Lisa Quine, lettering artist, muralist, speaker, and designer, takes a deep dive into how to become a successful muralist. She discusses her process, biggest failures, learning experiences, and much more.
Out of everything you could have chosen to do as a lettering artist, why did you pursue murals?
I don’t feel like I am pursuing murals. They just happen to be the work that I am getting and saying “yes” to. I got one mural project, which led to two more mural projects, and it grew from there. Cleveland is a big city with such a small town feel because everyone knows everyone, so the network here is insane. It’s like you throw a rock and you get a mural project.
What was your first mural project like?
One of my coworkers at an advertising corporation I worked at had a girlfriend who was with a company called Find A Way. The company was looking to get a four-wall mural piece installed in their lobby. They asked me to hand-letter a quote and draw an ice cream truck as my audition, so I did it and sent it over. A couple of months later, I heard back and they liked my style. They gave me a list of 100 items that they wanted me to include on the mural. This was before the iPad and digital work, so I got the measurements of the wall, drew a box on InDesign ,printed it out, and tried to fill the four squares with 100 items.
The lobby was too narrow for me to use projection and I was too lazy to grid it out, so I just improvised. I drew everything out in pencil first and then inked it in with Krink Paint Markers. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was perfect because there were so many items, so if I messed one up it would be camouflaged.
I posted the crap out of that project and a lot of people saw it on Instagram, Facebook, and in person. I learned so much from that experience and I am so grateful for it.
What is your mural design process?
I get emails about different potential mural requests. It starts with wide inquiries, for example, let’s say a store wants a window display. I’ll give them three prices based on a temporary window display, because I have different rates for different things. If they want a simple quote like “Coming Soon…” or “On Sale” that will be around twelve dollars per square foot. The next level up for more detailed typography with a couple of illustrations would be fourteen dollars per square foot. The next tier would be sixteen dollars per square foot.
I play with those numbers depending on what seems fair to both me and the client. If I can decide on a certain rate, I’ll send it to a trusted friend for a second opinion on the quote. People always ask what the differences are for each tier, and even though I explain it in the quote, it’s better for them to visualize things. I use Pinterest to provide a visual example of what each one might look like and put it in a PDF. When people ask me to price out a mural, I give them the breakdown on the three tiers and the PDF showing the differences.
After they pick a tier, I will create a mood board if they don’t know what they want. Sometimes they already have photos of things they are gravitating towards. Then, we have am in depth conversation on why those chose those pictures, whether its the colors, the style, etc. I try to see what they inspiration is and form an idea in my mind.
I’ll take what we discussed in that brainstorm session and sketch it up on the iPad. I’ll send it off to the client and we will go back and forth until we are both satisfied. Most times, they’ll see my first draft and be satisfied and excited. Although, I do warn them that the real mural is guaranteed to look a little different than the sketch photoshopped on the wall.
Once I am ready to start on the mural, I will do one of three things: wing it, grid it out, or project the design. If it’s in a tight hallway, I’ll grid it out. If it’s a small design I’ll wing it. If I can use a projector, I always will, because it makes the project easy. Then I am ready to paint
How many concepts do you give to the client on average?
It’s usually just one concept where I show them what I am most excited about and they like it. Normally, when people want a mural they don’t know exactly what they want it to look like, so when I show them a sketch it’s a good point to start from. I’ll show them a pencil sketch without color and see if they like the direction. Normally, the first revision is what they want and we’ll add color and go from there.
If someone’s goal is to do murals, what is your best social media advice?
Being open with people about your process, like posting a picture of your supplies or work in progress shots. Being real with your audience is so important, don’t show just the finished piece, because it’s less relatable. All this helps your audience get excited for the final draft, because they’re following you on your journey.
Inserting yourself in your posts helps too. When you put a person in the photo, it gives your audience something they can connect with. I have noticed that I get more interaction on posts that I am in, compared to the posts that are solely my art.
What do you think is an appropriate amount of posts per mural project?
I usually do two to three, but it’s important to know what works best for your audience. I will do an in process, a final, and maybe a time-lapse. The nice thing about murals is that people take pictures in front of them, so it’s like endless content material and marketing.
How do you get big clients like Target, Harley, and Kohl’s, and what kind of work do you do for them?
I worked with Target when I was fully employed in advertising. I was found by company from Seattle that recruits artists to design stationary and then pitches the illustrations to businesses like Target, Starbucks, and a few more. Over the course of a year, I had lettered a couple of quotes that could go on a journal cover. They pitched it to Target, and months later, I found out that they liked the work and wanted to hire me. I had to learn so much, because it was my first big project and I didn’t negotiate the terms.
I met Joe, my Harley contact, at Weapons of Mass Creation in Cleveland. I found out that he works with Harley Davidson and I was able to use that network to land a gig with them. It’s so important to make personal connections and the best way to do that is in person.
For Kohl’s, my network in the advertising world led me that job. They were looking to hire a last-minute illustrator, and old colleague of mine recommended me for the job. I ended up lettering “It’s 5 am somewhere” that went on a coffee mug in Lauren Conrad’s “Mommy” collection.
How do you balance personal projects with commercial work?
I like to listen to a lot of self-help stuff while I am painting, to maximize what I get out of my day. One of my favorite authors is Mark Manson, who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. He talks about using what you value in life to dictate your time. I really took that to heart, because I am a workaholic and it’s not okay. I am trying to figure out how to make time for other important things.
I’m trying to say “no” to more projects, which is hard because I love so many of the projects I’m offered.`It’s a good problem to have and most people are willing to wait and work with my schedule. If the don’t have time, they’ll find another artist which is nice, because I get to share the love.
Time management is a little insane. A talk I saw suggested taking an hour a week to do something enjoyable that isn’t work. If I like it, I dedicate another hour to it. Looking at what I need to do and where I have gaps to fill with family and friends. Looking at the overall picture has really helped me.
What are your long term goals as a mural artist?
Every time I set goals, my professional life takes a left turn. I never had a goal to install a mural overseas, but now I have one in France. I am really bad at setting goals. Mainly, I want to get through this summer and finish strong with all the projects I am doing and will do. My more long-term goal is to do a full room mural where I can have full creative liberty.
What’s your biggest failure?
I once put a mural in the wrong location. I was painting over a set of construction site doors to make it look like apartment doors to advertise for apartments in a shopping center. It turns out I was working on a pair of doors that were identical to the actual site. I had to paint over what I did and then repaint the entire scene. That was a major learning experience, because I didn’t think that was a mistake I could ever make.
What are currently struggling with the most?
Definitely time management. I use Wunderlist to plan my “to-dos.” I also use WaveApps for invoices and estimates. It saves all my items and I can do a search to find it. Another strategy that has worked for me is setting three goals for each day. If I can accomplish three things, I’m golden.
Do you have an upcoming projects that we can get excited about and help promote?
I am releasing a how-to lettering book in January 2020, or sometime after that. I am also giving a talk at Making Midwest, a conference at the end of July in Columbus, Ohio. Tickets are $99 for two days. A lot of great illustrators will be giving talks!