Early this year, I was dropping my kids off at their school as usual and I was stopped by the Headmistress.
“Marc. I hear you’re a bit of an artist?”
I shrugged humbly and said, “Well, I make games for kids. I’m more of a desig…”
“We have a mural that I think needs updating. Will you take a look at it?”
Uh oh. I took a look. Yes, it had its charms. Yes, it really needed updating. And it was an unusual space with some challenging obstacles. Hmmm…
Before I could say, “I’m actually too busy to do something with this ‘wall’,” it was agreed that I would do something with the ‘wall’.
I let it slide for a few months. I was in fact very busy (it wasn’t an excuse) but the mural and the fact I’d agreed to do it was in the back of my mind. I’ve been making digital art for so many years that the idea of going BIG again had a certain attraction. And as it was my kids school, I really wanted to do something ‘cool’ for them. But I was a little worried.
I had painted several murals as a student in Glasgow – some bars and nightclubs, all for beer money. But I’d left that far behind when I became a professional designer & game maker. I hadn’t painted anything non digital in years.
I arranged access to the school over the Easter holiday and asked the teachers to give me some suggestions. They said the children loved the original mural ✅, Fairy-tales & Nursery Rhymes were great ✅, NO witches ✅, NO wolves ✅ and nothing scary. ✅ That was the brief. Now I had to think about the door and the awkward position of the photocopier. What to do?
My initial idea was to have a trail starting with the Billy Goats Gruff and winding its way up a beanstalk and across the frame. That would have required a Troll, though, which is scary. It got cut, along with the goats. Goats are a bit scary too. Poor Troll, though. I decided to incorporate some of the characters from the original mural too – Humpty, Red Riding Hood, Jack &the Beanstalk and the Three Pigs. I did some research for the others.
I wanted to inject some diversity wherever I could, even in the animals. I wanted to have a slight celtic theme to the golden nodes, and of course, given my profession, I also wanted to make the mural a GAME. A path of adventure.
I did a rough sketch of what I had in mind, it was approved and the original mural was painted over several times by the obliging School Janitor to make a pristine white canvas for me. Much to the distress of the kids in the school!
Back in my student days, I favoured Acrylics with indelible marker pens for the outlines.
It worked back then. I assumed that it would still work now. I bought my tubs of primary colours, white and a black, and that night I took my blue pencils, a step ladder and started sketching directly on the wall.
What a delight! Usually my sketches are very defined and controlled. To work on this scale again was so liberating and the ‘simple’ concepts started to do what they always do when you’re having fun. They took a life of their own!
I worked late into the night, enjoying the peaceful quiet of the school and my music. In the daytime it’s a place of colour and laughter. At night, the empty classrooms rest easily and contentedly. Certainly not spooky, though my boys (knowing my imagination) insisted there was a ghost. The only ghosts here are memories of innocence, knowledge and joy.
Details I hadn’t intended began to creep in. Extra characters appeared. They became much less cartoon-y than I had intended, expressions and features becoming slightly more real. I had hoped to have it all done in a couple of evenings. Best intentions, huh? The bridge became the beanstalk, the beanstalk became Rapunzel’s hair, the hair became the Shoemakers laces. A Fairy Trail. I was really happy with the rough marks and now started to worry that the process of painting over them would wipe them out.
Once the lines were done and checked, I started with the yellows & oranges.
Then the greens. Then the reds and blues. It came in bit by bit.
We were on the third evening and I knew I still had a long way to go. All the extra detail had really slowed me down, the paint work, which I had intended to keep flat initially, demanded to be MORE and I started using banding and shading. Really painting. And I hadn’t even started on the outlines. My wife, Yvonne, and the boys came by for a couple of hours. Yvonne got to work on Red’s cloak and the Beast’s Rose.
The final night, I stayed at it until about 2am. I didn’t want it to stretch into another day, nor did I want to compromise it by rushing. I had promised the kids it would be ready for the morning and so into the wee hours I went.
I’ve made products that thousands of people play or use, but for some reason, this little/big mural had become a labour of love, even though only a hundred or so kids would see it every year. It had to be right and in the end, although exhausted, I was really pleased with it. And pleased I had agreed to do it.
The moral of the story is that if you agree to do something, and you have the skills, do it properly. Doesn’t matter how reluctant you might be initially or how small it seems. Especially if it’s for children. That has its own reward as you’ll see in the video below.
(Oh. And I put the Troll back under the bridge, because children need a wee bit of danger in story. A giant to kill. A poisonous apple to bite. A curse to break. It wouldn’t be an adventure, otherwise.)
The children seemed to like it. Thanks for reading.