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The Importance of Hand Painted Murals in a Technology-Filled World

No matter how advanced technology gets, people have a desire for physical, visceral art that exists away from their digital screens. Hand paints are the original advertisement, dating back to paintings by cavemen on walls and advertisements in ancient Egypt. In today’s technology-filled world, they are having a resurgence as a novel way to engage audiences who appreciate the time and care spent on their communities.

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Team of Overall Murals painters working on a mural for Nike.

“The entire process is the experience,” said Stash Maleski and Jeanna Penn, co-founders of ICU Art, “It also has this vintage cachet.” 

Hand-painted walls are a form of outdoor advertising that reach your audiences in the communities where they live and work. Not only do they engage the viewer through the completed artwork itself, but also as an experiential form of nontraditional advertising that immerses the viewer through the production process as the wall goes from being a blank space to a complete work of art.

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ICUArt Mural for Nike AF1 shoes. 

“Hand paints hold a really unique image in that the entire process of hand paints is the experience,” Jeanna of ICU Art said. “Our process is longer, you see it going through days and days as you walk past during your commute or on your way to take the kids to school or outside your window and you watch the steps happening as opposed to a digital billboard kind of just popping and flashing a new image at you every few seconds.”

ICU Art describes itself as a media and production company specializing in hand-painted murals and custom design. ICU Art services markets across the country with a national network of walls and highly skilled artists. They strive to deliver an exciting interactive experience that sets their media apart by impacting the viewer in a way they will never forget.

Two painters working for ICUArt  with a crowd gathering around. 

Although ICU Art is particularly strong in their home market of Los Angeles, they often focus their efforts on medium-sized cities and second-tier markets. Their national coverage allows them to micro-target based on client needs. ICU Art also prides itself on being an ethnically diverse company. Most of the artists they source started as graffiti artists and whenever possible ICU Art likes to use local artists from the local community. 

“This is beneficial because people interact with the artist,” Stash said. By focusing on street level, smaller and medium-sized walls rather than on the side of a high rise, people have the opportunity to engage with the art and the artist while the placement is being created. The audience understands that the artist is from the community and that affects how they feel about what they see.

Stash and Jeanna keep their artists informed of what the product and campaign are about so the artists can accurately express the work to curious passersby. 

“It almost becomes a street team,” Stash said. “We see the artist as an ambassador for the product.”

Painter for ICUArt selecting paints.

Producing a Traditional Format with Newer Technologies 

Though machines and technology are replacing human roles in many industries the same cannot be said of hand paints. 

“People love art,” said Angel Saemai, cofounder of Overall Murals, which is also founded by her husband Dmitry Pankov. 

Angel said that Overall Murals blends technological capabilities with traditional hand paint processes behind the scenes to strengthen the art. 

“Our artwork is done with Adobe and high-tech cameras that enhance the art when combined with a man-made and human quality.”

Close up of an Overall Murals painter. 

Overall Murals is an award-winning hand paint outdoor advertising company. They describe themselves as bringing to life large-scale murals that engage the public across the US. They are passionate about changing how the world sees art and outdoor advertising. Through their work and process they inspire and excite folks to look away from their phones and admire the detailed and colorful designs right in front of them. One of their catchy hashtags is #killthepixel.

At Overall Murals they combine older forms of technology with newer technologies and the human-made quality of hand paints. First, they receive a digital file from the client built to the scale and size of the mural wall and grid it with 4x4 boxes. They then take the gridded file and draw on it with Illustrator to add more details. In their shop, that drawing is projected in real size onto a metal wall with a roll of butcher paper rolled across it. They also use an Electro Pounce Machine from the 1960s to burn holes in the paper and delineate where the lines of the artwork should be. 

An Overall Murals painter using the Electropath.

“If we didn’t have electricity, it would take longer, but we could keep alive without printers,” Angel of Overall Murals said. Angel says about 50% of the production process is in the pre-production phase to prepare logistics and artwork before a paintbrush can hit the wall.

How Hand Paints Reach Your Community 

Hand paints are great in that they can exist almost anywhere, but there are some rules and regulations that must be followed depending on the market. Some areas may not allow text on hand paints or may not allow for commercial messaging at all. However, some areas, such as historic districts, may have limited outdoor inventory and only allow hand-painted signs. No matter the local regulations, the vendor still has to approve the creative. 

Hand paints can range from simple, to photo-realistic to abstract, tying into the flavor of the neighborhood they are targeting, and giving audiences a textural immersive experience.

“Advertisers know we can do this microtargeting and get a little closer to their target in ways people just can’t ignore,” Jeanna said.

People cannot ignore the draw of hand paints, which makes them a great option for advertisers looking to reach hyperlocal communities in a more visceral way than other traditional or digital forms of OOH. It’s not only the finished product itself but the actual act of creation that draws people away from their screens and encourages them to look up and around them. 

“When people see muralists out there painting, they really appreciate that. The more that our world becomes digital, the more people appreciate the natural touch of the human,” Stash said.

Hand paints add a layer of authenticity to outdoor campaigns. The stunning visual on a wall provides texture and color that fits in with that community’s culture. 

Simply put, “It’s real,” said Angel of Overall Murals.

Overall Murals' team painting a mural for a Tommy Hilfiger campaign.

The Future of Hand Paints: Continued Emphasis Towards Diversity and Inclusion

The partners we are proudly highlighting in this article are only two of many incredible, high-quality hand paint companies. However, these two are special in that they are both husband and wife teams, minority-owned and women-owned companies. They place an emphasis on supporting local communities through brands and using artists that resonate with those communities.

Jeanna said that as a woman and culturally diverse business owner that it can be challenging to have a voice however, it is undeniable that diversity only serves to make the industry stronger. 

“ICU Art has always been a diverse company by its nature, and I think we're seeing that grow in the OOH industry as a whole,” Jeanna said.

However, there is still more work to be done. Angel said there is still a severe underrepresentation of females in this trade for hand-painted advertising artists, or what they call “Walldogs”. 

“Like many other labor-intensive careers, it's been a male-dominated industry. As a woman-led business and someone who works with her husband, side-by-side, it's been our mission to hire more female painters to continue the tradition of hand paint… without the tradition of it being male,” Angel said. 

Angel believes that her role as a woman and culturally diverse business owner allows her to bring a different perspective to leadership and create a different kind of growth in the OOH world. 

“My goal is to expand upon the arts and evolve outside the limits of what is the status quo. I believe that feminine energy, as well as energy from being a minority, helps break up the tension between the testosterone white male-dominated decision makers,” Angel said.

Overall Murals' goal is to create a gender-balanced paint team, which is now over 35% female and counting- a 30% increase over the last three years. They are also proud to have an all-female-led real estate team who signs up all of the new inventory of walls they paint.

Ready to Get Started on Your Next Hand Paint Campaign?

At Billups, we pride ourselves on our strong partnerships with creative companies. Turn your next OOH campaign into a public art gallery that reaches your target audiences in the neighborhoods where they live, work and play. Contact us today to get started on your next hand paint campaign!