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.



I'm Tellin' Ya, We Get No Respect

Here is a question that has bugged me for decades: Why is mural work so undervalued? I mean, SERIOUSLY undervalued! If you take a look at RFQs for sculptural projects, the budgets run something like $175,000, or $600,000, or $980,000, while the budget for a mural might be something like, "We’ll have someone donate the paint"; or, "It’s a 15-foot-high by 200-foot-long wall, and we can offer $250 for the design, and $1,500 for the cost of the labor and paint. And you have to pressure-wash the wall."
I am not making this up.
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time paying my mortgage with in-kind donations. And it’s difficult to buy groceries when I design a mural for a wall with the promise of getting to paint it, if the owner’s wife likes the design. But then she suddenly decides that she can paint it herself, because she has a “flair for color.” And she wants to use my design! Which they got for free!!
To quote the late Rodney Dangerfield, I tell ya, we get no respect.
I got a call the week before Christmas from a guy that wanted a relatively small (3-by-5-foot) mural painted as a gift for his wife (first alarm bell going off), and he wanted it by Christmas (there’s the second bell). I started “qualifying him,” asking him what kind of detail he was looking for in this custom-designed, hand-painted work of art. Well, he was wanting to memorialize different occasions in their 10-year marriage, different places they had vacationed, different locations that had meant so much to them, maybe about eight to 10, a kind of collage. “No problem,” I said. “Let me ask you a question: What’s your budget? Have you thought about how much you might want to spend on this gift?” “Sure! Around $500.” (Final bell!)
So…this guy wants me to research, design and paint detailed portraits, which probably would take me a good two to three weeks of intense painting, because, of course, I would want to do a great job (because that’s ALL I do!), and probably build a custom frame and stretch the canvas. Hmmm…at eight hours a day, three weeks, that comes out to 120 hours. Which means that, WITHOUT the cost of supplies, overhead, travel, etc., that I would be making about $4.16 per hour.
Shock. I politely declined. Then drank a $5 beer.
The same thing applies to large RFQs. Why is it that even arts administrators undervalue muralists? It’s almost as if they don’t want us to be able to survive at doing what we love. We don’t display our work in museums, don’t have fancy openings at galleries, don’t have avant-garde followers—we just like to design and paint. Large.
So…what do we do?
Looking for answers? Send me a note, and we can continue the conversation.