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She did it!

As a teacher, I feel really happy when a student gets highly motivated to paint AND she paints!

My Kuwaiti friend and student with whom I sat down and helped choose a colour scheme for her Hindeloopen project said she was going to do it when she went home, and she really did it.

I felt privileged to receive a blow-by-blow account of her progress with her blues three-toned hindeloopen tray project all day long. Via text message! A couple of days ago she brought over the finished tray project to show me and it was beautiful. She allowed me to share her adventure here.

Hindeloopen is easy to paint if you put your heart and mind to it – and provided you understand the simple principles and have developed the necessary strokework skills, of course.

The very first step - basing in the first strokes

The first stage is the easiest and involves involves painting every stroke of the design in the medium value of the chosen colour.

Stroking in the shadows

Next, the shadows are stroked in using the darkest value of the colour chosen for the project. These strokes are usually smaller than the base strokes so that the base colour shows through. These shadow strokes start to define the various objects whether they’re leaves, flowers or birds.

Painting the highlight strokes

The third stage involves lightening the medium value used as the base colour and using this to paint the highlight strokes.

The objects become more defined at this stage.

The completed Hindeloopen tray

And finally, the detail strokes are added in the lightest shade of all, almost but not quite white.

So there it is. Its really easy if you know how!

I knew she could do it and she proved she could do it. All on her own. Next week we will paint another Hindeloopen project in class in the traditional Hindeloopen colours and I’m sure it will be just as breathtaking!

Trompe l’oeil….is it real?

Its very important to me to show students the techniques I am teaching them step-by-step without painting ON their projects. To do this, I usually paint the same project with them – either on my own surface or sometimes on a piece of canvas, or black practise paper.

I usually pick a piece from my stash (yes, stash!) of basecoated pieces or sometimes I deliberately basecoat a suitable piece from my other stash – a delightful collection of things I want to paint which I buy whenever and wherever I see them! I have wooden clogs from the Netherlands, carved candle stands from somewhere in Europe, musical door harps from someone on the internet who makes and sells them, an MDF calico cat, even a nest of Matryoshka dolls I bought in St Petersburg, Russia!

I have a lot of painting I want to do! LOL

Yesterday, while teaching red roses on fabric I demonstrated the techniques on a piece of black paper and, as stunning as the project was on linen, I have to say it didn’t look too bad on the black paper!

The red roses on black paper....sigh..

After the class, I remembered that sometime ago, Nina had given me a tea box. I had even prepared the faux finish background on the lid and left it to cure. Its been there a long time waiting for something to be painted on the lid. Of course I exclaimed, “I could have painted those roses on this tea box instead of the black paper…!” Why didn’t I think of that…

I decided I’d paint it later during the day after class….”Hmmmm do that….it should take you only fifteen minutes to paint that on your tea box!” So I retrieved the tea box and set it on the studio table resolving to do just that..paint the red roses on them later, really quickly.

But when I looked at the tea box, I remembered that I had always wanted to paint something trompe l’oeil on it…like teabags maybe?

Trompe l’oeil is French for “deceive, fool or trick the eye” and is an art technique which involves realistic imagery that creates an optical illusion that the painted objects appear in three dimensions.

It is the artistic ability to depict an object so exactly as to make it appear real. A heightened form of illusionism, the art of trompe l’oeil flourished from the Renaissance onward. The discovery of perspective in fifteenth-century Italy and advancements in the science of optics in the seventeenth-century Netherlands enabled artists to render objects and spaces with eye-fooling exactitude. Both witty and serious, trompe l’oeil is a game artists play with spectators to raise questions about the nature of art and perception.

Famous painting of a boy

And that’s the textbook definition of trompe l’oeil. In decorative painting, trompe l’oeil is similarly applied by painting items on objects to look real e.g. strawberries and chocolates painted on trays, spectacles and pens on a desk box and many more possibilities.

So I went to the kitchen and looked around for some objects to create a still life composition for my tea box. I selected three teabags in individual paper bags, diffused some tea to get a used teabag, and my Delft blue used tea bag holder. Then I set it up on a piece of mounting board.

My still life of selected objects from the kitchen!

Next, I drew it in white pencil on the cover of my tea box, selected my colours and started painting. Of course it took much, much more than fifteen minutes because in painting trompe l’oeil, the goal is to make objects appear as realistic as possible. So you guessed correctly that a lot of detailed work was involved! But the finished product was gratifying, as indeed, it looked real.

The finished painting, viewed from the you would see it.

So “real” that when I was painting the used teabag tab, I borrowed a fresh teabag from the kitchen to look at the details. I put it down for a moment to get something and when I wanted to start painting again, I tried to pick up the teabag tab I had painted! :-)

My new teabox enjoying its place in the kitchen

Everyone can paint very simple trompe l’oeil projects: the important thing to remember is that other than trying to make the painted items as realistic as possible in terms of the drawing, colour, texture, detail etc, they have to be life size i.e. the same size as they are in real life, and they have to be painted as the eye would see it on the object i.e. in terms of perspective and elevation.

And the final thing to remember is – to have fun!

Painting lines

I received an e-mail from a decorative painter recently asking for tips on painting thin lines for stems of flowers, for example, and that inspired me to write this post about painting lines.

I think that painting lines is one of those techniques in decorative painting that gets so taken for granted. That’s because it looks so easy! And mind you, it IS easy. As with everything else, the right tools and the right techniques are all you need to paint lines well.

White zhostovo on bisque

Linework is important not just for painting stems etc. You need to develop your line painting skills so that you can paint intricate borders such as the one on this zhostovo project.

First, you need the right brush both in terms of quality and size. Technically speaking you should be able to paint a thin line using any round brush (with Taklon or sable hairs or a combination) that is in perfect condition. A brush in “perfect condition” is important because it must be able to give you a sharp point once loaded with paint.

Of course, the best way to paint a thin line is to use what we call a LINER brush.

Heather Redick liner brush

This type of brush is specifically made for painting thin lines and so it has very few hairs. It almost looks like a make-up brush! There are many brands of liner brushes available on the market but the best liner brush I have used is Heather Redick’s liner brushes. She is a decorative artist and sells her own line of liner brushes. It is truly the best liner brush I have ever used! She has a website and sell her brushes there. There are three sizes available now and if you get the middle size you should be able to do all your line painting quite successfully. I think she gives a special price if you want to get all three sizes.

Secondly, you need the the right paint consistency. To paint thin lines you need to load your liner brush with watery paint, the consistency of ink. That’s very watery paint. Load the liner brush with just the right amount of paint – no blobs and certainly no paint on the ferrule of your brush – then paint away! If you buy Heather’s liner brush, it also comes with instructions on the right way to load the brush.

Lastly, the right technique. Its not difficult at all..basically you must learn to allow “the brush to do the work”. It takes practise to do this. The only way I can explain this is to not try to “draw” the line because your hands will shake and you will get a wiggly line.

Place your project in front of you at an angle that allows you to comfortably pull the brush TOWARDS you, not AWAY from you. Place the loaded brush at the base of your flower, press it down a bit to release the paint and pull it towards you. Try to use your whole arm to pull the line. Rest your arm or your little finger on your project to control your movement. If you want a thicker line, just put more pressure on the brush.

Its not complicated at all, it just takes a lot of practise and before long you will painting perfect lines without any effort at all. Just take some paper, ink consistency paint and a liner in perfect condition and practise, practise, practise.


No, we’re not talking about swimming here! “Floating” in decorative painting refers to the application of colour to an object to create shadows and highlights.

It is a basic skill decorative artists learn so that they can paint realistic, three-dimensional objects. This skill is used in painting many subjects including fruits, flowers, inanimate objects, even teddy bears.

What are shadows and highlights anyway? In painting, there is something called the “light source” which is basically something the designer or you yourself can decide. It is the direction in which light is coming from in your painting. This determines where the shadows and highlights will fall—shadows occur in parts which are hidden from the light and highlights occur in the brightest parts where light hits the object.

Floating colour is done by loading a flat or an angle brush with colour on only one side. Only a little colour is applied to the brush. The brush is then blended back and forth on a palette until the brush paints a stroke which ranges from a solid colour of the paint on one end of the brush hairs fading into nothing at the other end. This colour is then “floated” on the object usually at the relevant edges where you want to create the shadow or highlight.

The colours used depend on the object being shaded or highlighted. Highlights are floated in colours lighter than the base colour of the object and shadows, with colours darker than the base colour.

Floating applied to a fruits design

This fruits project illustrates the use of the floating technique to create shadows and highlights.

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