Fooling the Eye

Trompe l’oeil is a French phrase meaning “deceive the eye.” The goal of the trompe l’oeil artist is to create a two-dimensional rendering that looks so convincing that the viewer’s eye mistakes it for a three dimensional scene. At its heart, trompe l’oeil work relies on the skillfully applied interplay of textures and values. If done correctly, the picture plane virtually disappears, leaving an open window through which “real” objects appear as if in three-dimensional space.

Of course, a keen sense of observation and superior drawing skills play a major role in this hyperrealistic effect. But experimentation and patience are indispensable for trompe l’oeil work. Artists typically use a number of unconventional techniques to create the wide range of realistic textures found in this type of art. For example, I used a blotting technique, but you’ll find that spattering, sponging, stippling, rubbing, scratching and scraping all come in handy to create the right look for a given situation. The trick lies in freeing yourself to try anything that will help you get what you’re after.

Stephen Quiller lives in Creede, Colorado, with his wife Marta and their two children, Christopher and Allison. He’s a member of the American Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society, the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Society and the Society for Painters in Casein and Acrylic, and is listed in Who’s Who in American Art. Quiller conducts workshops throughout North America, has produced numerous video tapes and has published four books, including A Painter’s Guide to Color (Watson-Guptill). His work is available at the Quiller Gallery in Creede, Colorado and the Mission Gallery in Taos, New Mexico. For recent paintings and information on his upcoming workshops, visit

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