Student Participation Murals

Over the years I have done close to 25 murals with school children. I use an unusual technique of painting an under-painting in purple and then letting the students paint over it with transparent layers. This sets the underlying design which is never completely covered since we paint over it with transparent paints. I was painting with this technique in my professional work, so it just seemed natural to teach the same skills to the students. The result is that the murals do not look like “paint by number” and each mural has a professional finished look.


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This was my first mural with students. This image shows the under-painting that I prepared prior to the student’s painting work. I use purple because no matter what you paint over purple, it turns into a brownish tint and retains its brilliancy.

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The students all watch as each one gets up to paint so that they learn from one another. This student is splattering paint in a field area to look like flowers.

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This student is painting in a large area of foreground on the hillside. If you look closely, you can see the eagle under-painting still showing through the blue sky above the pine trees.

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Here is a section of the completed painting. Some of the more difficult details I did as the class watched, but nearly 90% of the painting was completed by the students. Here is the finished painting:

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KETTLE LAKE ELEMENTARY – Caledonia, Michigan

This was an incredible group of students that helped me create a mural that they designed. We completed it in just 4 days with the help of the art teacher who was there with us in the hallway through the whole process and kept the students busy with art projects or stories when they weren’t painting on the mural.


The photos below show the whole painting technique from the under-painting to the transparent levels. Click on the first image in the collage to see a slideshow. The last slide is the finished mural.



The Mancelona Elementary School had the largest group of children I have ever worked with on a painting. It was also the largest wall I have done in a school setting.

We completed the mural in just 6 days with over 600 children, plus I did painting demonstrations and assemblies for all the students in groups of 150 over a two day period. Aside from the shear number of students that painted on the mural, I also had to gear each session to be appropriate to the age level that was participating. The youngest ones were great at following instructions, but finger dexterity was not fully developed, so I would typically use them for grassy areas, large blobs of flowers and sponging rock like textures. They particularly loved the process of throwing paint to create the splatters on the rocks.

It was an amazing week together with the staff and students. And I learned many things that I used in future paintings. If you click on the first image, you can see the whole slide show that shows the wall preparation, the assemblies, painting demonstration and the whole process of painting the mural.


This was the fourth mural I did with children. I did two murals in this school over a two week period. The kids and teachers were amazing. This mural set the tone for much of my work with children over the next ten years. It was during this mural that I discovered just how incredibly talented young students were. These were kindergartners through 5th grade students and at each level, we found just the right activity for them. Click on the first image for the slideshow.

EMPTY BOWL- Charity Mural at High School

This mural was done during a charity event and everyone was invited to paint on the mural or to suggest fruit or vegetables that they would like to see around the edge. The finished painting was auctioned off and the proceeds given to Empty Bowl.


Click on the first image below to see a slideshow of the process. You can clearly see the effect of having an under painting as the children apply a thin layer of paint over it. People of all ages painted on this mural. Even children as young as 3 years of age filled in fruit or vegetables around the edge.


This was in the school cafeteria and it was a very busy place. It was a really charming mural but the only photos I have of it are these low resolution ones taken by someone from the school and sent to me later. The kids had a great time interacting with the mural. The boy holding the “comic book” on the rock did his own characters in the painting. I think it’s important to be flexible to let talented kids add their own unique talent to the murals.

ST MARY’S CATHOLIC SCHOOL – Pinckney, Michigan

This was the only catholic school where I have done a mural with kids. The subject matter was based on a children’s book that I had illustrated. The children in the mural were actual students in the school at the time. This was a difficult mural to paint with the students due to the wide age range that participated. I worked with kindergarten up to high school age, and the skill levels were extremely varied even within classes. It was a real learning experience for me. I only have low resolution photos of this mural unfortunately, but it is still up at the school if you want to visit it. Click on the first image for a slide show.


This was a lovely mural based on historical photos of the Stockbridge Schoolhouse and surrounding area. I painted the actual current school building in the background and created a time progression on the road by showing progressively older vehicles. There was a small group of 5th grade students that helped create this mural over one week.

stockbridge completeMy favorite moments were when the kindergarten teacher would walk her class silently past the mural three times a day to see the progress. The children were asked to remain silent, but some would express their appreciation as they passed. Note that every rock, bush, tree, plant in the field and cloud in the sky were painted by students. I did most of the detail work on the animals, buildings and people at the request of the school. This is my favorite student participation mural because I had fewer students and could work with some of them for longer periods of time. The teacher kept all the students in class and I would bring them out two at a time to work on mural. At the end of the week, they had a dedication ceremony for the mural and I was given a “spa treatment” basket in appreciation. I can tell you that I really appreciated it and it went to good use!  Click on the first image for a slide show.






Katherine Larson

Katherine Larson is a graphic artist, muralist and classical singer from Dexter, Michigan.

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