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
DIY abstract mural jennifer mchugh san diego

Artist Jennifer McHugh’s finished DIY abstract mural in her family’s dining room.

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 feature. We’re showcasing two amazingly daring projects. First was Ashley Goldman’s paint-by-numbers tree mural based on a 17th century etching, and next: This fine artist trusted the creativity of youth to make a DIY abstract mural.

Just go for it; we dare you! 

It’s All About the Process with This Abstract Wall Painting

Artist Jennifer McHugh took a hands-off approach when she decided to give a group of teens (including hers) creative license to paint a multihued abstract feature wall in her dining room.

DIY abstract mural artist Jennifer McHugh

Jennifer loves what the kids created.

“I had blank walls for years,” she says. “I couldn’t make up my mind about what to put there—gallery wall, large art, a tapestry or a mural.” But one weekend, when her kids had friends over, she planted the seed. “I said, ‘Do you guys want to paint the dining room?’ They were all so excited that I was letting them do this.”

The whole process of painting this communal abstract art wall took about four hours (including the trip to The Home Depot for paint and stopping intermittently to snack). Jennifer made some minor adjustments after the group was done—like touching up along the ceiling and baseboards since they started even before she could tape—but the final product is really their work.

“If doing a wall in a main living space is too much of a commitment, try the abstract technique in a kids’ room, guest quarters or home office,” she suggests. “And consider letting kids do it. We [adults] tend to overthink design choices; kids don’t. And I promise your kids (at any age) will love the process and remember it forever.”

Pick a palette.

While Jennifer let the teenagers make the final color-combo selection, she offered some suggestions and guidance. Using Pinterest, she narrowed palettes (mostly from down to a few choices and let the group decide on the five-color selection that now make up the giant abstract wall behind her dining table. Jennifer bought the ochre, blush, teal, gray and creamy white paints (in sample sizes; you don’t need much) in an eggshell finish to make the piece washable without lots of shine. 

Prep the wall.

Tape the wall at the ceiling, edges and baseboards—a vital step that Jennifer skipped to let the eager teens start.

Go big.

Jennifer encouraged the teens, armed with two-inch-wide brushes, to paint a few large sections and to step back often to assess so they’d avoid a mottled look. Plus, she says, painting large, without a definite plan is great art therapy.

Each teen finds a spot on artist Jennifer McHugh’s dining room wall and a color. Photo by Jennifer McHugh.

Create contrast.

Though each person started with one color, Jennifer reminded them to incorporate lighter tones in darker sections and vice versa.

DIY abstract mural kids jennifer mchugh artist san diego contrast colors

Quinn hard at work on a DIY abstract mural. Photo by Jennifer McHugh.

Blend colors.

Here’s where you want to exercise some restraint. While melding the various paints delineates lines and creates a cohesively abstract wall, too much combining will turn the wall brown.

Touch up.

Look at the wall from a distance. Stare at it briefly throughout the day, and touch up, blend more, add contrast and make other necessary tweaks to the composition.

DIY abstract mural kid art artist jennifer mchugh san diego dining room decor

Jennifer dips her own paintbrush in here and there, but the final work is all theirs. Photo courtesy of Jennifer McHugh.

DIY abstract muralMore DIY Tricks: Paint Your Own Dramatic DIY Tree Mural

A 17th century etching becomes a “paint-by-number” style mural using a projector in this project by Ashley Goldman of The Gold Hive. Learn how to make 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, How-To Guides, Tricks of the trade