Wall Wraps and Murals

Building Impressions

Scott Franko is a solutions provider for business, brand and image through his firm, Franko Design Concepts and Consulting. He formerly owned and operated a multi-division sign, graphics and custom fabrication business. You can locate and contact him online at www.FrankoDesign.com

The “wall wrap” is a fairly new term that has not yet made its way to being recognized in the broader realms outside of signage, graphics, media and display. Although obscure to the intelligence of Webster and Dictionary.com, you can conduct a Google search on wall wraps and find thousands of examples of them on the web. Some of the most interesting and unique I know of, however, are not far from my own front door. These wrapped wall graphics and murals are integrated eloquently into the communities that we serve and have become highly prominent features that are building impressions.

Anybody can now wrap a wall with graphics just like the sides of a bus or the exterior of a vehicle. Walls become works of art and billboards with eye-popping visuals through the same equipment and output that are used in producing signage and displays. But even in these times of the modern-day mural, there is plenty of room for the historically traditional way of transforming a wall into an advertisement or place of artistic expression. 

What constitutes a mural anyway? With advances in graphic design, print output and application methods, that question has become more debatable. The simple definition of a mural limits them as being a painting or work of art directly put onto the surface of a wall. We see remnants and refurbishments of past murals all over the country as evidence of their previous value and dominance in advertising. They portray a time of a commercially growing America and an era of the highly skilled artist who conducted their craft on walls by hand.

You can experience the nostalgic charm of the antique looking hand-painted mural if you happen to travel through places like the city of Nappanee and Elkhart County, both located in north-central rural Indiana in a region known as “Michiana.” This area beautifully intertwines a thriving commercial business community with farming and the Amish way of life to make it a unique and popular tourist destination. 

One of the reasons for the popularity directly involves wall murals, both the traditional and modern-made kind. Our company’s print graphics division, The Sign Store, knows most of these murals well. We have either made them or installed them using our large-format printing and vinyl applications or we know the man who’s been painting many of them for over 20 years by hand, Jeff Stilson. One of Stilson’s murals happens to be just outside my Franko Design studio office located on the interior wall of the former YWCA building. The mural depicts an image of a woman with the YWCA letters. 

Stilson is an artist, designer and muralist working from his business, Stilson Studios. His quaint office and production shop is tucked inside a popular tourist destination called Amish Acres located in Nappanee. The city’s slogan is Embrace the Pace that adequately reflects the country setting and culture. 

Stilson has produced dozens of hand-painted murals in the past two decades including one oversees when the Elkhart County Commissioners sent him to their “Sister City” in Jinhua, China. 

Photos of quilt pattern murals as part of the annual Quilt Gardens and Murals tour along the Heritage Trail through Elkhart County in Indiana. 

Both Nappanee and Elkhart County have commissioned Stilson several times over the years to create, preserve or refurbish murals. These murals reflect the culture and mission of being artistic, historical and economically vibrant with much of its business based on tourism. 

Throughout Nappanee are 13 exterior murals and numerous murals on inside walls that Stilson hand-painted directly onto the wall or on boards that were then installed onto the surfaces of those walls. He uses exterior latex paints with a primer base as his preferred method of creating his murals. To get his designs onto the wood boards he uses as a mural substrate or onto the wall he paints directly onto, he first designs on the computer then projects the image onto the surface for tracing. 

His first mural called “The Cow Shed” was created for an exterior wall of a barn. That got Stilson started with mural painting and from there he has become an expert at the trade. Other murals throughout the city include new ones generated for businesses like at the butcher shop and hardware store while also refurbishing some of the established older ones once made for companies like Pillsbury and Selz Shoes. He has also painted murals inside the library and other office buildings. The city recently enhanced some of their downtown alleys by placing murals created by Stilson on the walls. 

“Many of the murals advertise, but they also convey history,” Stilson told me as he pointed to some of the murals that are displaying advertisements of what used to be in that building but is no longer there. “Even though they are technically signs, they are now more like commemorative pieces of art within the community.”

Nappanee Chamber of Commerce Director Jeff Kitson proudly echoed similar sentiments concerning Stilson and the murals he has produced in their city. 

“They have become an important part of our tourism business,” Kitson says. “They are an attraction. They are part of the historical aspect of our city. They are artistic and complimentary of our large annual arts and crafts festival. These murals top off the experience of visiting our community.”

Stilson’s work is not confined to his hometown of Nappanee. The Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau tapped into Stilson and his style of hand-painted murals in 2008 when they launched their Quilt Gardens Along the Heritage Trail tour, an annual event showcasing quilt patterned gardens in combination with quilt art murals. There were 10 murals featured that first year. This year there are 21. 

The average mural is more than 130 square feet, with the largest being close to 450. Each one mimics the pattern of a quilt theme. They are painted on boards by Stilson prior to our company installing them. These murals are on display along with the gardens from May through October. Jackie Hughes, Public Relations Manager with the Visitor’s Bureau, noted that the event has been honored as an ABA (American Bus Association) Top 100 Event in North America for six consecutive years. 

“The murals augment the destination’s renowned quilting heritage, and each one is unique with its own interesting story,” Hughes says. “Murals bring an additional element of quilt art and visual appeal to this annual tour and for those quilt enthusiasts who visit.”

Last year, Stilson worked with a team of art students from high schools around the region who came together under his direction to refresh all of the quilt murals with fresh coats of paint.

On the other side of the mural production spectrum within the same surrounding communities is our print shop that also works with wall graphics and wall wraps using our digital print equipment and vinyl application expertise. 

One recent example of our wall wrapping to create murals is inside the vibrant Granger Community Church. Dustin Null is the General Manager of The Sign Store. I asked Null for the specifics on how he and his crew generated and applied the wall graphics. 

“We chose a material called Photo Tex,” explained Null. “It is a repositionable adhesive backed fabric that feels like wallpaper. It can be removed without damage to the wall and it will not tear or stretch easily. 

The Connecticut Science Center chose Perception’s PhotoFab Ultra product for an elevator door mural application because of its life-sized precision-cut wall graphic clarity. (Image courtesy of Worthen Industries)

In regards to the installation, “We made sure the walls were clean by wiping them down using isopropleyne alcohol,” Null says. “Starting with the top edge of the first panel we tacked it to the wall and worked our way from top to bottom. Each panel was set with a half of an inch overlap and applied the same way.”

“The most difficult portion of the wall wrap was around a window that had to be cut around (and also our deadline). We also had to cut around a series of steps.” 

The job also entailed a portion of wall to become a dry-erase board. The Sign Store accomplished that by using R-Tape’s EZ Erase material. 

When producing these wall wraps, we worked with Melanie Rosander, Director of Granger Commons for Granger Community Church. She explains the reason, meaning and importance of the murals. 

“For the Granger Community Church and Granger Commons, environment matters,” Rosander says. “We believe it supports and helps people clearly understand the message we want to convey. Recently when we had the opportunity to update two of our kids’ ministry classrooms, we chose large wall graphics to create that environment. The space was to reflect nature, so we chose images that would captivate the imagination of those in the room to consider the majesty and awe of God’s creation. Both turned out beautifully. The key was high-quality images, production and installation. Whether large scale or small, quality matters if you want to inspire.”

The GCC wall wraps, as well as the ones on our own shop walls, are what I call a “Building Impression.” That is what a mural is supposed to do. From hand-painted direct to a wall surface to attaching the artwork or wrapping the wall with printed graphics, a mural is still a unique and viable way to bring a wall to life, to express a message and to provide a positive visual experience.