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The Secrets to a Magical Digital Mural

Learn how Dave Arcade creates his masterful digital murals:

The first time you look at one of my pieces, it might be a little tough to take in every single moment. My pieces are complex and they take a lot of time. My process is somewhat tedious and it has to be in order to achieve the desired result. Here are a few things I’ve learned through trial and error, missed deadlines and pain, and (literal) suffering so you don’t have to endure the same trials and actually enjoy the process.

Know your brand, product, service, or IP
This is maybe the easiest part of my process. I talk to the client and ask them what their (reference the header of this section) is about. For example, during this phase in the process for the Big Cartel mural, the client and I talked about the service they provide. In this case, it was “easy online stores for makers”. This meant I’d be drawing a lot of things to do with prints, enamel pins, hats, t-shirts, short films, bands, and albums, etc. Knowing the playing field before you play is key.

References are your friend
I don’t like sketching so references are key for me. Well, let me clarify. I look as sketching as a necessary part of the process but I don’t sketch for fun. That’s not to say I ditch the sketching phase. I deliver full, fleshed out sketches to the client on every project. However since my pieces are so detail-oriented, I’ll often pull references as examples of the exact detail I intend to include or speak to those details in a way the client cannot misunderstand. You don’t have to draw out every single part of a piece for the client to get a solid idea of what you want to create and this has probably saved me a good amount of time throughout the years.

Perspective grids
Perspective grids are the easiest way for me to visualize a project and know where I’m going next. Once I’ve established a grid (this is in and of itself a process of feeling out what type of space I intend to create) I picture boxes within the space (or even quickly sketch them into the grid in varying shapes and sizes) and then it’s a bit like sculpting — I flesh out the form and begin developing ideas. Simple as that.

Vector Magic (a.k.a. the greatest software ever)
I draw everything in Photoshop first. I prefer raster-based sketching applications because they capture the nuance of my stroke rather than leaving the guesswork to a vector algorithm. That said, I need to get my line work into vector format for the next step in my process, and there’s no better image tracing software on Earth than Vector Magic. In fact, I love Vector Magic so much that I keep a second, old computer around so I can continue to use it. Illustrator’s Image Trace™ is ok (and I say that generously), but inferior to the horsepower under the hood of Vector Magic. If you have a computer with an operating system old enough to run this program, you absolutely have to get it, and if you don’t, then I’m really sorry. Lol.

Adobe’s Live Paint
Once I’ve vectorized a piece it’s a bit like a digital coloring book. However, with hundreds and hundreds of little areas to color I can’t be fooling around with a drag-and-drop solution (I’m looking at you, Procreate). I need a quick-click-and-fill solution and there’s nothing better than Adobe’s Live Paint™ tool. All you have to do is tap to fill an area with color. I can do this over and over again, unlike Photoshop that stacks your fills and produces pixel bleed underneath the stroke. This allows me to color a piece up to 5 times very quickly to nail the color palette I’m looking for.
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