Art in the Kitchen

Q. I have a client who’d like a wall mural done in her kitchen using colored pencils. The wall is currently painted with latex semi-gloss. What’s the best application technique, and how can I seal the work for maximum durability?
Melinda Hoyle
Columbus, OH

A.This is a difficult question to answer. In the first place, the durability of your work will be a mystery because the lightfastness of many brands of colored pencil is still questionable, as there’s currently no standard for lightfastness accepted throughout the industry. Secondly, whether the colored pencil would stick to the latex underpainting is another serious question. If you thoroughly sand the wall beforehand to give it sufficient tooth you could be reasonably confident of the adhesion, but that’s going to be a lot of work. Finally, keep in mind that any varnish coating capable of withstanding the constant cleaning a kitchen wall undergoes might yellow so much as to obscure or alter the image. Frankly, artists’ varnishes aren’t formulated to be scrubbable.

My advice? See if you can persuade your client to accept a mural painted in acrylic emulsion paints, which are better suited to this type of application. If that’s the way you go, here’s a basic preparation process. Lightly sand the clean wall, wipe it thoroughly with a damp rag and let it dry, then prime it with two coats of a high-quality acrylic emulsion gesso. Then paint your painting. To protect it, give the dried painting a coat of acrylic emulsion gloss medium and allow it to dry, and follow that with one or two coats of an acrylic solution varnish.

Lastly, I’d caution your client to be extremely careful in the regular care of the surface of this painting; no matter how clean his or her kitchen is, the wall will get dirty sooner or later. It should be gently washed with a cloth just dampened with a mild hand soap and water, then rinsed with a cloth dampened with plain water. I’m afraid there are no guarantees, however, that this procedure won’t damage the delicate surface of such a painting, even if it’s varnished.

“People tell me my works are gloomy. I wish I could make them happier. I’m not an unhappy person, though I do like sad music! I’m painting what I see,” says Ron Kroutel. With a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago and an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan, Kroutel has won many prestigious awards in this country and in Europe. He is a professor emeritus of art at Ohio University.

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