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Art Faux Art's Sake

Trompe l'oeil painting brings the outdoors inside, or creates optical illusions of flowers, pets or curtains where there are bare walls.


Cheeky wit and a hint of whimsy give artist Bethan Clayton her own spin on the trendy trek toward trompe l'oeil wall and ceiling finishes.

From a dusky wine cellar full of barrels tucked deftly under a bar area in a Yorba Linda home to a wall-length bookcase personalized with family photographs, decanter, favorite titles and other mementos in a Santa Maria home, Clayton's popular painted-on three-dimensional wall murals can give small rooms the illusion of extended space without the need for structural changes.

And you don't even have to dust them.

"That's probably the favorite thing I've ever done," says Clayton, pausing for tea and pointing to a picture of a bathroom corner painted with drapes she completed in Newport Beach.

The filmy fabric, embellished with white cabbage roses, is pooled romantically onto the floor. Crystal drawer pulls stud the ceiling, seemingly holding the curtains in place and heightening the three-dimensional effect.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 14, 2000 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Prices--Fees charged by trompe l'oeil artist Bethan Clayton were misstated in a Nov. 11 Home Design cover story. She charges $100 for a consultation, and jobs are bid individually based on complexity. For more information, call (562) 438-9261.

Clayton has a love of little "surprises" that she likes to leave behind--a tiny mouse peeking out of his hole behind a door and the bees she hides in floral scenes as part of her signature (Clayton's nickname is "B").

"I'm not a technical person, I'm more of a flower," says Clayton, who does all of her drawing freehand onto the wall or other surface. "I think I'm different from others in that I never know what I'm going to do until I get up there."

She doesn't keep an in-home studio, working mostly on the spot at clients' houses, although her Belmont Shore kitchen has a space opener, an arched pastoral scene Clayton sentimentally describes as "an English park with water."

The English-born Clayton--she hails from Surrey--calls herself a "decorative artist."

An early interest in textile design took her to art college in Derbyshire, where she spent two years on foundation work--painting, graphics and sculpture--before spending three years studying surface pattern design in Manchester. Then she took a position with Royal Doulton as a plate designer. For the past 19 years she's made her home here, using her art and design background as a springboard for her current career.

Clayton uses a matte acrylic paint that dries instantly with no fumes and seals it with a water-based varnish.

Her minimum charge is $200, with larger projects priced at $100 per day. Work such as the bookcase can take up to eight days.

"The details really add up," Clayton says.

She says her clients could buy a wall unit for what a mural might cost, but having a work of art that's unique and meaningful matters more to them.

She'll use photographs or postcards for specific scenes or family pets. "I try to personalize the paintings by looking around [clients'] home or picking up clues from the way they are."

"So many people want three-dimensional art on flat walls as an alternative to wallpaper," she says.

Other sought-after designs are fruit and flower-filled borders. "Flowers are really my thing," she says. "I could do cabbage roses with my eyes closed. They're popular, along with morning glories, which add a touch of blue that men like because it's not so feminine."

Faux windows are painted to reflect either the view behind the wall it's on or a fantasy scene of the client's choosing.

Clayton can draw anything the imagination can dream up.

She spent time in Italy in April studying faux finishes and the Tuscany colors of sage, burnt umber and terra cotta.

"Tuscany is the theme of the moment," she says, pointing to another picture, this time a landscape over a bathtub.

Bethan Clayton, P.O. Box 30626, Long Beach, CA 90803; (562) 438-9261.

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