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. Kirsten Heder

    Sarah, my sis-in-law, forwarded this to us (along with MANY other people!) Jon is my husband (no this is NOT a hoax :-) ) , and HE LOVES IT!!! you did an amazing job! Jon is an artist and he thought you did a great job on the wall and on the color scheme! Flattering, very flattering! Talk about a true fan. Thank you.

  2. Love it!!
    When my daughter was in high school I used an over head projector to trace a tiger on her cheerleading box. (boxes the cheerleaders stood on at games) The school mascot was a tiger and the box turned out great.
    Your artwork looks a lot more difficult though!!
    Great room!

  3. completely AWESOME! wish i was younger just so i could pull off having a napoleon dynamite bedroom. cheers :)

  4. Great idea, looks fantastic! I remember doing this the old fashioned way back in the 80’s (before photoshop!) using the boy image from U2’s War album. Thanks for including a tutorial, would love to try this!

  5. That is SERIOUSLY big time cool. I have got to step up my game over here at my house. My poor kids are in need of room decorating. Got to get on that – thanks for inspiring me yet again :)

  6. The idea to use a projector is brilliant and the result is unbelievable. I’m working on a quite similar concept, but always wonder how to upscale the image. Thanks for this inspiration.


  7. What a cool idea! It turned out great.

    I’m a bit freaked out that you actually priced a $500 item for a child’s bedroom wall though. EEK. Plus, your 12 year old has an ipod and I don’t. WTH!!! :P

  8. That is so cool! I love the color scheme – you are such a genius when it comes to that! I have used the projector for several murals, the first was an African scene with two elephants, a lion and a big tree. Now my boys have surfboards on their wall…there is one for each family member painted differently to reflect their taste. It’s a fun technique! So easy and affordable to make a big impact!

  9. I have a question about your furniture… do you buy it new or are you a second hand find type of person. I love those red bookshelves, and would love to get my hands on some for my son, soon to be in his tween years. OK, I still have about 6 years, but they go fast :)
    This room is seriously perfect, Tweens want to be older and taken seriously, but still like to play with their toys. It’s so awkward, and this room blends those 2 things seamlessly.

  10. Better that bow hunting skills or num chuck skills or any other those other sweet skills…easy mural making skills are the best.
    I LOVE that you think it’s OK to have a huge portrait of N.D. on any wall in your house.
    That’s the best part of this whole post.

  11. LOVE this! totally want to do it when i have walls i can paint, renting students can’t do this project. but someday. i also love that your son is named Ralph. I love that name- it’s my grandpa’s and… he is the man! I have been wanting to use it (again on my future kids- if I have a boy).

  12. I saw something similar done with projecting a black pattern used elsewhere in a room onto the inside of a hutch…….it also looked great!

  13. This is really awesome. We included a link to your blog on our Facebook page. We love pointing out all the cool and varied things you can do with projectors. If you use them in any future projects please drop me a line so we can feature your work.

  14. AHA!!!…Napolean Dynamite on the wall… GREAT STUFF. Wait til i show the guys in my house ( husband and 2 sons!). Your Blog is an inspiration to one who sincerely enjoys art and creativity! Thanks and looking forward to looking back on other entries when i have more reading time. thanks! cheers kari

  15. I saw the picture of napolian dynamite in the video of your kids running through the house. very cool. what a great idea to jazz up a bed room. I love it!!

  16. I am very pleased to read your post. I found your site in google / reader. Your site is very good that this post is recommended by google to me to read it.

  17. Awesome idea, great project. Too bad those laptop projectors are sooooo expensive , that instead of spending 20 dollars on paint the project will end up costing way too much! Great idea if you already own one or have someone thats willing to lend you one . Will keep on looking for another less expensive way to do this project. Thanks for the idea and great job!

  18. First of all, this is HILARIOUS!!! Can I have Napoleon in MY room?!

    Second, my daughter just informed me that she wants a “horse room”, with a mural of a horse, running across the wall. Not having any artistic talent, I’ve been looking for wall stickers that would do the job. I think you just solved my problem. (Although, I will admit, I’m gonna recruit my mom as well. I don’t have this kind of patience!)

  19. That is AWESOME!! Love the way you super-sized it to fill the space. Excellent how-to instructions, photos of your work and a great job on keeping it simple. A+!!

  20. Love, love, LOVE! Love it all!

    Time for some sort of tasteful/fun horse theme for my gal, I think…

    Oh, please tell me what kind of chalkboard paint you used! I tried the spray paint type on the glass of a photo frame (making mini chalkboards for gifts) and it got all bubbly. Worse yet, couldn’t write on it well at all. :(

    Thank you!

  21. Wow! This is really amazing. At first look, i wondered how you did it. Knowing that you used a projector is a great idea…i’ll apply this to future projects! Thanks a lot for sharing :)

  22. Wow. What an amazing idea. I never would have thought of it. Even when I saw it on your wall, I thought well that is fine for her because she is so talented but… Then I read how you did it (still took talent) but I could do that too! Love it.

  23. Any idea if i can project an image from an ipad ??? If so what kind of projector would i need to enlarge the image onto my canvas

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