Mural painting with Dave Bain

Posted: 24th November 2020 | 4 minute read

Dave Bain is an illustrator working out of Bristol. As well as working for a number of commercial, editorial and charity clients he has been developing a side of his illustration practice in public-facing murals and community-led projects.

His collaborative project with fellow illustrator David J McMillan saw them create a 30 foot high mural on the side of a Bristol house. We quiz Dave on how they set about this epic project, his top mural-painting tips and what it's like to work with someone else.

Just Us: It's not easy to find a wall, let alone get permission to paint it. How did you manage to land this job?

Dave Bain: We met and became friends with the home-owners through working with them on creative jobs connected to Bristol's cultural venue, Tobacco Factory. They own a few of our bits of artwork inside their home and were keen to see if we'd be up for painting the outside of their house.

It was an easy yes from us, given the scale and prominence of the wall - it's adjacent to a huge, Victorian park and a main road into Bristol. 

"I think it's always important to understand the value of your creative output" 

JU: Pricing this job must have been tricky, as they're your pals. Was this just for the love or did you charge your normal rate?

DB: I think it's always important to understand the value of your creative output. We outlined our normal costs (design, labour, materials, scaffolding hire), but in this instance discounted our design time so it wasn't such a hefty bill for them.

I also sought some bursary funding from a-n The Artists Information Company and Arts Council England to help cover costs.

JU: Illustrators tend to fly solo with their work, but you've worked directly with other illustrators over the years. Does that ever confuse your audiences?

DB: This was my first collaboration with David J McMillan, but I've worked with Zoe Power on a few mural projects, street artist Loch Ness on a huge indoor mural for BBC's DIY SOS and several community based projects too. While we've got our own distinctive styles - there's often a broad relationship to the way we work - e.g. use of flat colour, pattern and line.

One easy way to successfully combine is to work in the same colour palette. It's really exciting working together and seeing what happens when you combine ideas and drawing approach. And, we make sure we sign the work from both of us too - that helps!


JU: How did you get to a final design working together? Was it a battle of the pencils?

DB: We worked on top of a photo of the wall individually and then shared our respective drawings with each other. We then gave each other permission to "cut-up" and play with the other's drawings combining with our own to see if there were some strong compositional ideas to be found.

We landed on two similar rough ideas using this above method and presented them to the client for their thoughts. They picked out their favourite characters and suggested adding in a skateboard, as the local park has a popular ramp area. We hit on a final rough composition, which we went through some colour ideas, before landing on a final colour rough.


JU: Right next to the park and along a busy road is such a prominent location. Do you ever worry that the neighbours might not like it?

DB: This was a worry for us and the home-owners. So, we took time to email a number of local community groups the colour rough design, asking them for feedback and any suggestions. We had a hugely positive response, which was affirming. And, there was a great suggestion to add in some ducklings, as during the first lockdown visitors to the nearby park had had their spirits lifted by the arrival of some young ducklings in the Spring.

Additionally, while we were painting the mural, we had every possible type of person (age, gender, race...) stop and chat with us and comment on how much of a positive contribution the mural was to that area. 


JU: Did you grid up the wall to help scale up your illustration accurately?

DB: Gridding up is a method that can work, but it has problems - namely that you can lose where you are at with the grid. We used a method, made popular by street artist 'Rone', where you make a series of marks and shapes on the blank wall, take a photo of this and overlay your design on top. You are then using your unique wall marks as reference rather than a grid. This also helped keep a more organic, loose feel in our outlining stage, rather than getting heavily formulaic.

We did a first stage of outlining over one afternoon, took a photo and overlayed that on our design again, to see where we'd gone off-course (which we had in a few places). A few extra hours the next day tidied this up and then it was onto filling in.

JU: What are your top tips for anyone venturing into mural painting?

DB: 1) Start small. Approach local businesses that might appreciate decorative murals to brighten up "unloved" areas of their building.

2) Mock-up your design on a photo. This really helps visualise the impact it will have and also ultimately helps when scaling up your work onto the surface.

3) Have a limited colour palette, so less paint needs buying. Obviously you can mix up colours too, but if you do then make sure you mix up plenty, so you don't run out and have to remix and attempt to match the mixed colour again! 

4) Research into the surface your painting on and the materials you're using. Chat to professionals at a building's merchants shop - they'll have heaps of advice on the type of paint and necessary preparation of the surface.


JU: Any final thoughts?

DB: Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're unsure about mural work, then pop someone who clearly knows what they are doing a message with your specific question. And, put a shout-out to friends or the local community for help painting, if necessary.

Creating a big mural can be a wonderful opportunity to bring people together, giving them a shared ownership and pride for a new artwork in their area.

Dave and David's mural is located in Bristol, on Church Road, next to St. George Library. Or have a look on google street view here

All imagery copyright Dave Bain © 2020

Just Us Newsletter

Get your regular dose of insights and news from Just Us, straight to your inbox. 

All content © Just Us 2008 – 2020 unless otherwise stated.