Napoleon Dynamite

I keep meaning to tell you about the awesome mural we painted on Ralph’s bedroom wall. I’m so pleased with how it turned out.

The idea actually started as a wall-size poster of a movie still. But when I priced out the poster, it was coming in around $500. More than I wanted to spend. So I started thinking about other possibilities. At some point, I recalled helping my mother decorate bulletin boards in my dad’s classroom when I was a child. We would project images with an overhead projector and then trace them. I thought I could try the same technique with wall paint. So I recruited my mom to do this project with me when she came to visit a few weeks ago.

Why Napoleon Dynamite? Well. Ralph is deeply into all-things-film. He likes making movies, writing scripts, editing footage, directing, watching movies, studying movies, etc. But he’s 12. And many of the movie images out there are highly sexualized or hyper-violent — not something we want on the wall of Ralph’s room. We wanted something fairly asexual, but still iconic and kid-approved. Our first thought was the professor from Back to the Future, but then Ralph found this image of Napoleon Dynamite and we knew it was perfect.

The best thing is, there is absolutely no art skill involved in this project. I mean it. You could take virtually any photo (What? You don’t want a giant Jon Heder in your house? Weird.) and paint it on your wall with this technique. It’s almost like paint by number. For reals. Want to give it a try? This is how it went down:

1) We found an image we liked:

2) We used Photoshop to reduce the image to flat shapes. Basic steps in Photoshop: make the image grayscale, increase the contrast, then make the image bitmap, with a 50% threshhold:

3) Use a projector to shine the image onto the wall. Trace the image with a pencil:

4) Fill in the shapes you traced with wall paint. We used a variety of paint brush sizes. Cheap foam ones to fill in large fields and small, better quality brushes for the details:

And that’s it. Instead of $500, the cost was under $20. Below are a few more pics of the finished room (and there are even more pics here):

-The bed we painted in metallic silver (it used to look like this). The paint was super-fume-y. So my mother wouldn’t let my very pregnant self anywhere near it.
-Bedding is from Target.
-We covered the closet doors with chalkboard paint.
-The little metal cube to the left of the bed opens up. It’s a little cubby. Ralph keeps his wallet and watch and ipod in there.
-The nightstand is a metal table with wheels. It has expandable sides. We’ve had it for ages. We freshened it up with a coat of green paint. Ralph’s iPod speaker is on the table.
-The lamp is from HomeGoods.
-Over the window we used Jenny’s technique to build an inexpensive pelmet box.

What do you think? Did we hit the right balance between cool and kid friendly? Would your tween approve? (Ralph gives it two thumbs up.) Would you ever try something like this? What image would you want on your wall?

More images of the room here.

153 thoughts on “Napoleon Dynamite”

  1. Thank you Gabrielle! I am painting my nephews bedroom in a few weeks and he wanted a hockey goalie, large size over his bed. This is perfect and SOOO much easier than my original free hand plan!

  2. Oh thanks for this tutorial!

    My husband and I having been racking our brains on how to do something like this in our boys room. We have one really high wall that is just too big for one of those cool vinyl decals you can get on etsy. We’ve been thinking about painting a mural, but we only have one of those small “tracer” machines back from my husband’s days in the BYU art department. I’ve used the Tracer before for smaller projects, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t project a large enough image for the wall we’re hoping to use. I imagine you just used a projector with your laptop, or did you use some other type of projector?

  3. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t you guys renting? I just would never invest the time and money in decorating a house that wasn’t mine. You guys…care more than I do, I guess.

  4. Have thought about doing something like this for quite some time – did you just happen to have an overhead projector? I don’t have one. My husband and daughter loved Napolen (me not as much). We even refer to each other as “Tina” from the movie. We say “eat the food Tina” when we want each other to do something.

  5. Love this. I used a similar technique to create my own vinyl map of the world on my wall, but South America turned out backwards because of the little lamp I was using made the pattern spin.

    Where did you get the projector? Do schools even have these anymore?

  6. Thank you so much for all the kind comments. So glad you like the room. For those who are curious about the projector, it’s the kind you hook up to a laptop — what you might use in an office space to show a powerpoint presentation.

    Yes, I happen to have one of these in my home, but if you don’t, ask around. In the past I’ve borrowed or rented them and found it wasn’t difficult to get my hands on one.

  7. As a fifth grade teacher, I can undoubtedly say that this is a Coooooool room. I know my students would love it:-). You totally hit the mark!!

  8. Amazing work! Brilliant idea! What a lucky boy to have such a cool Mom! Thanks for sharing and including a tutorial :-)

    Congrats on the birth of your baby girl too!


  9. @ESO

    Live your life, mama!

    Whether you’re renting or buying or subletting, or squatting with hobos they’re still your own walls that you have to look at every minute of every day, right? Might as well enjoy them now.

    But then, I’m the type who buys flowers for my hotel rooms too.

  10. I can’t even tell you how much I love this room! It’s absolutely perfect for a tween. I’m filing this idea away for future reference… it’s brilliant!

  11. WOW! I love everything about this room. I love that it’s not theme-y and doesn’t have a specific color palette. Love the chalkboard door. Love the silver bed frame. Love the yellow lamp. Love the mural. (How long did it take to paint?) I’d love to do something like the mural in our future-kids room. It has paneled walls but I bet this would also work on a big canvas or even paper. I’m a big fan of large-scale, graphic art!

    1. Thanks for the kind compliments, Martina. The mural didn’t take too long. The tracing was really quick — maybe an hour with both of us working. The painting took longer. Maybe 8-10 hours total between the two of us.

  12. Um, am I allowed to comment if I’ve never seen Napoleon Dynamite? But it looks fabulous! I did the projector thing on the Boys room before he was born. Pooh characters. Now I keep trying to come up with something for his new room, but he’s just not into any one thing so I’m at a loss. I think I’m just going for a big old chalk board.

    Ralph’s room is so grown up and sophisticated. I’m sure he’ll love it well beyond the tweens.

  13. Love the room. I’m curious about the red bookcases that face the bed. I love the way they look. Are they new? Old? Could I purchase some? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lonica. The red bookcases were in my friend Kathryn’s home in New York. She was getting rid of them right before we moved and knew I would love them. They’re fairly old. I believe she found them at a tag sale.

      I’m wondering if I should paint them…

  14. I love how digitized the image looks! My aunt used the same technique for my cousin’s room — except he was five, so the subject was Spiderman. I too LOVE Target’s bedding. I have it in every room in my house. I think the room looks pulled together and crisp….sure to last Ralph through going to college!!!

  15. I’m imagining Dorthy Gale in a girl’s room. . . (I have 4 girls and only 1 boy), but almost any iconic image would be very fun.

  16. This is awesome — thank you so much for sharing this! My older son is only 9, but he will probably be 12 before I get around to redoing his room… :-)

    I love this idea because: 1. It’s low commitment, because it’s paint — if we paint something and he gets tired of it in a few years, we just paint something else. 2. It’s a great way to use a vibrant accent color. My son is begging me for an ORANGE room, and I can’t bring myself to do that — it would look wretched transitioning from the color palette of the upstairs hallway, plus I’m pretty sure it’s a scientific fact that anyone who wakes up surrounded by hyper bright, Home Depot Orange walls every morning is guaranteed to grow up to be a psychopath. But I could do a cool gray-blue on the walls and then paint a projected image in orange, and use orange as an accent color in the room. I found some wild Asian dragon tattoo looking fabric awhile ago that I’ve been saving for a quilt for this son, so I might like to do some kind of dragon tattoo type image on the wall or something. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration and for the step-by-step instructions. Your Ralph is a lucky boy!

  17. Scrappin Cheryl

    This is such a great idea! My 15 year old son wants a horror movie room and not much to be found on that except for movie posters! I could totally do this with Dracula – he’d love it!

  18. Jon Heder who plays Napoleon Dynamite is my brother-in-law. I’m going to forward this post to him so he can see it. Looks really cool! I’m sure he’ll be flattered.

  19. We actually used that same technique to paint a huge white Y on my 8-year-old son’s navy wall (go Cougars!) and he loves it. Not as artsy as yours, but it was super easy.

  20. YESSSS!!! I used that same technique to make all my bulletin boards when I taught Special Ed. My boards looked AWESOME and I am not an artist! I was the talk of the hall! I think we called them Opaque Projectors? Big old Honker machines we rolled around the school! SO FUN!!! I never thought of doing this though!!! YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR and you make pretty babies too!
    Happy Day!

  21. when your kid turns 15 he is either going to cover it up with posters, paint over it, or kill himself.

    1. Yikes. If we’re still renting this house when Ralph’s 15, I might be the one contemplating suicide.

      One of the nice things about this project, is that when Ralph’s sick of it, it will only take an hour or so to paint over.

  22. You are sooooo sweet to reply to my comments……….I mean really sweet and generous to reply! You are way too busy and have a lot on your plate plus a beautiful new baby girl!! So I am officially giving you permission to just skip over any and all comments from Mama Holli from now on! You are just too sweet! So just skip on over this and go kiss that baby for me!
    By the way…..I have posted you up on my blog tonight! Have a wonderful evening and get some needed rest!
    P.S. I will be in my P.J.’s tomorrow too and I don’t even have a tiny new baby at home…just big baby angels!
    Mama Holli

  23. Yes, this is fantastic! Definitely the right balance. Thanks for giving the steps for this great idea.

  24. Dang that is awesome! I have to say that is taking it to the next level!

    Hopefully he doesn’t get tired of it to quickly…

    Good job on a simple innovation to accomplish something nice!

  25. Fab-u-lous !!!! What a great job. My son would love to have an enormous Silver Surfer on his wall – might have to get Huzz to try your idea out.

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