The benefit of Murals in Children’s Hospitals

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Guest Blog by Fran Halpin.   You can connect with Fran at her website here or on her Facebook page.

How to paint a mural that can impact on mental health:

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the mental health of children, but when I was asked to paint a mural for the’ Beacon for Kids’ in the Beacon hospital I knew it needed to be colourful and detailed.

An underwater theme is a favourite for so many adults and children alike. So I decided to gather up beautiful backgrounds of the coral reef and everything and anything you might find living in one. To tell you the truth I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to paint this type of mural for a very long time. It was like art therapy for me, never mind the children!

Getting the background right:

When approaching a mural of this depth it’s so important to get the background spot on. Firstly the colour of the wall needs to be right, this will cut the work considerably as you can use it as your main colour for water. Next the refection of light shining on the top will give it a feeling of movement. The sun rays that breaking through the water need to be soft, you can always add to it for extra drama  later. The brushes you use are also important. I use a variety of mural brushes (these are also the same type of brushes used for scenic art backdrops) these are available on line mainly. I did manage to find one type Kennedy’s art shop in Dublin though. I also use special varnish brushes I found in MRCB which are amazing for mural work. MRCB is a specialist paint shop in Dublin city and has lots of expert equipment that you won’t find in other shops, but you always find what you need on line or by discovering your own in your area!

Details details it’s all about the details:

When adding the coral reef it was all about creating movement and freedom. Now is a good time to relax and loosen up a little. I like to stand as far back as I can during this stage. This allows you to see more of what you are doing and stops the painting from looking over worked and keeps your movements unrestricted. Acrylic brushes are fantastic for this type of painting because the handles are nice and long. I actually find that a slightly fuzzy edge is very important when painting. It helps the work feel softer and more lifelike. A mix of artist’s acrylic and water based emulsion paint work perfectly together and I’d recommend this for all interior murals.

Painting fish and a turtle:

I suggest using a projector for getting the outline of fish and animals. It just makes life so much easier and a great time saver. At this stage you need to slow down and spend time on all the details.

Every element you add to a mural elevates it. You do need to stand back and look at the work and see what’s needed. It is pointless adding lots of extras fish under an area where it will be covered by a chair for instance. So it is crucial to speak to your client and find out where the furniture will be and also they think the kids will be looking! You don’t want all your lovely work to be behind the children’s head. Planning your mural is the smartest thing to do. Believe me; I’ve gone in all guns blazing only to find part of the work is being covered doooh.

How should I protect my work?

Protecting your work is important. I must admit, I try not to varnish my work when at all possible. I love a completely flat finish and many varnishes have a slight shine and I feel varnish can sometimes cheapen the look of the work. However, you must varnish your work if it’s in a children’s hospital.

Luckily I have spent some time researching the best mural varnish on the market. The one I like the best is called Polyvine and you can get it in MRCB in Dublin or on find a stockist near you.

This varnish is completely flat, doesn’t streak, doesn’t smell and dries in about twenty minutes. It’s definitely my top tip for protecting your murals when needed. They also do a range of exterior varnish that can be used for other finishes. But I can delve into that when talking about outdoor work.

Can a mural really help with mental health?

The simple answer is yes. If I’m totally honest I had never really considered the impact a mural could have on how a person feels until I was speaking with one of the nurses in the’ Beacon for kids’. We were chatting after I finished this coral reef mural and she was telling about this little boy who was having great difficulty even entering the waiting room, never mind the nurse’s station. The urse said they didn’t need to keep him in the room if it was too upsetting for him. After much persuasion his parents brought him into the nurse’s station and his reaction shocked everyone. He calmed down and became completely transfixed with the mural. He actually sat there for an hour while his parents dealt with things. He spent the entire time staring at different details and actually enjoyed the experience. If a mural can do this for kids and make their experience with a hospital easier then it make painting so worthwhile. If only we could invest in all our hospitals this way!

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