Back when I worked for a commercial drywall contractor, we
sometimes created decorative effects by layering the drywall.
Usually this involved little more than a step at the perimeter
of the ceiling, a simple panel, or some other very basic shape.
I always wondered why no one tried carrying the concept
When I went out on my own, I got my chance: I started doing
what I call "drywall art," layering the material to create
"murals" on walls and ceilings. I don't do it on every job, of
course — but when a customer wants something out of the
ordinary, it's a unique option I can offer them.
Design and Layout
I begin the process by making a drawing of what the final mural
should look like. Once the design is complete, I screw a full
layer of drywall to the studs, same as I would on any wall. If
this were a painting, the first layer would be the canvas. In
this case, it's the base that the cutouts are fastened
To make the cutouts, I've found it easiest to put sheets of
drywall on the floor and draw the mural full-size (see Figure
Figure 1. The
mural can be geometrical, representational, or abstract. In
this photo, the author is finishing the layout for a whimsical
Multiple layers. Most of the photos in this article are
from a project I did in a basement. The thickest buildup is the
outer frame, which — not counting the base — is
five layers thick. The other raised areas vary in thickness
from four layers to just one. The buildups could be single
layers, or they could be more — it's just a question of
how much you want the profiles to stand out.
Cutting and Installation
After the mural is drawn, I put the sheet of drywall on
sawhorses and use a spiral saw with a drywall bit to cut out
the pieces (Figure 2). For areas with multiple layers, I cut
the first piece, then trace and cut some more. It's easiest to
cut all the pieces at one time. To keep from getting confused,
I number and stack the parts as they are cut.
A spiral saw with a drywall bit is the
best tool for cutting out irregular pieces.
Once all the pieces are cut, I fasten them to the wall, a
process akin to assembling a giant puzzle. I use a combination
of drywall screws and drywall adhesive to attach the pieces.
The only way to catch the studs is to use longer screws for
each successive layer of drywall (Figure 3).
Figure 3.The author applies drywall adhesive to
the back of a piece (top) before applying it to the wall
(middle). At first, the layers are only roughly aligned; once
all the pieces are up, the author trims and smooths edges with
a utility knife. He uses drywall screws to catch whatever
framing he can (bottom).
In places where there is more than one layer, the edges will
not be perfectly aligned at first. I fix this by using a razor
knife to carefully the trim the edges flush. A drywall rasp
would also work.
Normally, you would put J-bead or L-bead on the exposed edges
of drywall. But when pieces are stacked more than one layer
thick, that doesn't work. Arch beads don't bend enough to
follow tight curves or complicated shapes.
Therefore, on most of my drywall murals I skip the bead and
finish the edges by skimming them with a thin coat of
all-purpose joint compound. Since all I need to do is fill the
dimples and imperfections, I wipe most of the mud off with the
knife. Mud doesn't bond well to dust, so before applying it, I
use a shop vac to clean the edges.
Then I tape the seams, spot — or fill — the
screwheads, and finish any bead that did go on.
Bead. The straight outer-frame pieces on the basement mural
shown here did get bead — a vinyl bullnose. Before
stapling it to the wall with a hammer tacker, I sprayed the
back with 3M drywall vinyl bead adhesive. A paper-edged tape-on
bead would have worked, too. Metal bead, though, wouldn't have;
the bead didn't land over framing, so there was nothing to nail
Taping and Finishing
The next step is to finish taping the wall. Topping compound is
a little easier to sand than most all-purpose joint compounds,
so I use it for the last couple of coats. When the mud is dry,
I lightly sand the skimmed edges of the cutout pieces with a
sanding sponge (Figure 4). Then I vacuum them and use a fine
bead of latex caulk to fill the hairline cracks where the
layers hit the wall. Caulking this joint is very effective; I
have never had trouble with cracking.
Figure 4.Except for mudding the edges of the
cutouts, taping the mural is the same as for any wall (top).
Sanding is more difficult. Here, the author uses a sanding
sponge to smooth near an edge (bottom).
Color. The original plan for the basement mural was to use
different solid shades for each layer, going from white to gray
to black. After experimenting on the tree, however, I ended up
creating a more realistic look by varying the shading within
each piece (Figure 5).
Figure 5.On the job featured in this story, the
finished mural was painted shades of gray (top). A more subtle
effect can be achieved by painting the raised areas the same
color as the rest of the room (bottom left). On another job,
the author applies vinyl bead to an abstract pattern on the
ceiling (bottom right).
On other jobs, I've chosen to paint the raised sections of
drywall the same color as the rest of the room.Cory Merrymanis a drywall contractor in Morley,