How to Paint an Outdoor Mural on a Wooden Fence

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An outdoor mural can add color, personality, and interest to your yard. Whether you're a professional artist or just like a bit of DIY fun, a mural is a lively project to tackle at home. But painting a mural on a wooden fence isn't like painting a wall a uniform color — a whole lot more planning goes into it.

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How to Paint a Mural on a Wooden Fence

Step 1: Choose the Right Area

Although you might be constrained by space limitations at your property, it's important to consider which areas would be most suitable for an outdoor mural. The best places will be visible (so you can admire your mural on the regular), not covered or shaded by plants, and well lit. The mural should also be painted on a sound surface that won't need repairing anytime soon.

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If you share the stretch of fence with a neighbor, it would also be a good idea to run the idea past them first. Even if they can't see the mural from their side of the fence, they may be affected by paint fumes, the altered longevity of the fence wood, or any color seeping through.

Step 2: Plan Your Design

Before you start thinking about putting paint to fence, plan your design on paper. Try out different colors that work well together. You could choose abstract designs or something more figurative that blends in with your property, such as flowers and trees.

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Step 3: Sketch the Design on Grid Paper

There are various ways of transferring a small sketch onto a large fence canvas, but unless you have a projector, the easiest method is to use a grid system. Sketch your design onto a piece of paper ruled with a square grid. You can sketch a grid over the paper yourself if you don't have paper with a grid printed on. The idea is that later, once you've prepped your fence for painting, you will measure out the same grid onto the fence and mark each square with a piece of string and a drawing pin. Where you have drawn in a square on the paper, you will replicate that drawing on the fence. This is a simple way of maintaining scale and perspective when transferring a small design onto a larger canvas.

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Step 4: Prep Your Fence

The first step in prepping your fence is giving it a good clean. Mildew, moss, mold, lichen, plants, dust... all of these accumulate on wooden fences. If it's really dirty, give the fence a water blasting treatment. Otherwise, simply scrub it with an outdoor brush and some dishwashing soap.

If the fence has previously been painted, you may need to remove the previous paint layers by sanding, especially if they're flaking or otherwise degraded.

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Whether the fence has been previously painted or not, you may want to sand down some areas to create a smoother surface. You might also need to fill in any holes with a wood filler.

Step 5: Lay Drop Cloths

Lay drop cloths around the area that is going to be painted so you don't damage flowers, plants, or grass with paint.

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Step 6: Paint the Fence With Primer

Before you get to painting the design, paint the fence with a primer of acrylic base coat for wooden fences. This will help your paint adhere better later. If your mural design has one main background color, then you could save time at this stage by painting your base coat in that color. Otherwise, white is a safe choice.

Step 7: Outline Your Design

Referring back to step 3, it's time to transfer your sketch onto the fence. Work out your scale; for example, a 1 x 1-inch square on your paper might translate to a 10 x 10-inch square on the fence. This will depend on how large the area is where the mural will be. Measure out the squares on the fence and mark them with string attached with pins.

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Next, refer to each square on the paper as you draw the corresponding design onto the fence. Start with pencil until you're comfortable that you've drawn the design correctly, then go over it with a marker pen.

Step 8: Paint the Mural

After you've outlined the design, you can remove the strings forming the grid and get painting! Acrylic paints are the easiest, safest option for painting an outdoor mural. They dry quickly and are weather-resistant, long-lasting, and vibrantly colored.

Step 9: Add a Protective Top Coat

To protect your masterpiece from the elements, paint an acrylic glaze top coat over the mural. You can sometimes find these marketed as anti-graffiti coatings. While graffiti may not be a major concern if the mural is inside your yard or within your home's boundaries, these products do the same job of protecting your mural from wear and tear.

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