Creating a Mural Step-by-Step

Armand Cabrera

I was awarded this commission through a design company I work with from time to time. The client initially liked a barn painting I had done. The image for the original painting was 20 x 24. For the mural the client wanted the painting to be 119×19 almost five times the original length. I mocked up the new version in Photoshop for approval and once the okay was given I started the project.


The first thing I needed to do was build a frame work for the linen. I decided to just tack the linen to the framework and after it was completed roll it up and ship it to the clients where it would be stretched and framed for the hotel. The framework consisted of three pieces of 2 x 4 foot birch panel held together with 1 x 3 pine. This would allow me to sit it on my easel and secure it. The easel is counter balanced and slides side to side making it easy to paint awkward sizes like this.
I figured on a week for the painting process; one day for the drawing, one day for the block in/ wash, and three days to finish.
For the drawing I divided the image space into twelve horizontal and two vertical sections to make it easier when placing the elements. The drawing took me 9 hours.
I mixed some test colors for the foliage before I made up the large piles of paint and I blocked in the dark cedar trees and some other key elements as guides over my initial drawing.

For the block in I worked on the background and then the foreground saving the middle areas for last.

This way I would get the two extremes in hue and saturation shifts established making the middle section easier. The block in took me 10 hours.
The last few days were spent refining and adding details where appropriate. I changed the middle of the painting, moving and shrinking a tree between the barn and pond that I thought looked good in the initial digital mockup but was distracting at full size. The total time for the painting was a little more than sixty hours.
This is the first mural I have done in many years. There were three done for businesses back in the seventies and eighties, a store in Hawaii (6×15 feet) and a restaurant (9×12 feet) and store in California (12 x24 feet).Those are long gone, they were painted directly onto the walls and did not survive the remodeling process and in one case the store was demolished for a newer store.
I’m hoping because it will be mounted and framed it might make it through the inevitable remodeling ten or twenty years down the road. The Mural will be in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel which reopens on November 15th 2010 in Nashville TN

Red Wolf Demo

Armand Cabrera

This is a Step by step demo of a Red Wolf head study I did for an art forum I frequent. Someone on the forum was wondering how to paint fur. I thought I would repost it here too, so I apologize if you’ve already seen it. The photo was taken by me when I was out in California at one of the zoo’s there.
The size of this painting is 10×12 inches and I am working in oils; my palette consists of Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Permanent, Cad Red Light, Cad Yellow Light, and Titanium White

The first thing I did was draw the contour of the wolf with a brush getting the general shape down quickly.

Then I looked for the big color and value changes and blocked those in ignoring details and edge quality at this point.

Next I start to modify those big shapes by adjusting the smaller changes within them and paying attention to their edges.

The last thing I do is scrub in a background so I can paint the highlights and paint the details and refine the proportions where I think they need it. I am not really trying to paint any differently than when I paint a landscape. While there is a little more accuracy involved here, the approach is basically the same for whatever subject I tackle.

Complete time for this is two hours. These types of exercises are great for practice; changing subject matter is a good way to apply the ideas of picture making that you have developed. If your ideas have any veracity they should work for any subject matter. If not they are most likely a formula and should be re-thought or discarded for something more universal.

Carmel Mission Demo

by Armand Cabrera
I was in California this last week teaching a private one on one class with one of my students. We had a great time and painted all the sites around the central coast there in Monterey and Carmel.
One morning was spent at the mission. The property is still active and has tours all day long but we picked a spot against a wall to paint out of the way of the crowds.
I started with a careful drawing made with my number four brush and a thin wash of paint. The first thing for the drawing was to establish the longest axis of the mission ( in this case the Dome and tower) within my picture plane, this insures everything will fit into the picture. All my subsequent marks will be measured against this as proportions of its height
Once my drawing is done I check it and correct any inaccuracies before starting to paint.
Because I am looking into a bright foggy sky I establish my dark areas to keep me from painting the mission walls and foliage too light.
Next I work on the middle tones throughout the painting at this point in the day the fog is starting too lift and I have to bounce around the canvas more than usual while I wait for the light to stabilize.
I paint the larger shape of the plaza and paint the shapes of the details on the mission, leaving the rendering of their forms for a little later.
I fill in the sky and work on the garden areas surrounding the mission and the patterns in the plaza.
Just as the sun breaks through the fog, I finish up with the tree and plants and model the more precise architectural details on the mission and within the grounds. My total painting time is three hours.
Carmel Mission 12×16 oil on linen.

Village Square Demo

By Armand Cabrera
I had a great week of painting with my friend Paul Vosper who was out visiting from the Seattle area.
One day we drove up to Winchester and painted in Old town there. It was a beautiful spring day.
We were both drawn to this café scene of the Village Square Restaurant. They were just opening for the local lunch crowd so we set up and got right to painting.
First I made a relatively careful drawing of the scene. Scenes like this one require a more careful approach than your usual outdoor landscape painting. I decided on the placement of my larger shapes and marked those on the canvas.¬
Next I placed the elements in relation to my initial drawing.
Since most of the scene was in shadow I started blocking in my darkest shapes so I wouldn’t paint the rest of the shadow planes too dark.
I then proceeded to work around the canvas to establish the big color shapes of the various elements. Usually I just focus on the value and colors aspects at this stage having already locked in my drawing but in this case because the drawing was so complex I am correcting small errors in size shape and angle as I go.
As the lunch crowd arrives I place them for interest before going on with the rest of the painting. While patterns of light move through the scene I pick and choose their placement to enhance a sense of movement.
I finish with the trees and background buildings and tighten up the people. I let edges go where I think it is appropriate. The complete painting time is three hours. This painting will be the basis for a larger studio painting of the same scene.
 The village Square 12×16 oil on linen

Barrel Oak Middleburg Demo

Armand Cabrera
Yesterday I spent the afternoon painting a demo in the Barrel Oak Gallery in Middleburg. If you haven’t been to the gallery yet and you are in Virginia please come on by, taste some fine Virginia Wine and view the art. I have 60 paintings on display.
I started with a small field sketch from autumn last year. The sketch was painted in one of my favorite areas of Virginia on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the town of Etlan.
The demo painting is 20×24 on linen panel. I followed the same procedure I do for most of my paintings by establishing a drawing with my brush and then blocking in the larger masses and refining those into smaller shapes . I’m careful to preserve the light and shadow in the painting and not let the details detract the big effect. The complete working time was about four hours.
 8×10 field Study
   Autumn near Etlan 20×24 oil on linen