From sun-drenched Tuscan hillsides to playful penguins swimming alongside colorful fish, Los Altos muralist Morgan Bricca has been transforming blank walls into works of art in private homes throughout the Bay Area for nearly two decades.
Murals are a great way to create a particular mood and fill an otherwise blank space without having to reconfigure your walls, said Bricca, who has created more than 350 one-of-a-kind murals in the halls, basements, bedrooms, bathrooms and ceilings of local residences.
"There's a vibrancy in a (real work of art) that you just do not get in a printout," Bricca said. "The other thing is you can customize a mural and make it unique to fit that space."
About half of her commissioned work is for residential clients, the other is for commercial spaces like restaurants, tech companies and schools. Her work can be seen on walls at the Los Altos Community Center, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, Oak and Springer schools in Los Altos and Palo Alto's California Avenue tunnel, where she restored the original "Year of the Ocean" mural in 2017.
Bricca said landscapes, beaches and other scenes that brighten or expand the confines of a room are popular.
"A lot of people hire me (to create) peaceful things," she said.
Once, a client who had recently downsized from her large home told Bricca that she missed her old backyard, which held fond family memories. Working from photographs of the woman's backyard, Bricca painted a scene that incorporated the swimming pool — complete with cavorting grandchildren.
Bricca believes people have become more aware of their wall space since having to Zoom from home during the pandemic. In her own home, Bricca said she painted an agate rock mural on a blank wall in her son's former bedroom, which got plenty of use as an "escape room" from the monotony and clutter of her other well-worn personal spaces," according to a blog on her website Morgan Mural Studios.
Bricca said a typical mural project takes about three days to complete, depending on the size and detail of the piece. Full-wall murals are priced per square foot, and smaller murals start at $7,500.
Coming up with ideas for murals is no challenge for Bricca. The most important factor, she said, is being able to connect with clients so that she understands how they want the space to feel, and they understand how she is going to accomplish that.
She usually asks clients if there is a favorite vacation spot or a honeymoon locale that they would enjoy looking at. She looks around their home and sees what they cherish and what colors they like.
"We have conversations about what makes them feel good. Then we talk about the images — what kind of colors and style and imagery. I have the same conversations when I work with kids. ... Their answer is going to tell me a lot," she said.
Bricca said whether she is recreating a scene from a photograph or replicating a masterpiece, her process is the same: "There's no right or wrong," she explained. "It's paint, so you can always add more. ... There's no risk. I sketch with paint, and then I keep building it up."
Bricca said she recently created her own version of Michelangelo's fresco "The Creation of Adam" on the ceiling of client's home. Her version includes an image of the homeowner's recently deceased brother embedded in the clouds.
"I did restructure it," Bricca said. "I resized Adam, and I put God differently and ... added my own angels and clouds."
Bricca said she began painting murals on a whim, starting with her own wall about two decades ago with no formal art training.
"It was the ugliest part of my house," said Bricca, who transformed the blank space of the wall in her San Diego condominium with a memory of a scene from Spain.
"It was ambitious, and it wasn't completely successful, but it was fun," she said. "I loved losing myself in the creative process of the labor."
Soon after, she had her first paying client — her sister, followed by a second, the friend of a co-worker, and then her career snowballed.
Tips to transform your walls
Not sure what to do with that bare wall? Midpeninsula muralist Morgan Bricca shared some DIY recommendations on how to transform boring interior wall space into a focal point without hiring a professional artist.
Add lighted accent walls
One of the easiest ways to change the mood of a room is to add an accent wall, Bricca said. Paint one wall differently than the other walls in a room, and boost the art factor with fairy lights and push pins.
"Creating a word or a modern design that lights up at night can do wonders for a room," she said.
To shift the focus of room, Bricca recommends trying an ombre fade, a two-tone wall that fades from light to dark. She suggests keeping the upper half a lighter shade, and the lower half a darker shade. If you want to get more creative, she suggests using paint drips to give the wall a distressed look. (This can be achieved by adding water to the paint and using a dry brush to transition the two color tones.) If you don't want drips, try subtle decoupage elements like gold stars, glitter or pencil sketches. This will give the wall "a modern art" look, she said.
Create a wall collage
Bricca suggests creating an "art wall" with a collage of photos, sayings and other imagery. In her own home, Bricca created an art wall by decoupaging photos from magazines, drawings and photos and layering them with ferns and painted words, she said.
Try painting your own mural
Even those who don't think they have artistic ability can easily create a mural by using geometric designs or plain paint with handwritten phrases.
"In my studio, I painted the wall a coral color and then wrote a quote in gold paint," she said. "The imperfection of a hand-painted quote is lovely. ... I'm a fan of the handmade look and feel in general."
Cover blank space with a painting
For those looking to brighten up their space without modifying an entire wall, try placing a large painting on the wall. This can be particularly effective as a backdrop behind your desk when you video conference, she said.