Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Mural

If you’ve visited us at the Next Door Café recently, you’ve almost certainly seen our mural. Given that it appears in every single customer-facing area of the Café, it’s hard to miss! We invested in this artwork to add to the Zingerman’s experience for the thousands of townies and tourists alike who visit us every year. And, especially given the large scale of the project, we wanted to share the story of how this mural came to be.

Room with a Hue

We had the idea of refreshing the Next Door Café with a building-wide mural in mind, so we began with settling on a theme and color palette with the help of Lori Saginaw, interior designer and owner of Saginaw Design, and yes, the spouse of Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw. Both the theme and the color palette were inspired by what we serve at the Café. So, the mural highlights coffee, chocolate, desserts, and tea—and the people enjoying those offerings—all depicted in a calming, muted color palette filled with rich, roasty neutrals (and a few pops of red for fun). Nick Jaroch is our head painter and has been coloring our world (both the interior and the exterior of the Deli!) for almost 2 decades. He describes the mural’s palette thusly: 

It’s dynamic in the way it is colored with highlights or spotlights throughout, where the colors of the mural shift unexpectedly, which maintains visual interest and keeps the eye moving. It is exciting and energetic without being overwhelming or jarring. 

The mural distinguishes the space from the rest of the Deli campus, while still tying right in thanks to Ian Nagy’s signature illustrations—they’ve been a mainstay of Zingerman’s for decades! As Ian elaborates,

The look of it is basically a style I’ve used for years for Zingerman’s—cartoonish characters with blobby lines drawn with a brush pen inspired by Ben Shahn with cross-hatched shading done with fine-tipped illustration markers. I don’t know where I came up with the idea of the large basic overlapping shapes that either lighten or darken the colors, I wanted some other visual concept that interacted with the artwork throughout the whole thing and I liked how it sort of artificially simulated light coming through the windows. I thought it was cool since it would give that look/feeling even when the sun wasn’t out!

Do You Want to Make a Mural? Come On, Let’s Go and Paint!

With the theme and colors in place, here are the broad strokes of how this project went from idea to completion: 

  1. Ian made simple black-and-white rough sketches with a #2 pencil to work out basic concepts (he was the only one who saw this first round!).
  2. Next, Ian created colored sketches using the pre-established color palette and gave them to us for feedback.
  3. Ian incorporated our feedback and sketched the final artwork on card stock in non-repro blue pencil to use as a guide. (Non-repro blue pencil doesn’t show up on scanners and copiers when scanning in black and white.) So he inked the artwork, scanned them, vectorized them (aka converted them to digital artwork), added digital color in Adobe Illustrator, and then sent the final artwork back to us for another round of feedback. Fun fact: Aside from the digital color added to the illustrations at this stage, the entire project was hand-drawn and hand-painted!
  4. Ian then made any necessary changes and created digital templates of the artwork for our Merchandising team, breaking the artwork into strips no larger than 36 inches wide.
  5. We had these three-foot-wide strips of artwork printed on a large format blueprint printer at the nearby FedEx Office® Print & Ship Center in downtown Ann Arbor and used an electro-pounce machine to punch holes in them, creating giant wall-sized patterns.
  6. We hung these patterns on the wall and then used a pounce pad to transfer the image—a pounce pad presses powder through the holes made by the electro-pounce machine, transferring an outline of the artwork onto the wall behind the paper.
  7. We painted! First, filling in all of the areas with color, then, outlining all of the illustrations, and finally, adding finishing touches like hatch marks. 

Paint By Numbers

# Square Feet & # Surfaces Included
More than 2,000 square feet across 45 different surfaces  

# Staff to Create

4: 1 illustrator (Ian Nagy), 2 painters (Nick Jaroch and Léonie Muno), and 1 occasional assistant (Astas Bowser)

# Hours Spent Illustrating


# Hours Spent Transferring and Painting

1000ish hours over the course of more than a year

# Gallons of Paint

20+ gallons (not counting the primer that went on the walls first!)

Doing a Great Daub

A mural of this scale doesn’t come without its challenges. Some come before a project even officially kicks off; it can take patience and persistence to get a group of people to agree on details like a color scheme. Also, this mural is the largest-scale project that both Nick and Ian have ever worked on—and given that Ian’s created other murals and Nick has painted on the sides of buildings, that’s saying something! 

For Ian, the most challenging aspect was “trying to figure out how the walls that connect to each other and sometimes overlap look. The stairwell in particular was a challenge since not only did the surfaces connect in sequence but the whole thing went up the stairs and then reconnected at the top with one giant two-story wall!” The stairwell was tricky for Nick, too. It’s a tall, complicated area to be working in, and the need to maintain access for customers meant setting up and taking down scaffolding and ladders each day, along with removing and replacing the railings several times. Plus, as Nick notes, and anyone who has ever tackled a wall or two in their own space knows, “Painting may not seem particularly strenuous, but it takes its toll physically.”

Art Your Day Right

Despite the challenges, the team had fun throughout the process and loved seeing it go from idea to reality. While working on it, Nick, Leonie, and Astas enjoyed a lot of positive interactions with customers and appreciated the general curiosity about what they were doing and how they did it. Nick adds that he’s heard people say they like the change, enjoy the color palette, and feel like the images really express that classic Zingerman’s aesthetic and mood. Ian describes walking through it as “an immersive experience,” is impressed with the painting team’s work bringing it to life, and hopes visitors feel “a sense of fun, lightheartedness, inclusion, and welcoming.”

We appreciate all of their efforts to bring this mural to life and couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. The whole team’s pride and care for their craft really comes through in their work and we think visitors can feel that, too. We love hearing enthusiastic responses from guests and hearing how the mural contributes to their experiences in the space, from a simple exclamation (“It’s incredible!”) to a parent and child’s impromptu game of finding hidden objects. And we can’t wait to hear your thoughts the next time you visit.

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