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What paint do I use?

Acrylic latex wall paint, satin or eggshell sheen except in the case of black that I like to get in semi-gloss for the darkest shadows unless there is to much glare and then it’s back to the low sheens. I don’t like flat because it looks chalky and faded and isn’t as smooth to apply. Shiny paint like semi-gloss shows way to much wall texture and glare. I use paint that is specified for either exterior or interior because exterior paint needs to have a lot of UV resistance and withstand the elements. Interior is a lot more about coverage and it’s ability to be cleaned. I’ve tried a lot of brands and It’s hard for me to see a big difference although I will say that I currently favor the Sherwin Williams and Behr Premium paints but for the black I use Rustolium quarts right off the shelf.

Surface preparation????? 
Only so much solids can be crammed into a paint base without making it to thick to apply. Therefore, different products are used for adhesion, UV resistance, moisture resistance, mold resistance, stain blocking, etc. It’s good to clean any surface prior to painting to remove any debris or film that could be a barrier between paint and canvas. Now I know that artists commonly use gesso to prime a canvas but as a paint contractor I feel that gesso is just high priced primer.  Honestly, I have never had an issue with wall paint not sticking to dry acrylic, latex wall paint. It does have a hard time sticking to oil base paint though. Use rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol to scrub a little of the surface you want to paint. If it comes off on the rag, then it’s acrylic or latex and probably doesn’t need primer. If the alcohol doesn’t remove the paint, then it’s oil or solvent based and you should use a bonding primer as a base coat. You can get bonding primers in oil, water, or solvent bases. I would use solvent base for the strongest bond but the oil and water bases definitely work. If there is any oily residue on the surface then I would use oil or solvent base primer because the oil will bleed through the oil on the wall and create a better bond. I never use “paint and primer in one” kind of products as a replacement for primer because the primer content or the paint content will be less than if you use separate products. All primers that are specified as primers for painting are made to be painted over with either water or oil base paints. You can prime and paint any surface and some, such as painted walls, really don’t need priming. It’s just a matter of how well the paint will adhere and how much abuse it will be able to handle. For wood, I use acrylic latex bonding primer such as Sherwin Williams all purpose primer or Glidden Gripper . For vinyl or other smooth glossy surfaces I like XIM solvent base bonding primer. Now for holes that need patched on any exterior, I recommend using a stretchable material such as caulk which you can buy in buckets at Sherwin or you could use any other exterior specific patching compounds that have the ability to flex. For interior patches I like to use what is commonly called hot mud. There’s a brand called Easy sand at the hardware stores that has different dry times specified on the label. You trowel it on and it sets (or hardens) unlike traditional drywall mud. I like it because it doesn’t shrink very much and still sticks to the surface pretty well, unlike plaster. It’s a faster way to get a wall smoothed or patched up before painting. You definitely want to prime any drywall patches you do though. I prefer drywall primer that has a very thin consistency because it soaks deeper and bonds the dust particles together better.


I like to mix from primaries so I always look for the brightest colors possible. The “base” is the glue that holds the paint together and dries hard while the “tint”, “colorant” or “pigment” refer to the color that is put into the base. I ask for a manual formula wherever I get my paint meaning that I don’t choose a color from the chart in the store. I ask for only one color to be put into a deep or ultra deep base. I ask for the max amount of tint allowed by the manufacturer which is somewhere close to 8 ounces per gallon.  I learned too late in my career that over tinting leads to rapid color fading on exterior paints so it’s better to have to little than too much. I do that some process with red, yellow, green, magenta, brown, or any other colors that I need. Black and white tend to be factory colors that are ready to go without tinting and so I’ll just grab the brightest white and the darkest black I can find. Some companies, like Sherwin Williams have bright red and yellow bases. This means that the color is in the base from the factory and can be used as is without being tinted in the store. I like to use those as they seem to withstand UV damage better and have better coverage as well.

How to do the “wet on wet” technique with acrylics

The wet on wet technique, such as the one I use in painting waves, requires a thicker and quickly applied base coat. I  always start with water in my brush. That’s one thing you can be sure to do. Fast drying happens when the paint is spread thin and also when it’s applied over a freshly dried layer. You can slow it down by working heavier, lowering the air temperature if possible, working in small sections at a time and adding water to your paint before you apply it. I suggest premixing a batch of your base color so that you can apply it quickly without mixing and then immediately move to your batch of reflection color. I do use Modern Masters to mix with my paint when I really need slower dry time.  Tintable Glaze

But the real key to this problem is knowing exactly what you will do before each step so that you can eliminate thinking time. That happens with practicing the technique on something that you don’t care about. You might try using a larger brush with some common house paint on some cardboard just to get the feel of the technique and then transfer the exact same movements to the small brush.

Paint dries too fast!

Yes, it does. You can look into a product called latex extender or paint extender. XIM makes some. Wagner has some. Flood has some called Floetrol. I like to use Modern Masters Tintable Glaze. There are others but they all work for extending the dry time and making the paint smoother to apply and blend. It only gives you a few extra minutes though. Not a lot. I was told that vegetable glycerin works for the same purpose as well but I haven’t tried that one. Cooler temperatures also slow down dry time so I work as cool as possible. In the end I don’t know of any way to get water base paint to behave like oils and dry slowly but I have found that the fast dry time is an advantage in a lot of the time. I’ve gotten used to using layers to blend rather than mixing wet on wet. a wet brush dipped barely in some thinned paint is fantastic for blending. I can smear it or brush it or whatever works. the key is to use multiple layers of thin paint, waiting for each layer to dry completely. It can be difficult to get a bright white highlight with oils when the base colors keep mixing with your white. With acrylic, you just wait a moment for the base to dry and then you can put any color on top without issues. I always keep a bucket of water handy and my brush is always wet. Another thing to remember is that freshly dried paint speeds up the dry time of any wet paint that it touches because of the catalyst that is still working. It’s important then to rinse your brush periodically and wait for applied paint to dry for a day before trying to do a lot of blending details over it.

How did you get started as a muralist?

I’m not a very skilled entrepreneur or business person. I just get a thrill out of being helpful and have a lot of energy for projects. When a friend of mine asked if I would paint a mural in her playroom, I jumped on the opportunity. It wasn’t a great mural. It was just nice. I had decided to try being self employed as a painter right at that same time. I had worked for several years on a paint crew, learning the trade and didn’t have a lot to lose. A friend of mine, Greg offered me a job as a helper with his faux finishing and custom painting business so I took that opportunity immediately after I finished that first mural. He had more connections than I did and found more mural work for me to do right away. I worked for $15.00/hour on everything that he had for me to do. After only a few months, Greg decided to stop doing the painting and it left me with a choice to keep working as self employed or find another job so I did a little research and found that becoming self employed was as easy as paying $40.00 for a business license from the city of Flagstaff and another small fee for the same kind of license from the state of Arizona. I didn’t bother with a contracting license until years later when my work volume had increased and people were asking me about it from time to time. So all I had to do was bid jobs, write invoices, and pay sales tax once a month. Oh yeah… and find work. By that time I had worked under enough contractors and other clients that there was just barely enough word of mouth referrals to keep me busy. Keep in mind that I was busy staining decks and repainting homes most of the time and not painting murals. I had faux finish jobs, special effects painting and mural jobs only about 20% of the time. I dedicated myself to learning to paint better. With every job I did, I improved. The 20% turned into 50 and then 75 and then I cut out any painting that was not artistic because I realized that even though the work security was nice, the image it gave me and the time it took from developing the Mural side of the business was holding me back. I changed my business name from “Joe Cornelius Faux, Art and Graphics” to “Mural Joe”. I bought the URL, posted my work online, started a Facebook page and got really serious about talking to people everywhere I went in a way that would leave them thinking about me in a friendly way… Just your friendly neighborhood Mural Joe. The Youtube videos didn’t really land me any jobs but they did cause me to rank a little higher in searches and look a little better to my clients. I have found that aiming to be as helpful to others as possible is a whole different way of looking at work as well as my role in life. My business was never some clever plan to cause other’s money to come my way. It was always to be helpful enough that they would desire to have me do their work. To be helpful in the way of mural painting, I had to grow in skill…and I did. But I made most of my money doing general painting and drywall work so I don’t think that being able to own my own business really had much to do with my artistic ability. It does now though because I gradually moved the business that direction as the opportunity arose. I believe that the most powerful influence to my success as a mural painter has been the help from friends and family and the readiness to take that help and make use of it. My friend Todd is an amazing guy. He bought me a bunch of camera gear and set me up with a website back when I had no connection to the media world. I immediately started doing everything that I could to make good use of those things and today I have a growing presence online that I enjoy very much as it brings opportunities to connect with the world. My wife, my brothers, my friends at church… They all gave me very valuable insights and criticism along the way that helped me to improve. Recognizing my inabilities, flaws, lack of skill and areas that could use improvement has been crucial in the process of developing greater skill. I mercilessly pick apart everything about my own work and compare it with work that others are doing better than me. I’m not threatened by those who are better than me. Let them always be better. I’m encouraged because not only do I like to know that people are doing well, I know that the knowledge of a better way will soon be mine. Improvement is exciting and also awkward. My motto is don’t hate progress. Don’t draw the same stick man forever just because you can’t draw a perfect man. Improve it and never go back.

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