“May the 4th be with you” – Mural: by Tony Vowles

This is the first mural I have done in many years. There was a time when I did large murals on a regular basis. It was great to be back doing this sort of work again.

Star Wars, is the most successful movie franchise in history. The owners of this property are serious fans of the movies. They have Star Wars stickers on their car and purple led lights underneath to make it look like its a hover-car. So the fact that they commissioned me to create a 25 square metre Star Wars mural on a wall on their property should come as no surprise.

When you stand back it doesn’t look that big, but when you stand under a wall that is 3.8 metres high and 6.5 metres wide, you feel quite small. It can be a daunting this creating artworks like this. But I don’t let it bother me. I just crack on and get it done section by section.

The chances are that you are reading this on May the 4th. May the 4th has become the international day of celebration of the Star Wars movies. For those of you that are not Star Wars fans (and I know there are rare people out there that are not), “May the Force be with you” is a trademark saying from the movie franchise. The date is a play on these words.

The property owners took this photo and sent it to me. I love it. They have lights throughout the garden and the effect on the mural is terrific.

Q1: My first reaction to the mural when I saw the photos was ‘Wow’. I liked the design and the layout. The scale of it is impressive. The first things I asked myself is where would I start if I were to do it? Do I use a projector? Would I rely on visual scaling? What materials would I use? How much do I need?

I created a concept layout on Photoshop. It’s assembled from four different photographs. I took a photo from the movie of the X-fighter and asked them if they liked that, which they did. But it was very dark and we agreed that it needed to have big bright colours worked into it. The client had photos of these weird flowers (that were other-worldly) and they fit the whole concept really well. If you were going to see flowers on Star-Wars, this is the type of flower you’d see. (D – I actually thought they were from somewhere in the star wars movies. I didn’t realise they were real.)

A pencil gave its life for the 160 metres of pencil grid lines that I measured and marked up. I gridded the wall into 50cm squares. I used a long length of 4×2 pine as a ruler (you can see it in the photo on the left).
When I start any artwork, I pick a big easy area, that I can jump in and get a sense of immediate progress. The top row of squares were nice and easy.

Once the client signed off on the design, I then created a grid over the layout using InDesign. I had measured out the wall and calculated how many 50cm x 50cm squares the wall divided into (95 by the way) and then I applied the same grid as the wall onto the reference.

I was going to use a chalk line to grid the wall but it didn’t work very well so I had to resort to hand drawing the 50cm squares over the entire design, 160 something metres to be exact. Being a rendered wall, it was like drawing on the roughest sandpaper you’ve ever seen.

To me, ‘Spray is spray’. It doesn’t matter if it’s an airbrush or a spray-can or a spray-gun, it’s all the same. Some do finer lines some do wider. Although I teach airbrushing exclusively, my students should be able to jump from one medium to the other with no problems.

Everything was done from observation. I did not project or pre-draw any of the artwork. I sketched everything with the aerosol cans and just worked up the shapes until I was happy.
The only problem with the X-Fighter Swamp scene was that it was all very dark and a bit gloomy. The wall needed bright colours worked into it. The owner had all these photos of strange flowers (a little exotic and potentially from another world). We selected these strange flowers where the petals curl in on themselves creating tubes.

I chose to use aerosol cans over spray-guns and airbrushes because they were so much easier, convenient and faster. For paint, I used MTN, Loop, Kobra, Blue Flame, Orange Flame, Molotow and Sigma80. Giant productions went to the effort for me of checking that all of these brands were compatible and would not react with each other.

Although there are a lot of different nozzle caps for aerosol cans, the only two that I really liked were the fine caps and the fan caps. I used them almost exclusively for the whole mural. I tried them all, but these were the only two that I kept going back to.

The whole bottom half needed a black base, but I didn’t want to lose the grid, so I sprayed in 27 squares but left the lines showing. I just filled the gaps in as I went.
The blue suit is a real fashion statement. But It was much better than driving home with the smell of thinners based paints on my clothing. I put a cloth down on the ground, but aerosol cans are very clean.

Projecting up a mural this big is a complete waste of time in my opinion. It is so much faster to simply grid the wall and work from observation. Central to the rendering systems that I teach, is the weird backward concept of “you have to get it wrong to then get it right”. So, I simply blocked in the shapes and then adjusted the edges until the proportions were right (using visual scaling) and then created the textures and form etc. to get it right at the end.

I completely misunderstood how much paint was needed. I had to re-order paint twice after the initial purchase. I love turning everything that I paint into measurable systems. I can tell you that an aerosol can will only cover 6 x 50cm squares. I ended up using 11 cans of black alone.

I really enjoyed working straight from observation. I simply blocked in every shape with a base colour and pushed and pulled the edges until the proportions were correct and then built the form after.
Surface mixing the colours of the X-Fighter with aerosol cans was a bit of a challenge because of how opaque . In the end I used impressionism techniques – placing colours beside each other and getting them to visually mix – using the aerosol cut-back techniques.

The paints are very very opaque. So it is difficult to surface mix any colours. in some ways, it made it very easy to paint the artwork, but at other times, it was quite frustrating. In the end, when I needed to blend one colour into another, I effectively textured one over the other to allow the colour underneath to show through the gaps.

Q2: So how did you decide on the colours to use?

Ahhhhh. . . I used the colour systems from Units 4 – 5 – 6 of the Venturi system, where we have an inverse palette of each colour. So I had two reds, two yellows, two blues, green, purple and orange (9 colours) and then I had a pastel tinted version of each of them and a tonal version. I had the same for black, white and grey. If you lined them all up. . . the 10 colours wide, there are three rows; the hue row, the tone row and the tint row. . . 30 colours in all.

This photo is a good example of how I simply blocked in a base colour and then pushed and pulled the edges to get the correct proportion. Many people try and be “right the first time”. Don’t! Simply smash in base colours and shapes that are wrong . . . and then fog them back and start the finishing layers to make everything right.
Here is the finished result – 10 layers later. I have the confidence to not follow the artwork reference that I build on Photoshop. The right-hand wing was white on the reference. But in grey it looked like it was in shadow, from the tree above. This looked much better.

The beauty of having 30 colours in aerosol cans is that there is no colour changing of an airbrush or spraygun. You simply put one can down and pick up the next. On many ocassions, I had one can in each hand, one can under my arm and changing colours every 10 seconds.

I have been teaching airbrushing for 34 years and this is my first ever aerosol can mural. . . I love it! Applying 10 different colours to one area in a matter of a minute. . . the creative process is amazing. Why didn’t anyone tell me before how fast and exciting aerosol murals are to paint?

Outdoor murals mean conditions are hot, cold, windy, rainy . . . and in Melbourne, usually all on the one day. ON one day, I had to set up the marquee and set it on its side to create a huge 3m x 3m wind-break. It worked amazingly well.
I used numerous brands of aerosol paints. Giant Productions that sold me the paint were wonderful. They took the time to test all the brands they sold me to make sure that they did not react with each other.

Q3: Was there anything that caught you off guard or surprised you once you started that you weren’t expecting?

This is going to sound strange, but the one thing that really took me by surprise was just how fast and enjoyable the creative process was. I know I already mentioned this, but being able to work dozens of colours onto an area of the mural in minutes. . . the spontaneity of it really caught me by surprise.

There was no way that I was going to be able to create the Yoda artwork with aerosol cans. I sprayed the paint from the cans into lids and then into metal airbrush cups. I used my Venturi airbrush with a row metal cups. The small cups are easy to clean and work with.
Here you can see the Yoda and Darth Vader “hidden” in the mural. I would have liked to bury them more, but the owners didn’t. The customer is always right.
This is a progress shot of the C3P0 and R2D2. In many ways its better than showing you a finished shot. You can see how I simply flat base the shapes and “get them wrong” first . . . and then get everything right later. Here the head and torso of of C3P0 is finished, but the rest is just blocked in.

Q4: How did you work out how long it would take you at the start? How much time did you set aside? This goes to the heart of how did you figure out how to price it?

Because I had never created a mural with aerosol cans, I had no idea how long it was going to take. The client had a fixed budget, I agreed to the price and I felt that I would try and manage the job so that I would earn a reasonable hourly rate (target $30 – $40 an hour). Initially, I was concerned that it would take 12 days, but in the end it took 6 days of painting and a day of preparation.

Q5: I have very strong opinions about time managing every artwork I ever do. I like to set a timer for every hour and to stop and take a short break and look at the artwork, to assess it properly. By breaking my artworks into a clear structure of specific amounts of time per design element, i find that I enjoy my painting process much more, and I make more time to airbrush more regularly. Did you time manage the process at all?

Yes. Absolutely. I set a timer for every hour. I really liked pushing myself to see what I could get done in the hour. Sometimes I would check the timer and there would be 5 minutes left to go. The challenge was, ‘what can I do in the next 5 minutes that will make a real difference?’ This process of hourly timers not only accelerated my painting but made the process a little more exciting. It also meant that I left at the end of every day being able to count the number of squares that I completed for each days painting and knowing how much I was getting done for each hour.

• I’m sure all Venturians are excited to see you paint. Thank you for sharing your process with us all. Damien Darroch.

If you would like to learn to airbrush well enough to create large murals like this, we can teach you to do this successfully. Airbrush Venturi has over 20 schools located across Australia and New Zealand.

For more information . . .
Ring us on 1300-247 278 (1300 AIRBRUSH)
Go to our website HERE and the course timetable with locations, teachers names, and costs HERE.

To enrol, got to the enrolment form HERE

Written by Damien Darroch