Rooms to paint a view

Another world … Annette Barlow with her work in the backyard of a home in Glebe.
Another world … Annette Barlow with her work in the backyard of a home in Glebe.

Through the rear glass wall of their inner-city terrace home, Kim and Jane Singleton have a vast water view no house close by can rival.

After years of feeling cramped in their Glebe backyard, with brick walls and a grey roller shutter, they decided to ''open it up'' with a large mural of their favourite vista.

''The mural is a stylised version of a photo of Hyams Beach in the Shoalhaven from our veranda where we used to stay,'' says Kim, a psychologist. ''Now we can sit in the kitchen and take in our water view.''

Murals can expand tight spaces, transport the viewer to another environment, and improve the ambience of a room.

Artist Annette Barlow from Mural Art completed the mural in the Singletons' concrete backyard in three weeks. She incorporated existing features on the wall, from a shelf of pot plants to the horizontal slats of the roller shutter.

''I took advantage of the texture of the surface,'' says Barlow, a seasoned artist who has painted murals in residential and commercial properties for 15 years.

She painted bougainvillea flowers to match the pot plants on the shelf, and different insects in the life-size foliage to stir a sense of discovery in the Singletons' two children.

Barlow says most of her clients come with an idea but collaborate with her to finalise the design. She takes inspiration from the space, finding creative ways to hide or incorporate unsightly features such as pipes or airconditioning units.

''Murals give you the freedom to go outside the boundaries of the wall. You can have a lizard running out of the mural and onto the ceiling, for example,'' she says.

Patricia Smart and Rebecca Murray from Becsmart Murals and Frescos paint murals in homes, restaurants, rehabilitation centres and hospitals. Their murals in hospital wards have a therapeutic value for patients confined to the same space over a long period.

They have decorated children's bedrooms with fantastical, underwater or jungle scenes. Their trompe l'oeil, or ''trick of the eye'' murals, use realistic imagery to create a three-dimensional optical illusion.

''If there is a big, blank wall, I can paint windows and doorways that look out to Tuscan and European countryside scenery,'' Smart says.

When Smart began painting murals 23 years ago, there were barely any requests for trompe l'oeil. ''In the last two years there has been a resurgence,'' she says. ''Nearly half the works I do now are trompe l'oeil murals.''

The bulk of Smart's trompe l'oeil work is in small, inner-city courtyards. Home owners often show her pictures from holidays. ''It's a way of keeping their memories alive,'' she says.

Roger Robinson from Artwrx says trompe l'oeil can also be a crafty solution for home owners with obstructed views. He recently completed a large mural for a Manly Bay resident who for years had a restricted bay view from a small courtyard beside his house. There was a small glimpse of the water through a gap between a fence and the edge of his home.

''I painted an extended view of the bay onto the exterior of his house,'' says Robinson. ''It's an illusion of looking through a glass window. It worked really well.''

Depending on the artist's technique, murals can last for decades. Rough walls are usually prepped by thorough washing and sanding. Robinson uses low-sheen acrylic paints and sometimes adds a protective layer. For homeowners who want to take their art with them when they move, they can be painted on portable panels.

''In my entire time as a mural artist no one has ever rung me up for a touch up,'' Robinson says. ''They last a really long time.''

This story Rooms to paint a view first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.