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.

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Butterflies was designed by Mariah Roberts, a community artist who works with both hospitals and art. This was one of only two rooms that used a projector for tracing, and the only room that did the tracing directly in ink (i.e. without a preliminary pencil tracing sketch).

Mariah dedicated her mural to the Blind Babies Foundation.

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"Outdoor Kids"

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".

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"Animals in Space"

Animals in Space was designed by Doris Cheung, a community artist.

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"Under The Sea"

Under The Sea was designed by Carissa ???, a student at ???.

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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 in Africa.

Unfortunately, Doug managed to zip off before I could get a picture of him with his zebras.

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Cats was designed by Chris verBurg, a member of the Almaden Valley Kiwanis club.

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.

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"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 whole project!)

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The timeline

We followed the following timeline for the project:

Thursday evening

  • traced (pencil sketching plus sharpie) 4 of the 8 murals

Friday evening

  • 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 anyway)
  • 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 wall
  • lead artists watched for artistic problems, paint drips, and brush abuse

Saturday lunch

  • everyone got in line to pick up pizza, fruit, cookies, and water
  • 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 how-to-paint tutorial
  • 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

Sunday morning

  • lead artists and a handful of volunteers work on touchup and final details

Sunday lunch

  • same procedure, but different food

Sunday evening

  • 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 needed it.
  • 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 idea.
  • 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 needed.
  • [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.