Interview : Fran Halpin, marvelous mural artist

Fran Halpin AKA Fran The Artist talks to Déshabillé about her successful life as a mural artist.

Q. How did you start painting murals? It’s a great idea.

I’ve been painting murals for twenty years now. Painting big is something I’ve always done. I never really thought of it as mural painting, it was just part of my job.

When I finished College, I became self-employed and persued a career in murals and paint finishes. I got lucky from the beginning, I was spotted by a designer and the jobs came one after another. Every job I encountered needed large scale painting in one form or another. From the age of twenty-two I've painted nightclubs, bars, restaurants, Montessori’s, hospitals and private homes.

The Barge, Dublin

Q. Where do you get your inspiration?

First and foremost, I get my inspiration from my client. I bring their ideas to life by carefully listening to what they need, and then putting my own spin on it, so as it becomes a collaboration. A lot of thought and research goes into every mural I paint. Personally, I love to take inspiration from nature. The world around us always makes for the most incredibly beautiful murals.

Beacon Children's Hospital

Q. How do you compose the murals?

Each mural begins with an image search. I usually open a file on my computer and save several images that I think might work. I ask my client to look for things they like as well, just as a starting point. Once I’ve narrowed down my search, I can then begin to merge images in photo-shop until I arrive at the perfect composition. When everyone is happy with the design, I book a date for starting the mural.

I actually use a projector to sketch up the design (this is not cheating by the way) It’s an amazing time saver, and means I have more time to paint.

The paint that’s used for murals is very important. I use water based emulsion to blast out the background. This usually needs a tonal gradation known as a colour wash. Large brushes are used for this. Mural brushes are also amazing for blending backgrounds along with flat varnish brushes which can be bought from specialist paint shops. 

Once I’ve sketched out the bones of the mural I go in with small pots of emulsion which I get mixed up for each individual mural. These are nice and opaque which means less layers of paint. For fine detail, I used acrylics which are perfect for mural work. These days I try not to varnish my work. I feel it’s unnecessary to varnish the work unless it’s in a hospital. However, if a client wants the work varnished, I used a special super flat mural varnish. Personally, I love a flat finish on my work, I think it’s important for showing off the details.

Boomers, Clondalkin

Q. What is your favourite mural?

When I think of my favourite mural it’s also my most challenging one. Last year I did a series of murals for the Beacon Hospital. This is when I finally got the opportunity to paint an underwater scene. Water is so difficult to get right, but that’s why I like it I suppose. I’ve always wanted to paint light coming through water onto the magical world below. For this one I took my inspiration from the coral reef.

I merged several images together until I found the right mix. It took five days to complete this particular mural, which is actually quite fast considering it’s size which stretched 15ft x 8ft. Being focused and organised is crucial when painting a complex image of this dimension. When I was painting this I really fell in love with it and so did everyone else. Its brilliant knowing these murals help children feel more relaxed and less nervous when they visit the hospital.

Beacon Children's Hospital

Q. What are your plans for the future?

This year I’m having my very first solo show. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. I began a series on water (which is my favorite subject) in October last year. I find water infinitely fascinating and I want to explore it in many different ways. Something inside me has been unlocked and I feel compelled to paint. It’s like I’m possessed and must take this journey. 

I’m kinda shocked at the how passionately I feel about this about this series. I’m finding out all kinds of things about myself and why I’m exploring reflections and water and also stones. I grew up near a river and used to spend time there during the summer months playing. My Dad used to bring us down the Dodder and we would skip stones across the water and see who could get the most! It was so much fun.
In this collection, I want to create opportunities for us to step out of our human drama and step into calm, serenity and beauty. Above all I want to be authentic and paint from the heart.

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