A View of Italy

from Paint Décor
This decorative painting project is the perfect wall décor when you want to add depth and color to a stark wall.

If you can't dine in the Tuscan countryside, the next best thing is to bring the scenery to you own dining room. That's what Los Angeles-based artist Lisa Desantis set out to do with a little help from paint, travel books, and her imagination.

Her canvas, a 10 x 14-foot recessed wall in a San Diego dining room was an eyesore. It wasn't in keeping with the house's Mediterranean architecture, and it certainly didn't match the rich European-style furniture in the room. Desantis was charged with making the wall look less imposing, less stark. Her rendering of a scene inspired by Tuscany, one of Italy's most famed regions, did the trick.

"It was obvious from the fabrics and the style of the furniture in the room that the wall needed a soft, subtle treatment," says Desantis, who turned her degree in technical drawing into a decorative painting business specializing in trompe l'oeil and faux finishes for every room of the house. "I needed to paint something that would warm up the room without overwhelming it, and Tuscany gave me just the right color palette."

Her first step was to prep the walls with golden cream paint. Desantis then looked to photographs in Tuscany travel books to flesh out the mural's design. She flagged buildings that appealed to her and took note of the wiry cypress trees that characterized the region's dusty landscape. Working without any real formula, Desantis drew the composite image on the wall with graphite pencil and referred to her books to keep the structures in balance with each other.

Desantis and her assistant completed the grand mural in incredible time - just two days. "The wall was so large that by the time we moved from right to left applying one layer of color, the right side was dry and we could add the next color," she says. It helped that acrylic paint, her medium of choice for murals, dries quickly. Desantis reserves slower-drying oil-base paint for faux finishes.

The result is a magnificent backdrop of sky and rolling green hills with stacked terra-cotta-color buildings ringing a sun-dappled body of water. Burnt siennas, muted umbers, soft blues, and sage greens lend a soothing tone. But the key to the mural's success is Desantis's skillful layering of paint.

"You start with basic background colors and then layer color, building intensity as you go," Desantis says.

To make realistic reflections of the buildings and tress in the water, Desantis painted a mirror image of the scene in toned-down colors, which gives the reflected image it ethereal quality. "To give the water that wonderful glistening effect, we layered cream back over the blue and greens to give the illusion of sunlight reflecting," Desantis says. She finished the mural with a top coat of glazing medium, which lightened the colors even more, giving them a soft, translucent look.

The mural truly is a feast for the eyes, and its colors are the perfect complement to the room's Oriental rug, large, oval dining table, and high back chairs with intricately carved legs and cream-color upholstery.

"I love the way the furniture and the mural work together," Desantis says. "The mural adds so much oomph, and it's nicer to look at than a mirror. It's also a great conversation piece."

Mastering Murals

Murals can be tricky to paint, so consider artist Lisa Desantis's basic tips before you begin.

  • Start with a clean slate. Whether your canvas is going to be a wall or a piece of furniture, begin by getting it ready with a coat or two of fresh paint. A lighter hue allows the colors of the mural to shine through best, but a bold base coat color can play a dramatic role in your composition. No matter what color your base coat, use flat paint for the best results. Eggshell or glossy finishes can flake and peel when more paint is applied on top of them.
  • Practice before you paint. If you're a novice illustrator, sketch you design on paper before applying it to a wall. It will help you get the proportions correct, and it's easier to make adjustments on paper than on a wall. Coloring in your sketch can help work out color adjustments, too.
  • Go the mechanical route. If you don't want to draw freehand, use a photocopier to enlarge an image to the size you want (you may need to piece together several pieces of paper), then use graphite transfer paper to copy the image directly onto the wall. Or, project the image onto the wall and trace it. Either method ensures that your composition will remain in scale.
  • Explore your options for materials. Try drawing with a white charcoal pencil instead of graphite to make cleaning up mistakes easier. Also, it isn't necessary to use expensive artist's paints to get a professional look. Try using crafts paints, which are available from crafts stores.
  • Layer, layer, layer. Don't try to paint your mural all at once or attempt to mix colors before they're completely dry. Subtle definitions are achieved by deftly layering paint colors. For the best layering effect, use soft colors, avoiding any dark hues that might dominate the image.

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