As more and more murals crop up on silos throughout the countryside and on towering city walls, it’s hard not to crane your neck upwards and wonder how the artists do it.
Painting something in the right proportions on a canvas is hard enough, but doing the same thing on a very large scale is extremely difficult — even for the best in the business.
Beyond a paintbrush and gallons of paint, the artists who tackle these towering objects must be equipped with a stomach for heights, some functional maths to calculate scale and proportion, and a few tradie’s tools.
But life on the scaffolding has been made somewhat easier by the Rone Overlay Method, a technique developed by one Australian artist who has reached lofty heights.
How do you paint so big?
Melbourne artist Rone (full name: Tyrone Wright) gets asked this question so often, he felt compelled to make a 10-minute YouTube tutorial about it.
In his tutorial, Rone gives away the secrets to one of his most useful tools.
He explains his unconventional overlay method — or “squiggly grid” — a haphazard grid method that he came up with under pressure in 2016, but is now used by artists adorning huge walls across the globe.
At the end of the video, Rone explains his decision to share, rather than guard, his artistic techniques.
“Rather than keeping this method secret, I think it’s better shared to help others,” he says.
Spirit of sharing helps artists to new heights
Rone’s generosity has helped many artists faced with their first big wall, such as Warrnambool’s Jimmi Buscombe, who is currently painting a silo in Avoca.
“I had so much support and advice from other mural artists who have been sharing their knowledge and techniques, and Rone’s technique too,” Buscombe says.
He says the key to maintaining proportions in a mural is to use a grid, so that the regular-sized image can be scaled up to monumental proportions.
“For the water towers and silos — because they’re circular — you really do just have to use the old-school grid system,” says Buscombe.
“That’s where you have your reference image with a square grid over it, you work out how big your squares need to be on your working surface and you literally just transfer on to the silo.
“So it’s all line work at that point … just tweaking back and forwards until you get the proportions right. Then it’s really a colouring-in competition after that.”
But there’s a catch: painting a grid at a large scale is incredibly difficult. After all, there’s no ruler big enough to paint a straight 20-metre-long line high above the ground.
He uses a plumb line, which is a string with a weight on it, to create straight vertical lines.
“I’ve got a builder’s plumb line that has chalk on it so you can hold it tight and snap it back and it will leave a line, then I measure across and do another one, and another one, ” Buscombe says.
Enter, the Rone method
Artist Jimmi Buscombe thinks of Rone’s overlay method as “the squiggly grid”.
It’s a technique that may appear confusing and chaotic, but can save a savvy artist hours or even days preparing their grid.
“It’s the same concept as a grid, but your mark-making anchor points on the surface are random marks — they might be an asterisk, the number three, squiggles, any mark you like,” Buscombe says.
He then takes a photo of the surface, and using a device, superimposes his artwork on to it.
“So it maps out where the design needs to go. It looks very chaotic. But it’s really fast,” Buscombe says.
‘I’m screwed!’: The moment of inspiration
Like many moments of invention throughout the ages, Rone devised his groundbreaking “overlay method” for large-scale murals during a moment of crisis.
“I was in Hawaii at one of these mural festivals. I was given a wall to paint and I thought ‘great!'” he says.
“So even at night, I couldn’t project, because of the streetlight,” he says. “So I thought OK, how else can I do this?”
Rone knew he could use a grid, but he wasn’t able to draw one on this particular wall.
“The whole wall was on a slant and there was protruding parts of the wall, like a staircase that came out right in the centre, so I couldn’t even get a string line across the wall to work out a grid,” he says.
“There were just no good reference points at either end of the wall to even get a level.”
The stakes were high and Rone had literally hit a brick wall.
“I had three days to produce this thing, and I was surrounded by my peers,” he says. “I wasn’t sleeping.”
With the pressure piling up, Rone realised he had to work with the existing particularities of the wall — the cracks, stains and even the staircase.
So he decided to measure the wall and draw it to scale perfectly, draw the wall, then put his artwork on top of it, using the the stairs as a reference point.
“The wall had a lot of natural reference points, which I ended up using.”
Later, after the stress had died down, Rone realised he could have just taken a photograph of the wall and overlaid his image onto it.
Since then, he has been using the natural marks of each wall he finds as a “squiggly grid”, and adding his own chaotic squiggles and symbols when he needs more reference points.
From dark alleys to acclaim
Rone began his street art as a young man in the 2000s, skating and stencilling around Melbourne.
He learnt how to run fast while painting illegal murals in dark alleys.
Things have changed a bit for the artist since then, who has travelled the world on the back of his creativity.
“I’ve painted in more countries than I ever thought I’d travel to,” he says.
His haunting images of beautiful young women gaze from great heights and from crumbling walls in cities throughout the world, from a 12-storey building in Sweden to towering silos in his home town of Geelong.
But it was Empire that really captured the collective imagination — an exquisite, multi-sensory installation that took over a derelict mansion in the Dandenongs.
And things are still ramping up.
In January this year, Rone was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund to create another immersive experience — this time in a deserted space in Collingwood, in inner-city Melbourne.
A month later, his solo show, Rone in Geelong, opened at the Geelong Gallery. It runs until May 16.