With Mike & Mickie Cooper

 Editor's Note: Mike & Mickie Cooper own Murals & More LLC in Franklin, Tenn., 20 minutes south of Nashville. Mike has been painting murals professionally for more than 25 years, with hundreds of exterior and interior murals under his belt. Both Mike and his wife, Mickie, have been teaching mural classes all over the country as well as in their studio in Franklin. They make a unique team in that they are right- and left-brained. (We will let you figure out which one is which.) In this column for Focus on Faux, they are providing lively commentary and also hope to dispel any myths about the illustrious world of mural painting. Mike and Mickie invite you to send questions about the industry and try your best to stump them! Send your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and put "Fresh Perspective" in the subject line.


Fair Compensation

How much work should I do before I actually get compensated?

Money, money, money, monnneeey…

Yeah, kinda makes the world go ’round. A necessary evil. People ask if I enjoy doing what I do for a living. And I respond, “Of course! In fact, if I were independently wealthy, I would do it for free!” And to be honest, I probably would. Painting murals is a blast. But, alas, I am not independently wealthy. Why? Because I paint murals for a living. See the conundrum?

One thing that fellow artists forget, and something that they fail to teach you in art school, is that painting murals is a business. Here, let me put this in caps for you: PAINTING MURALS IS A BUSINESS. Yes, it’s fun, you’re an artist, you get to do artsy things, hang out with artsy people and wear truly weird clothes. But in the end, you still have to pay the bills. Which means you have to charge for your services. And collect. You need to actually get paid.

So when does the “paying” part actually start?

I’ve talked with all kinds of muralists and have found that, for the most part, they all charge for the actual painting of the mural, to varying degrees. But very few charge for the design of the mural!

So, let’s say you get a call from a potential client, and they want a mural painted on a pretty good-sized wall. Plenty of visibility. Great location. And you would love to do it for them. LOVE. So the client asks, “What are your thoughts? What do you think should go on the wall?” Well, you spout off a few ideas and a few suggestions, and inevitably the client says, “Why don’t you throw together a few sketches for me? Let’s see what you’re talking about.” So, what do you do? Usually, you take measurements, maybe a few photos, go back to your studio, and you spend hours coming up with ideas, putting them down on paper, and running back to the client to show them. “That’s pretty close to what I was looking for, but can you make a few changes?” So, back to the studio, eraser in hands, changes made, hours spent, then back to the client. “Yeah, looks pretty good. How much?” “Well, I’m thinking $3,500.”

“$3,500??!! My cousin Vinnie said he could do it for $500 and a couple of pizzas! Thanks for the design, and thanks for your time, but I’m going to call him to paint it.” So, you tuck your Sharpie between your legs and head back to your empty refrigerator.

In your parent’s basement.

See what happened? The client has absolutely no incentive to use you for the project. What is he out? Nothing? Yet you are out a boatload of hours with nothing to show for it.

Lesson learned: Never, never do design work without an upfront free. Get a check before you do anything creative. Charge whatever you feel your time is worth, but be sure to make it worth your time, based on the personality of the client, the potential size of the project, and how much time you think it will take to do the actual design. It could be $500, it could be $5,000. It could be more. You want your time covered, and to be honest, you also want it to hurt just a bit if the client decides to walk away. Incentive. And if the client decides he or she doesn’t want to do the project, you’re still paid for your time and you still maintain possession of the copyrighted design. The client can’t use it without your permission. Paid permission. The client paid for you to design the mural, not for the design itself. Vinnie is out of luck.

A way that I have found to work best is to design the mural for a specific fee and then apply the design fee to the cost of the mural, if and when the client decides to proceed. If, for whatever reason, the client decides not to have the mural painted, then you are at least covered for your time. Again, this is a BUSINESS.

Remember, the old adage about not having to buy the cow if you’re getting the milk for free? Moo, baby.