Fooled you, I fooled you! I like to be fooled as much as the next guy (meaning not at all), unless I’m in on the joke. Trompe L’Oeil (pronounced "tromp loy") is a French painting term that means "to fool the eye." It is a painted illusion. It appears as one thing but it truth it is something else. It may look like a fly on the wall but upon closer examination you see it's only painted on. Or you reach out to pick up a dollar bill off the floor only to find that it’s really a painted part of the floor. It only appears to be 3 dimensional. These are small examples, but in decorative painting we can do them on a scale of any size. In some popular finishes you see walls painted to look like stone blocks or marble slabs. That’s trompe l’oeil. Add gaping holes where you see a room beyond or where it opens up to a painted sky, that’s just fun! Trompe L’oeil can give the illusion of texture, space, dimension and depth. All the things that make objects appear real.
I’ve always been fascinated with Trompe L’Oeil painting. I think it's because the artist needs such exacting skills to pull off something so realistic. Years ago I was in Laguna Nigel at an antique store. I stepped out the backdoor of the shop to see some yard art. With my first step out the door, I scanned the floor quickly to get my footing, and I instinctively jumped back to avoid stepping into the goldfish pond. It took a second to figure out it wasn’t a real pond I was about to step in, only a painted one. I laughed at myself for being fooled. I distinctly remember thinking what a great sense of humor the owner of the shop had and how well the artist had pulled of the illusion. Then I waited to see who else would fall for it!
I like to incorporate trompe l’oeil into our decorative painting and faux finish projects. It can be a little added surprise to the room, or even the main focus. You know it’s done really well when everyone assumes it’s the real thing!
Here’s a ceiling in a bedroom we are doing for a current client. That’s not fabric on the ceiling, it’s a hand painted illusion. The client’s room has a green and purple color palette. We used those colors in the stripes. To make it a little easier on the artist's neck, this was hand painted on canvas and then installed. I know – the room isn’t complete – the light fixtures, drapes, and furniture need to go in. We were so pleased with the outcome I just had to show it off. We’ll post the final project when the room is finished.
This is an entrance to a temple. We painted the arches and columns to look like they were carved from stone. They seem to go on and on. It was painted directly on the sheetrock. It was a great project to create. It was something so unique and it was nice to know it would be seen by so many.
The sky ceiling was done in a child’s bedroom. This was painted directly on the ceiling. (No, we don’t lie on our backs to do it.) This was a simple solution for a small room with few windows. The sky gave the room an open feeling. The birds added a sense of motion.
Illusions, illusions, I just love them! Oh, I just realized that April Fool’s Day is coming up. Don’t be fooled unless it’s by great trompe l’oeil!
Janie Ellis, RID, ASID-IP, CF,