Painting a trompe l’œil on a barn wall

Last week, I started a trompe l’œil on the side of a barn. The wall is 15.4m long x 3.5m high ( to those of you who prefer old currency, that’s approx 50 ‘ x 11’)

Here is the wall in it’s naked state, a blank canvas.blank wall

I made 9 final designs to show the clients , ( although all in all I must have made at least 20 or so drawings).

half wist halfruin half wist archx2 arch

The requirement was all based on the same theme  : a continuation of their newly landscaped gardens. When designing , as the ideas started flowing, each design also became interchangeable, i.e. I mixed the wisteria idea with the ruined arch etc etc.There has to be something to the right of the design to conceal the garage door. This is the design that was finally chosen:-

design accepted

I must confess I ended up using photoshop. In the past I would draw and draw, sometimes ‘layering’ with tracing paper, and using a light box so that I could see how the shapes interlace. This time, having had some instruction in photoshop, from a friend, I put it to my advantage. It felt like cheating though, stupid isn’t it? The first drawings I made were on my art app on the mini ipad, so I was TOTALLY cheating! (Incidentally some mini-ipad drawings and paintings are for another, future post).

We had to get a builder in to re-render the wall first, as there were some hollow sounds when tapped , and cracks here and there. Then it had to be left to cure for a month, which was enfuriating because we have been having gloriously sunny weather, perfect for painting!

Typically, now that rain is promised, I can start work!. Graham has set up all the scaffolding, and polythene protection over the garden. We then painted 2 coats of primer over the entire wall. The 2nd coat of primer I tinted blue above for the sky, and ochre below as a good base to work on.

me and my scaff

You can just about see me behind the sunglasses and cap, it was boiling hot that day. After that, I sketched out with chalk on a stick, using my design as a reference, but also ‘playing it by ear’ using the elements of the existing newly planted garden. I want to get a feeling of perspective, so I add a few rounded box bushes to help create distance. After running back and forth drawing with chalk, I finally block in the cypress trees, because I cannot see where I have drawn them from one end to the other!.

work underway

This is how it looked when I left in on Friday. Since then we have had howling gales and torrential rain, so I am dreading what will have happened in the meantime, I shall see on Monday. Hey Ho!  Below, the view behind me as I work. I can never do it justice!



A couple of weeks later, the painting on the barn wall progresses, especially now that the weather is better; it is tiring though, I feel I am hurdling as I continually flit back and forth across those terraced walls, and up and down the ladders, standing back to check how colours and tones balance; oh, I am not complaining too much,  “c’est bon pour la ligne” !


A little bit of daily life:- We heard the first cuckoo on Tuesday, and we have a new resident in the water butt; she has been since been married, we believe, as we see another frog has joined her, we presume he is male, because he is smaller, awaiting tadpoles as I write.


If you want to see some posts again, or maybe you have missed the older posts, you can always click on the ‘see all comments’ button, this takes you automatically through to the blogsite , and its archives.

5 thoughts on “Painting a trompe l’œil on a barn wall

  1. Loved this glimpse into your world, and not for the first time I rejoice that you now use a computer so much more than you once did. Your unease about drawing ‘electronically’ notwithstanding, your ‘storyboard’ for your puppet project is a delight. Don’t forget that David Hockney creates beautiful artworks on a tablet. Drawing is drawing, whether with a stick in sand, a pencil, a quill and ink, or a cursor!

    Seeing the mural develop is a revelation. In the past I watched you many times at Welsh National Opera, drawing onto a canvas the size of a galleon’s sail with a lengthy bamboo cane tipped with a stick of scenic-grade charcoal. I was staggered by your ability to render freehand on vast scales, tiny reference drawings from designers. And sometimes those reference drawings were not very good… not all stage designers can draw particularly well… and so your work was doubly hard, because you had to reproduce, and yet also enhance and correct. I thought you were a marvel then, and that opinion has only increased with time!

    I look forward to more images of the developing wall, and I hope the storms have not undone any of your beautiful work.


    • Clive, you are too kind by half! You are the best designer I ever worked for! In fact, I can safely say, that you were the only one who was an artist as well. Some designer would arrive with pencil scribbles, and I would have to interpret it somehow. Also, one of the requirements was to be able to switch styles easily, one day a Rembrandt, one day a Raphael , another day a Hockney! Now, I doubt my ability to realise those huge back cloths in time for the show, the target only being that it must be acceptable and it must be ready for the opening night. I take more care and time these days, basically because I am my own master, and the people I work for are so much nicer and more appreciative than production or technical managers. They, who never saw the ability of any of the folks who worked in the workshops, were constantly thrashing you with threats to work harder and faster, or they would close down the paintshops. It hasn’t changed either, as far as I understand. Hey, where did all that come from?!! I didn’t have time to moan about it then, because I was on a treadmill, now I have the luxury of looking back and grumbling about it!

      • I also meant to add: Clive, you are right , drawing is drawing whatever the medium. The strangest thing with drawing electronically, is that I find it extremely liberating, that’s why I have had so much fun with the puppet’s storyboard. I do a couple of minutes drawing or designing after lunch, and I don’t get covered in paint! it has become the equivalent of my sketch pad, that is , until the battery goes………..then it is literally ” back to the drawing board” !

    • It is a very different sensation from pencil and paper, or paint of course, and you have to get used to a nano-split-second delay. The best use is, I think is when working in colour, it never turns to mud! The layering facility, although not as sophisticated as Photoshop, is extremely useful. The app I use is Artrage on the mini ipad, and I still haven’t mastered all the variety of thicknesses or spread of each tool. It is fun, and very useful if travelling, or sitting manning an exhibition, but you can forget the delight of hearing the scratch of charcoal on paper, or of squeezing oil from a tube, or smelling turps, maybe that’s going to be the next version!! I think David Hockney uses Brushes, which I also have, that’s excellent too. I know you will do some wonderful art with it, it’s great for prep work. XL

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