Paint Your Own Dramatic DIY Tree Mural

A 17th century etching becomes a "paint-by-number" style mural using a projector
projection DIY mural tree ashley goldman the goldhive san diego

A daring DIY projection mural based on a 17th century Perelle etching turns this office wall into a piece of art.

#DesignRisks: With design, you shouldn’t always play it safe. Taking risks and challenging your own creativity can lead to fabulous, inspiring, one-of-a-kind designs. We know, we know. Easier said than done, especially when it comes to making decor decisions. If you renovate a bathroom in a graphic tile that feels too loud once it’s in, for instance, it becomes a costly mistake to fix.

Painting, on the other hand, never needs to be a huge investment monetarily (though depending on what you decide to do with that paintbrush, you might be looking at a significant amount of time). Putting color on a wall in some form can completely change the look and feel of a space and add lots of personality. Plus, it’s inexpensive and easy to change if you hate it once you’re done.

Pick a blank wall in one of the rooms in your house, grab a paintbrush—and several cans of paint (along with a few other tools)—and take on one of the two bold-move projects detailed in our #DesignRisks Tricks of the Trade series this month. Just go for it; we dare you! First up: a 17th century tree etching becomes a stunning, large-scale DIY tree mural.

Let it Grow with a DIY Tree Mural

Ashley Goldman, the author and blogger behind The Gold Hive redid her home office for the One Room Challenge a couple of years ago. The focal point in the room? A dramatic mural she custom designed using an image she found online. She shared the detailed tutorial on her blog and gave us some additional pointers here. It’s important to note that an undertaking of this magnitude is going to take time—lots and lots of time. Ashley estimates that she spent 100 hours or so bringing this tree to life. But it shows. The impressive shades-of-gray landscape invites the eye to linger and explore its depth.

Select an image

Ashley says you can basically turn any image—photo, artwork, drawing or etching—into a mural. She sourced “A Landscape with Travelers at the Left,” a 1660s etching by Adam Perelle, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s open-source collection and used Photoshop to convert it to a paint-by-number-style image. If you’re not well versed in the photo-editing software, you might want to pick a simple design that doesn’t require tweaking, buy an actual paint-by-number digital download or use a free app like Imaengine Vector to turn any photo into a vector drawing. 

“A Landscape with Travelers at the Left,” a 1660s etching by Adam Perelle, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“A Landscape with Travelers at the Left,” a 1660s etching by Adam Perelle. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Project away.

If you don’t have a projector, there are numerous local places you can rent one, or you can buy one online for less than $100. Ashley says you really need a high-def projector for a project like this; otherwise, the design you select might not be seen on the whole wall. Connect the projector to your computer via a high-speed HDMI cable and then experiment until you find the right placement—including the correct distance from the wall, adequate zoom on the image and the precise angle—for the projector. To ensure the trees weren’t distorted and lined up nicely on the wall, Ashley creatively overlayed shapes on her image that she could use as a guide. You could also mark points on the wall where the top of the image needs to land with painter’s tape.

DIY projection mural ashley goldman the gold hive paint by numbers

Ashley projected a scanned and layered version of the 17th century tree etching, and hand-painted it color-by-color. Photo courtesy of Ashley Goldman.

Pick your paint.

For optimal coverage, Ashley suggests using a house paint with primer in it or acrylic paints. She didn’t because she already had gorgeous eco-friendly paints from Farrow & Ball. In hindsight, while they make magic on whole walls, these bespoke paints aren’t designed for little brushes and intricate mural work.

Ashley’s mural comprises eight shades of gray. “If you were to choose the shades from one color swatch, you’d have almost the same color in different saturations,” she says. “I wanted this wall to feel less like gradients of gray.” The result? The various gray tones she selected from a booklet of complementing samples have varied undertones. “Some have green, red or blue, which give the mural more depth and personality.”

DIY projector mural acrylic paint

TIP: Pour each paint into a separate plastic container you can easily hold while painting. Once you’re done with one color, put plastic wrap over it and pop it in the fridge to save for touch ups or a second coat.

Start painting.

Using Photoshop, Ashley turned off layers on her paint-by-number mural so she could concentrate on one color at a time in her complex design. Each of the eight layers took Ashley a fair amount of time. After 20 hours, she’d completed one coat of the first four colors, but each layer required a second coat, which had to be applied meticulously. Where Ashley had given herself a little creative freedom to organically play with the paint on the first go, she now had to trace each of her lines to get the solid chunks of color she desired. “The process wasn’t hard, just time consuming,” she says. She passed the hours listening to lots of audio books and podcasts such as “Armchair Expert,” “99% Invisible” and “Freakonomics Radio.”


DIY mural projector mural tree paint-by-numbers in a home office neutral tones

The finished DIY mural in Ashley Goldman’s home office.

Paint Your Own DIY Abstract Mural—With Kids

The plan? No plan. For artist Jennifer McHugh, letting kids take the lead on an abstract mural makes for gorgeous results. Learn how to paint your own here.

Share Your #DesignRisks

We are celebrating risks, wild ideas and taking chances in design and decor, and we want to see yours! Share your own successes and failures on Instagram or Twitter using the #DesignRisks hashtag, and we’ll compile some of our favorites for a feature.

Categories: Home Design, Tricks of the trade