such
low ambient light in the room. Also, LCD projectors are built to allow
you to adjust them up and down, whereas the art projector has to be flat
on its surface, period and final.
- Paint. We got about 100 gallons donated from various paint stores
(Home Depot, OSH, Ace, Glidden, Hunter Douglas, Dunn Edwards, Sherwin
Williams). Apparently they have huge stores of mis-tinted paint, and
they're quite happy to get that storage space back.
- Brushes. We used a lot of 1.5-inch chip brushes plus some small
budget craft brushes. The craft brushes worked well, but the chip brushes
were the second worst mistake we made on the whole project. Never use
chip brushes. They're cheap for a reason. They shed bristles onto the
paint, where they become immortalized. They don't hold a lot of paint,
so painters are constantly refilling. Finally, they're so badly made
that one actually cut me. I recommend dedicating part of your budget to
going up a grade or two on brushes. I also recommend not using any brush
bigger than about 2.5" -- actually, 1.5" is ideal.
- Paint cups. We used red solo cups. They were great except that
they can't be covered easily, so we're considering using jars for the
next phase. Honestly I think they'd be fine with a little plastic wrap
and some rubber bands.
- Plastic. Oh my god, tons and tons of plastic sheeting, and we
- Masking tape. Broad tape works well (1.5"-2"). The blue stuff
and the normal stuff worked fine; the frog tape (cute though it is)
didn't work as well.
- Sharpies. We used these for both tracing and for final touch-up.
Do not paint over Sharpie lines! We discovered that they bled
through the paint after 24 hours (or so)!! We also discovered that they
didn't work consistently for touch-up. They were so terrible that we
hope to not use them at all for the next phase. Also, do not
use any marker that say "washable", because both paint and polyurethane
will smudge it.
- Pencils. Used for free-hand sketching. However, we needed lots
of erasers, and even then there were stray lines (and lots of
smudges!). If you're not painting every inch of the wall, I suggest
washing the walls after you have the outlines inked, to get all traces
of graphite off.
- Paper towels. We had two rolls, and still ran out.
- Wet rags. Needed immediately on-hand in every room to quickly
catch drips, both on the walls and on the floors.
- Newspaper. For covering any surface that would come in contact
with painted objects. Our entire paint station was covered in newspaper,
like a giant cat box. We also put newspaper on any flat surface in the
rooms where someone might put down a cup that could spill. It was a good
- Paint keys. For opening the paint cans.
What we wish we had
- Paint pourers. We were pouring directly from gallon cans into red
solo cups, which was hard to get right, and occasionally messy. Also, it
meant lots of paint in the rims of the cans.
- Paint pens. To replace the Sharpies.
- Hammers. For closing the paint cans. Lost two to low-altitude
falls that really shouldn't have spilled.
Managing the artwork
Managing artwork was a little tricky because you don't know how much space
you have to work with until they assign you to a room, which they won't do
until they've selected your artwork, which means you have to be done with it
before you know how big to make it. Here's a good strawman for the process:
- Generate concept sketches. The idea is to convey the subject and
the color scheme.
- Select art. Make sure the hospital approves them all.
- Assign art to rooms. This can be arbitrary, really. The important
part is the next step.
- Convey room measurements to artists. Now they know exactly how
much room to work with, and what obstacles (door, windows, medical
equipment) to work around.
- Collect "final" artwork before paint-day. This is so that the
coordinators have a guide in hand for both the tracing and painting. A
copy should be kept in the room so that everyone can reference it as
- [Optional] Collect "outline" artwork. This is for sketching and
tracing the artwork onto the walls. It's not strictly necessary because
most of the time the colored guide can be used. However, sometimes the
level of detail is high enough (or adjacent colors are similar enough)
that having clear black lines is easier.