Tips on a winning Wall Worthy mural

Are you looking to enter this year’s Resene Wall Worthy mural competition but aren’t sure where to start? Hawkes Bay artist Stan Mans and his wife Katherine designed and produced a winning 2022 mural design for their children’s school, and they have some tips to help you produce a winning design this year!

20/02/2023: Since this article was written, we note with sadness the devastation suffered by the Hawke’s Bay, including the community of Pakowhai. If you’d like to donate to the regions’ recovery efforts, please click here

Nestled in rural Hawkes Bay, small Pakowhai School is rich with history and culture. The current settlement is based on an old Māori pa site and is now surrounded by wineries, orchards and farmland. The school, which celebrated its centenary during the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, is currently undergoing extensive renovations and upgrades to ensure it stays a school of the future.

Last year, Pakowhai School were one of ten winners in the Resene Wall Worthy Competition, which offers the opportunity for schools, youth groups and ECE’s to design a mural celebrating an environmental theme. Being parents to two children at the school, Stan and Katherine first helped conceptualize the mural design,  build excitement for the project within the school, and then bring the design to life by painting the final mural for the school to take pride in.

Have an end goal in mind

As a professional artist, Stan says it’s good to have an end goal in mind, and it’s not just about what the mural will look like. There’s usually a whole story to be uncovered, researched and designed.

With the school’s blessing, Katherine helped formulate the initial designs for the mural. The school decided to place the mural on a wall in the centre of the courtyard, formerly a handball court, that’s visible as the first and last thing students pass every day.

When Katherine was struck down with Covid-19, she had plenty of time to invest in researching the area and come up with design concepts. Through her research Katherine found a lot of local history that could be incorporated, including how local Māori Chief Puhara welcomed and protected Pakeha settlers to the area in 1851. To incorporate an environmental theme she also paid homage to bees, the pollinators that help the region’s many orchards and wineries thrive and a topic which also provides a great teaching opportunity for students.

 “I thought about how awesome it would be for the kids to know more about their school, and have them learning something about the environment and their own history from the project,” says Katherine.

Make it a project

Teachers at the school had students finding out about what types of flowers bees are attracted to, tying their research to their local environment of orchards and learning about the crucial part bee pollination plays in a thriving ecosystem. From this, the students created sketches which were sent to Katherine and Stan to incorporate into the mural.

“Getting the students to put in the mahi helped give the kids buy-in as well”, says Katherine. “It made them feel like they were a major part of the competition. We didn’t want to be doing the whole project on their behalf.”

Get everyone involved

In 2022 finalists for the Resene Wall Worthy Competition were decided by public voting, but with a roll of just 28 students Pakowhai School knew they all needed to get the whole community involved to beat larger competing schools. They spread the word far and wide, with students and parents encouraging their friends to vote and drawing in more of the community as they went. For 2023, voting will account for 25% of the judging score, but getting the community involved remains key.

Stan says he was just an instrument in painting the mural, and that the process is really the important part. “The input from the headmaster, the teachers and the children really helped build excitement,” he says. “Building that excitement with the kids, with the teachers, floating the ideas and showing design concepts, getting the kids to gather ideas and sketches, and then for them to have an expectation the mural is going to come to fruition – all of that really helps everyone buy in. I really enjoyed all that!”

Sketches the children made were worked into the mural design, helping the kids get a real sense of ownership and helping create excitement as unveiling day approached. To keep the suspense, Stan even painted a stylised snail on the wall with the words ‘watch this space!’ – the children came into school after the weekend buzzing with excitement knowing that the project they’d contributed to was underway, and eager to see what was coming!

The mural was painted on panels which were then affixed to the wall for unveiling. This helped take weather out of the equation while also futureproofing the mural – as renovations at the school progress, the mural can be relocated easily.

Put your ideas out to your community

Stan and Katherine had a personal connection to Pakowhai School, and as Stan is a professional artist he was happy to take the ideas of students and make them a reality. That said, most Resene Wall Worthy murals are created by students with the help and support of teachers and parents. Katherine suggests you start the process by putting it out to your school community,  to help build excitement, and get both students and parents engaged in making it a reality. Plus, “the likelihood of someone in the wider school community being an artist is pretty high”, she says, meaning someone close to your school will be able to provide artistic direction if needed.

If your school wants to get a professional to complete the final mural, many good muralists freely advertise their services on social media, so have a look for those in your area who have a style you like.  Some local councils also have registers of artists who have helped to beautify the local area, and who may be able to assist with bringing your mural come to life.

And Katherine mentions that, even if you think you don’t have the time, make a submission for the Resene Wall Worthy Competition anyway. Even though the pair came across the competition at the last minute, their efforts helped Pakowhai School become a finalist, and go on to win one of the ten prizes.

Enjoy the journey and keep learning

The Pakowhai School mural is named ‘We’re more than just apples’ and pays homage to the local environment and rich history, with native birdlife, silhouettes of children, a stylised Pa site and, yes, the apples themselves appearing in the mural.

The details are important, especially to the students. “It’s a bit like a seek and find,” says Katherine. The first day that children were back to school after the mural was installed, the teachers noticed that the kids drank in the details and pointed out small details to each other. “They just stood and looked and looked and looked,” laughs Katherine, “it was delightful.”

Finally, Stan mentions that the Resene Wall Worthy prize shouldn’t be the goal, but rather the journey. “Even if we weren’t going to be a winner, the whole process turned out to be extremely valuable,” he says. By getting the school involved not just in the design but also the learning, research and history of the project, everyone was a winner before paint even touched the wall.

“From my experiences, I’d do it [the Resene Wall Worthy Competition] any day,” says Stan, “mainly because the kids really enjoyed it, it’s part of their school’s history as well as the area around them, and has a deep nature aspect as well.”  

“You can talk to the kids and they’ll say they loved the process, and are proud to have contributed to the end result.”

Stan and Katherine’s top tips

  • – This year, we’re after murals that celebrate your local environment. Do some research to uncover the beauty on your doorstep!
  • – It’s a great opportunity for learning, so use elements of the mural – such as Pakowhai’s bees – and get your students researching and contributing!
  • – Get everyone involved and invested: students, teachers, parents and the wider community alike. You’ll find a lot of support and love out there.
  • – If you’re not sure where you want your mural to be permanently, consider painting it on plywood panels that can be relocated easily.
  • – The mural itself is just the end result of a lot of fun research and learning
  • – Even if you’re up against the clock, make a submission – you never know if your school will become a finalist!
  • – Have fun 😊

Get involved in this year’s Resene Wall Worthy Competition! Click here to get started.

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