Monday, September 26, 2016

Tips and Tricks for Painting a Map on Pavement

This weekend I had the opportunity to work with a group of volunteers in painting a large map on the paved portion of the playground behind the local elementary school.  I struggled to find helpful resources online for such an endeavor and so I’m writing this to help communities that want to do a similar project. 

Below you will find my ideal timeline for planning and executing my project.  I ran into a little kink the day of my project because you have to prep your painting area (which takes one person with a leaf blower). It also only takes a few people to place the template and mark it with spray paint.  If you don’t want to have eleven people watching one person use the leaf blower, designate someone to do that ahead of time, have a handful of people place and mark the template and then schedule the rest of your painters to come.

Pro Tip: Schedule people to come when you need them so fewer people are standing around with nothing to do.

Sample schedule for the morning of the painting project:
8:00 am:               Two people unload and organize supplies and leaf blow painting area
8:30 am:               Two additional people come help layout template and mark it with spray paint
9:00 am:               Additional painters arrive to paint the map.

Pro Tips for using a map template:
  1. Take off your shoes before walking on the template.
  2. Unroll one strip at a time and tape it down as you go.  The slightest breeze will blow the template and possibly mangle it!
  3. Hold down the edges with orange traffic cones
  4. Consider how you want to place Hawaii and Alaska before you start marking with spray paint
  5. Use contrasting color marking spray paint to mark the template onto the pavement (orange or a neon color work best)

The next kink was that the pavement we were painting on is not new.  Even thought I had in my head that we were painting on black top, it is not black…it’s light gray with white flecks.  So the white marking paint I’d purchased didn’t show up.  We were able have a couple people from the neighborhood run to their garages and find a variety of spray paint to try, and we found some that worked.  But this delayed the project a bit. 

Pro Tip: be hospitable.  Bring bottled water or coffee and donuts, if you run into a kink and someone has to run to the hardware store you can keep your painting crew from turning into an angry mob by offering baked goods.  Thankfully our principal covered the hospitality part of our project for us!

I split my workers into pairs and small groups.  Each group was assigned a color.  Several copies of a color map on clipboards were distributed for people to refer to in order to decipher the template borders that were more complex. 

Pro Tip: Have one person who isn’t painting who can walk around checking borders as painters are working.  It is sometimes hard to see mistakes when you are up close to the map you are painting. 

Having someone stand back to see the big picture can help.  Choose someone who can kindly point out where adjustments need to be made.

We set up a drop cloth on a level place where people can pour paint into their trays.  Drips and spills, while they are good to avoid will inevitably happen no matter how careful people are.  Keep some rags and paper towels handy.  The problem with painting on pavement is that it is usually not smooth.  We had one particularly bad spill by the Great Lakes.  We discussed making the lakes larger and greater or attempting to clean it up…one super helpful dad was willing to run to his house to get a wire brush to scrub the spot clean. 

Pro Tip: Have a wire brush on hand.  If someone spills, sop up the excess paint, dilute with water and scrub with a wire brush. 

It was great to have a variety of sizes of brushes and rollers on hand.  I would recommend having people outline their state or area with a small brush and then fill in with a large brush or small roller.  Rollers speed up the process of filling in shapes.

Pro Tip: ask volunteers to bring a foam pad that can be found in the gardening section of the hardware store, or an old towel folded up, to sit on or cushion their knees.

Be sure to take before, in progress and after photos to document your project.  It’s a great way to share with the community the improvements you’ve made.  Also, take time to thank your volunteers and others who helped fund or otherwise made your project possible.

Here is my ideal timeline for coordinating a project like this. 

Six months ahead: have the school contact appropriate people to approve the project. 
Several months ahead: ask for funds for the project, allow more time if fundraising will have to be done. 
Eight to six weeks ahead: set a date and raindate for the project and recruit volunteers.
And order a map template.
A week or two before the project: collect materials and put in an order for paint. 
A day or two ahead: hose off area to be painted.  Morning of painting project (or the evening before) use a leaf blower to remove loose gravel, dust, dirt, leaves etc from the area. 
Set up template spray paint the perforations in the template with a contrasting color.
Day of painting project: Have your team assemble to paint.  Plan on 3-5 hours to paint the map depending on how many volunteers you have.

How much paint do I need?
The directions that came with my map template recommended one gallon per color to paint the USA map.  The age and quality of the pavement you are painting will matter.  The paint store where I asked said 1 gallon would cover 100 – 400 square feet…so not real helpful… we used a gallon of each of the five colors (to have no two touching states be the same color) and a qt. of blue for the great lakes.
What kind of paint should I use?
The map template I used recommended using a water based acrylic paint.  There are a variety of masonry and cement paints available but don’t necessarily come in a variety of bright colors that appeal to the students.  There are some traffic paints or striping paints available that come in basic colors (white, yellow, red, blue) Call your local paint store and ask what they recommend.
How many volunteers do I need?
I had scheduled two shifts of about a dozen people at each shift.  If you have many more people than that it gets tricky trying to fit everyone on the map at once while coordinating placing paint etc.  I would recommend no more than 12 at one time.
How long will it take to paint it?
It took a dozen people four hours to paint a USA map during our painting project.
How long does the paint take to dry?
Read the instructions on your paint can, but the paint typically dries quickly if the weather is nice and if there is sunshine and a nice breeze.  The paint takes longer to cure so avoid walking on it and definitely driving on it for at least 24 hours.
How many coats does it take?
It depends on the color and how thickly your painters are applying paint.  We found that the red required two coats and the yellow could also use a second coat. 
Does the pavement need to be primed?
We did not prime our pavement but added a second coat if necessary.
Do you need to prep the surface before painting?
Yes, it is ideal to be able to hose or pressure wash the surface a day or two ahead of time.  If that is not possible at least use a leaf blower to remove loose gravel, dust, dirt and leaves.  Sweeping wasn’t recommended because it can just drive dirt deeper onto crevices.
Should we add abbreviations, labels, state capitals etc?
It’s up to you, but there are lots of activities kids can do with chalk or props on your map mural.  I’d recommend making a platform for their imaginations leaving room for their own creativity.

What supplies do I need?
Acrylic Enamel Paint
Paint Brushes of a variety of sizes
Small Rollers
Large Rollers
Wire Brush
Paper towels
Wet Wipes
Garbage bag/can
Plastic Shopping Bags (wrap brushes and rollers when they are not in use to keep them from drying out)
Paint Trays and Liners
Drop Cloth
Old Towel or Foam Knee Pads
Scraps of Cardboard (to put under paint cans)
Paint Can Openers
Paint Stir Sticks
Painter’s Tape
Masking Tape
Color copies of the map you are painting on clipboards so they don’t blow away

If you have any questions about my community’s project or your own project please feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to help you out!  Good luck on your project, your creative little hearts will surely enjoy playing and learning on the colorful map you paint!

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