Trompe l'oeil, which means "trick the eye," is a form of painting that creates the illusion of a three-dimensional shape or figure on a flat surface. For the work to look truly three-dimensional, the painter must be fairly skilled, but even a less skilled artist can produce an attractive trompe effect. Trompe l'oeil is a method that has been around for several thousand years, at least.
When painting a trompe l'oeil, it is important to take lighting into consideration. It is best to choose an area that does not receive much direct light for your trompe effect, in order to enhance the illusion, but you can also paint a trompe l'oeil in an area that receives direct light, painting it as if the light were shining directly on the area.
Although the base coat can be painted with whatever type of interior paint is being used for the rest of the house, the trompe l'oeil should be painted using artist's paints — whether those are acrylic or oil-based paints. Acrylic paints are generally preferable to oil-based paints, because they are less messy, can be painted over more easily, and because trompe effects are more realistic when they are matte instead of glossy.
A few tips can make the trompe effect more realistic. Make sure that you use still life subjects so that the observer is not expecting movement. Place all objects — windows, doors, trees, etc. — at their natural heights, since that will make the work look more realistic. Nothing should be cut off at the end of a wall, since that will be an automatic giveaway.
Painting views outside windows and doors is one trompe method that has been used for centuries. Some cathedrals feature murals with painted doors, archways, and windows, which appear to be looking out onto a meadow or an ocean. Today, you can frequently see trompe l'oeil in ethnic restaurants, with the "windows" looking out over a sea in Greece, Roman columns, or a Mexican fishing village, depending upon what type of restaurant you are in.
Trompe l'oeil can also be used on floors to simulate carpets or intricate woodwork. Many people add a trompe effect to stone floors which may need to be livened up or wood floors which are worn and may require painting or restoration. You can even paint a realistic Oriental carpet on the floor, complete with tassels. Look for the surprise on your guests' faces when they realize that the "carpet" is not real.
Written by Bronwyn Harris
Related Home Institute Articles