About a month after we got engaged, my husband and I bought our home. It was an old fixer-upper, straight out of the 70s. It had ugly worn carpets, a green bathroom and panelling in every room. But it was ours and we decided that we would start renovating before we were married and living in it. Over Thanksgiving, we took a trip to a coffee shop and spent a few hours designing and dreaming of what our finished house would be like.
This was one of the projects that made it onto our dream list. I had seen this picture and was inspired to make our own.
Well about a year and a half later, I was finally able to start this project. I had a spot on our dining room wall all picked out and in desperate need of something special. I pulled out the paints and got go work. It took some time (about 14 hours from start to finish) but I love it. And we get compliments on it all the time.
Here is how I made my own family tree.
- an image of a tree – either a really big .jpg or a vector image (I’ll explain later on)
- Acrylic paint in brown, black and white
- paint brushes of various sizes (I found that the smaller ones less than 1 cm across were used more often and gave a better effect)
- a pallet of some kind (I use a plastic take-out container that had a lid)
- a collection of picture frames
- pictures for your frames
- picture hanging hooks/nails
1)The first thing you need is an image of a tree. There are tonnes of options out there, from something traditional to something a little more whimsical. I choose this image from Shutterstock called “scary bare black tree silhouette” Id # 114712504. I liked that it was a little artistic while still having a sense of being a realistic tree. This image was also a vector image.
- You can use a .jpg or really any photo you like it just has to be really big. Once it goes up onto the projector, a small image will become distorted and it will be too hard to trace. The bigger the image the less distortion there will be
- I purchased this as a vector image which is a specially designed image that won’t distort as it gets blown up. I found it easier to work with. It only cost me about $20 to buy 2 images so it really wasn’t too bad, cost wise.)
- You could also free hand it. I would not recommend this option unless you are an excellent artist. It can easily end up looking out of proportion or lop-sided with little way to fix it afterwards
2) Hook up your laptop to the projector and project it onto your wall. This is your chance to get the sizing and location right. This took me about 20 minutes before I was completely happy with everything. You want to make sure that it is centred in the space but that there is also a border around it. I left about a foot on each side and about 4-6” from the ceiling. This is important since negative/blank space will bring focus to your mural.
3) Once you are happy with the location and size of your image you are ready to trace. I chose to trace with paint since I’m pretty steady with a brush. You may feel more comfortable lightly tracing with a pencil and then painting afterwards. The one benefit of tracing with paint is that it’s one less step.
4) For the first coat, I only used brown. I chose a dark shade called Burnt Umber since it fit the colour scheme of my room and I thought it would work well with the black frames that I had already. With the picture projected up onto the wall, I start painting in the outline. Go slowly until you find a speed and style that works for you. I like to stand and paint from under the image so I can still see where it is but that is personal preference. Paint in the whole outline in one coat of solid brown. Allow to dry (usually an hour or so.
5) Give the tree another coat of brown paint.
6)Now it is time to add shading and highlights to your tree. Firstly, decide where your light source will be. In my dining room, there is a large picture window, so I decided that would be my light source. Any edge that was close to the window (on the left) would receive highlights while the opposite side would get low-lights or shading.
- To make the perfect highlight colour simply mix in a little bit of white to the original brown. That way the tones and hues will still be the same. To make the perfect low-light colour simply mix in a little bit of black to the original brown.
- Use the highlight and low-light colour to add a little texture to the trunk and large thick branches. I did this by dipping my brush in a colour and then dragging it along the branch. Even if it get thin or fades out at places, that’s fine. It’ll actually make it look a lot more natural.
- I actually do step 4-6 at one time, blending the colours together while the paint is still wet. I pick 1 large branch and work my way to the trunk and then move on. I find it easier and I do have some experience with murals but it is totally up to you.
7) Once you are done let everything dry thoroughly.
8) Get out your picture frames and fill them with pictures. I purchased my frames from Michael’s craft store around Christmas time. They were packs of 10 with different shapes and sizes but the same framing. They were on sale for $15+tax. So I bought 3 packs. We only used the smaller ones (5x7s or smaller) and saved the bigger ones for another photo display.
9) My husband helped with this since I’m not great with a hammer. I picked a location and he put the nail in. Here are some tips for placing your frames.
- Start in the middle and work your way outwards. It’ll be easier on spacing.
- Leave enough room around frames so that you could change the direction in the future. (a horizontal picture could be hung vertically). This will give your tree room to change as the years go by.
- Use a picture to cover up a mistake. Chance are there’s a branch or 2 that just don’t look right. Consider this a perfect place to hang a photo.
- We purposely chose not to hang things in straight lines since it gave us more options to add frames down the road if we wanted to.
10)Enjoy your new picture tree.
To give you an idea on size the wall the tree is on is approximately 13′ wide making our tree about 11 feet wide and 7 feet tall.
On it we have these are the frames we have:
- 6 – 5×7 ovals
- 3 – 3×3 circles
- 3 – 6×6 squares
- 3 – 5×7 rectangles
- 12 – 4×6 rectangles
- for a total of 27 frames
There is still plenty of room to add more frames, which we plan to do in the future. I estimate we can get another 10 or so 4×6 frames before it starts to feel crowded.