Orlando Wetlands Park Mural

The Orlando Wetlands Park (OWP) is an impressive man-made wetland, created to enhance the treatment process of reclaimed water from Orlando and the surrounding region. It is located 23 miles east of Orlando. Visitors to this 1,650-acre area can see a vast array of native plant and animal species, and will be able to learn about the importance of the wetlands at the new Visitors Center.

This new place will feature animal specimens, 3-D models of wildlife and the water treatment process, and murals. I was offered the job of creating two murals about the OWP’s wildlife (12′ 8″ x 12′) and the unique water cycle in this region (12′ x 8′ 9″). Photoshop was the obvious choice for my medium, because the exhibit designer would be printing these at a larger scale to install them on the wall. Here I’ll tell you about how I created the Wetlands Wildlife Mural.

Before starting, I was given a list of 49 species to include: Trees, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

Some sample sketches.

This mural functions as the background of four 3-D displays, meaning I had to illustrate around these fixtures. And I had to illustrate all the requested species, reflecting their behavior, eating their favorite foods, etc. For example: the Viceroy butterfly hangs out near willows, the Anhinga spears fish underwater, Pond Cypress are covered in Spanish moss, the Marsh Rabbit is often seen swimming. Some of these species I was familiar with. Others, like the Anhinga and the Florida Gar, were new to me. I researched them all, using field guides and videos on YouTube, and looking at photos of these species in their natural habitat. So I’ll show you two versions of my sketch.

First I submitted this sketch. Notice how I marked where the 3-D displays would be positioned in front. My client wanted additional species and a more open landscape for the next sketch.
I repositioned some animals, removed trees, and made the scene more accurate overall.

When the sketch was approved, I started adding basic colors to make sure they would look compatible.

Using the sketch to create background colors and animal outlines.
Adding more colors, and playing around with outlines.

Here is an up-close view of how I added the colors of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail, in front of the Pickerelweed (an appropriate plant for these two butterflies).

I used custom brushes in Photoshop to get convincing textures. Some textures were made with my own photos of trees, wood, stones. The overall watercolor texture in this mural was rendered from a layer of actual watercolor paper, painted with a neutral gray color, set to “Overlay.” (Excuse my Photoshop lingo. I know some people want to know that.)

Final mural!

If you look closely, I left out reflections of animals and plants in the water and some shadows. Normally I would include these, but the client wanted this image to be simplified.

AND…. Just for fun, I created an image identifying all the species.

Some resources for you:

Florida Hikes Orlando Wetlands Park
Orlando Wetlands Park (City of Orlando)
Orlando Wetlands Park VIDEO (City of Orlando)
Bird Chat: Orlando Wetlands Park VIDEO (Orange Audubon Society)
Map of OWP