Paint is a truly versatile material which, provided you have time and patience on your side, allows you to create a huge range of decorative effects for relatively little cost.
Trompe Voeil painting has a lineage almost as long as the history of painting. Although it tends to bring to mind the grandiose ceilings of Italian palazzi or mural schemes in the great country houses, this is nothing more than a great misconception. The term means ‘an accomplished visual trick’ – and whether you want to reproduce a vista on a wall, or a grisaille frieze, or an eighteenth-century ‘book door’, or the effect of tiles or marble, sandstone or granite, troinpe voeil is the name of the game. It is merely a question of playing a witty visual trick on the passer by.
Successful trompe Voeil painting requires a substantial level of skill, but the finished result is worth the work. You can expand a small space or contract a large one, you can even create an Aegean view in the middle of a city, with views of islands across the bay – the stuff of daydreams, the perfect setting for a cosy armchair and a good book.
Painting a mural
Whilst not necessarily possessing the creative or technical abilities of Mantegna, Tiepolo or Veronese, you should not be frightened of trying to create a grand pictorial effect for yourself in your own home. You could add a sumptuous garden view to a windowless room, or create a fantastic landscape mural on an entire wall, or you could complement a simple period scheme with painted architectural detailing: just consider which seems most appropriate to the scale and function of the room. What is more, trompe voeil painting is ideal for having fun; exaggeration and weird perspective may result in a surreal effect, but that may be just what you want -a visual diversion and a talking point!
Perhaps you have been inspired by an illustration in a book or magazine; in a way this would be an easier course to pursue than working from scratch if your artistic skills are limited because all the basic techniques of copying an image from a book are relatively easy to master. Someone else has done the difficult bit, making all the elements of the image work together; all you need to do is scale up the image to fit the chosen site.
The first thing to do is to trace the design onto tracing paper using pen or pencil and then draw a grid over it, numbering each square. Next, draw a grid directly onto the wall, with the same number of squares, numbered to correspond with your original grid.
It is worth remembering to prepare your wall with a base coat of paint before you transfer your design. Then copy the traced design closely onto the wall in pen or soft pencil, using the grid to guide you. Work square by square; it may help to look at each square as a series of abstract lines, rather than as part of the whole scheme; you can always soften up the junctions between the squares once you have copied all of them. It may help also to fix the traced design onto the wall using masking tape as a constant reference; you should always stand back and take stock as you work. Do not pay too much attention to detail at this stage as you only want a sketched guide. If you define everything too rigidly, you will find it very difficult to paint freely and this will most likely result in a stiff, lifeless design. Once your sketch exists, start painting and be bold!
If you are not confident about your technique with a paintbrush, do not struggle with an ambitious project in the vain hope of producing a masterpiece. Try decoupage to recreate decorative plasterwork rather than trying to reproduce a Renaissance frieze freehand. If you have access to a photocopier and your desired motif is reasonably small-scale, it is obviously very easy to enlarge or shrink a design mechanically, and to repeat a motif for a border. Or mock up panels using stone-effect paper, antiquing it with a tinted glaze.
In a kitchen or bathroom, it might be more appropriate to think simple, and to use a small radiator roller to create a quick and effective tile effect. Load the roller evenly and paint rows of tiles – either horizontally or as diamonds – leaving a grout space between each tile’ for a more realistic look.