Mural - detail

Big fish in the study – a mural

I’ve been wanting to paint a mural at home for ages. It actually took a friend, who was over at the time, to casually remark on the empty study (that I was painting a nice shade of light mushroom at the time): “You know, you should paint a mural”.

The study had a dark blue feature wall (remember those?) that the owners before us had thought was a good idea to do. I knew it would take me at least 3 coats to get that wall looking the same colour as the others, so yes, paint a mural instead, why not?

Taking the dark blue as a lead, and some earlier drawings of subject matter I’ve always been fond of, I sketched up some oriental-style koi and water patterns first, before opening the paint.

The making…

Mural - first step

I set to work on the lighter blue circles first, then overlaid that with white spiral patterns.

Mural - second step


I knew I wanted a fairly loose diagrammatic treatment for the fish, so I looped in some abstract watery white areas for where the fish would be.

Mural - third step

The next step was to add the orange lozenge areas.

Mural - fourth step

Once that was dry, I drew in the final outlines of the fish using prussian blue acrylic paint thinned with medium.

Mural - final step

And boom! It didn’t take that long to do, not as long as I thought it would. You should try this yourself, it’s loads of fun and creates a grand statement for any room.

Painting the curiosity mural
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Office walls are for painting on

Some office workers take out their frustration by writing long vindictive emails, pinching stationery, or (famously) wrecking the joint. I painted a mural.

I should start with a warning: don’t try this at your office. Not every company has values like ‘Be the change you seek’, and has a culture that celebrates hacking your own job and your own workspace. But I work at Atlassian where that’s definitely the case.

We’ve recently moved into a new floor in the building, which boasts a large open design workshop area for various teams to move in and out of, hold creative design sessions, training sessions, and the like. It’s on its way to being a bright, visually interesting and inspiring place to be… but let’s just say it needed a bit of a nudge. So a fellow designer and I took to painting a mural on one of the walls.

I’ve always been inspired by other office murals, and I’ve seen the generative creative effects that original artwork like this can have on people. And as a designer, one of the characteristics I hold dear about the design mindset is to stay curious.

Stay curious

So I took this as my theme. I started by quickly sketching out a few concepts of objects, characters and so on that had been floating around in my head for a while, then transferred these as fairly loose light drawings onto the wall. I knew I wanted something fairly simple and striking, so I opted to render the mural in just black and hot pink. I mean, why not.

I painted in some main shapes and clouds first, just to demarcate the overall flow and areas that would be filled in.

Picture of the start of a mural, with black paint on a white wall

Making the first marks on the wall

While I was doing this, the other designer started filling in some objects like light bulbs, mushrooms, and some donuts. They go together like… light bulbs, mushrooms and donuts.

Photo of someone painting in the pink icing on a donut

Adding pink icing to a donut

Watch out for this mind - it's gonna blow

Watch out for this mind – it’s gonna blow

The octopus and blender came next, followed by the unicorn (of course), cats and then the floating ship. ‘Ship It’ is a 24-hour creative innovative free-for-all competition at Atlassian that happens every quarter, and is very robustly promoted for everyone to do when it rolls around. It’s such a huge part of the culture, so I thought I’d enshrine it in a floating ship. Well, it made sense at the time, OK?

The 'Ship It' ship, a donut and a unicorn

The ‘Ship It’ ship, a donut and a unicorn

Funny thing was, soon after it was done, it popped up in a photo in this BusinessInsider article about the new floor refit. How about that.

The final result

The final result

Try it out yourself

OK, I’ll end by taking away that warning. I’m going to say DO try this at your office. You should. You need to. The effect it has on everyone, both in the making and the final result, is just fantastic. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to be complex or arty or witty or whatever. AND, it doesn’t even have to be good! Just draw and paint something simple and honest and fun, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

And if you do try it, I’d love to see the results!

Ben Crothers-Changes

This is a piece I’m entering for the Atlassian Art Gala for Room to Read art auction event, titled Changes.

Room to Read is a great not-for-profit that promotes literacy and gender equality in education.  They work with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and reading among primary school children.

I wanted to use colour in this piece to evoke the playfulness of childhood, as well as a source of unconstrained energy. The Khmer lettering (kar phlasa btau r, trans. “Changes”) is part of the mental and emotional ‘conversation’ the viewer has with this work: for most people viewing this, they won’t understand the text, which gives a window into what it’s like not being able to read, to gain meaning, to share. But the beauty of the lettering, as well as the rings (evoking uncovered value) keeps that conversation positive.