A Tale of Two Niches

Did I ever tell you I love creative problem solving?  Well, here’s a story about that.

Last month I finished a project for a restaurant owner.  He had these two– for lack of better words–niches in the dining room area of his Italian restaurant.  They were probably windows at one time that were removed.  The walls were never fully closed up so what remained were two boxes.

niche, artworks by marcine, mural

What to do with the spaces?  I already had an idea, but I wanted to get more info from the owner.

I asked all kinds of questions, i.e. where he was from,  etc.  I then asked the following, “Being that we are a block from the water, would you like a scene of the Italian Mediterranean?”  I can create it so when you look at these two openings, it appears as though you’re looking at the water with a beach and boats.”  His eyes lit up.  He was from the Naples area of Italy.  As he was listening and looking through my portfolio, he really liked the trompe l’oeil mural I did in a niche of the Tuscan landscape for a client.  “Can we add columns and grapes?”  “Sure, ” I said , ” This is for you .  I can add whatever you’d like.”  I explained to him what I envisioned.  But, as they say,  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  So, I made a quick sketch.

I already knew that painting this mural on site wasn’t going to work.  The dining room space was going to remain open for business.  I would make these murals on canvas and install them in the boxes much like wallpaper.  I had done this before, so no problem.

There were a few challenges, though.  Anytime you apply moisture to a canvas that it unprimed, it is going to shrink a bit, usually 10%.  The back of the canvas was unprimed.  I had to allot for that shrinkage so when I planned the canvases out, I made them a few inches larger in each direction.  The second challenge was that each of the boxes, even though they were two feet away from each other,  were a different size and installed at  different heights.  In order to make the illusion work, I had to plan a common line,  a horizon line of sorts between the two canvases.

I made sketches using a grid.  I made sure that the sketches had the horizon line at the same location.

Sketches for the murals

When I transferred the sketches onto the canvases, I lined up the canvases next to each other, used a level, plotted out grid lines.  The drawing began.

The two canvases side by side in my studio.

Anytime you create  trompe l’oeil art, things have to make sense and be level.  Everything.  Otherwise, your illusion won’t work.  I used one point perspective primarily.  There are some objects that I had to use two point perspective for.

When both canvases were lined up next to each other, I had about 10 feet of imagery.  I used a 2 x 4 to draw perspective lines from my focus point to the objects.  Sometimes you have to use whatever is around.

Once the murals were complete, it was time to install.  I brought levels with me, a ruler, wallpaper scraper, wallpaper paste, razor blades, etc.  Plus, I brought paint with me.  This way, if I needed to touch up the mural, I could easily do that.

The niches were already primed and ready to go.  The mural install was going to be permanent, so I did not use cheesecloth as a floater between the surfaces.

And, as I surmised, the canvases did shrink.  Because I had this horizon line to worry about, I had to cut off some of the grape leaves at the top of the one canvas.  I had to make the illusion work.  On the other canvas, I had to lower it slightly, so I painted additional grape leaves on site.

The finished product solved the problem of the two unused niches.

Canvas murals installed in Lisa’s Restaurant.

Interested in seeing the murals in person?

Visit Lisa’s Italian Restaurant on Rt. 35 in Laurence Harbor, NJ.

2 Replies to “A Tale of Two Niches”

    1. Thanks Noreen! I’m glad we met too! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks again!

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