The art of drawing is largely the art of illusion. In only two dimensions, drawings and paintings can depict the most detailed, articulated shapes and depths. Literally translated as "trick the eye," trompe l'oeil refers to a series of painting techniques designed to create optical illusions. These illusions depict a variety of realities, from architectural spaces on flat surfaces to fanciful glimpses into other worlds, just out of sight. A few tips can help you successfully execute the complicated technique of trompe l'oeil.
Developed in the Classical period and rediscovered during the Renaissance, perspective lies at the centre of trompe l'oeil. As objects in a drawing converge toward a single point, their environment takes on an illusion of depth. The intensity of this illusion will increase depending on how sharply this angle points upward or downward. Choose a central point in your image on which to base your lines of perspective. This point will provide the anchor for the lines in your image, whether architectural, in the landscape or the objects themselves.
Consider the environment around the image. If you plan on creating a mural or mosaic in a public place, consider how viewers will encounter the image. Many artists use the trompe l'oeil technique in public street art, depicting a variety of fanciful images that appear to exist just beneath or spring out of otherwise mundane environments. Ancient Roman mosaics sometimes utilised early trompe l'oeil techniques, such as floor mosaics depicting realistic mice eating discarded table scraps.
Some of the earliest examples of trompe l'oeil from Classical times created the illusion of expansive, beautiful vistas in enclosed spaces. Whether depicting a colonnade against a blank wall or a gathering of angels looking down from a dome on a marriage bed, trompe l'oeil can expand on existing architecture. Even simple illusions like depicting a niche in a wall holding sculpture or flowers can utilise the full effect of trompe l'oeil. Large, blank walls or architectural elements like bricked-over doorways provide excellent canvases for architectural trompe l'oeil effects.
You don't have to have exceptional drafting skills to produce some simple and effective trompe l'oeil techniques. You can purchase stencils designed specifically to imitate elements of architecture and building materials. Combining these various stencils together can create the structure of an entire trompe l'oeil image. From ornate moulding and cornices to flowers and vases, you can find a stencil to help create your desired trompe l'oeil effect.
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