Painter decorator

Painter decorator

Elsa Jean De Dieu, a French painter decorator, explains the art behind those fine wall murals in hotels and restaurants

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Painter decorator _L
Photo: Nora Tam
Elsa Jean De Dieu is a French painter decorator. A painter decorator's work falls between house and artistic painting. Jean De Dieu applies creative materials and techniques to give walls texture and character.

She produces murals in the style of trompe l'oeil (French for "deceive the eye") painting. They create the illusion of three-dimensional images.

The profession of painter decorator dates back to the works of great Italian Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Raphael who were commissioned to decorate the walls of churches and palaces.

Requirements

Painter decorators need to be creative with an artistic flair. They need to be keen observers and be able to reproduce what they see.

They have to understand clients' needs. Staying fit to work under construction site conditions also helps. Of course, they need to be passionate about art.

Qualifications

Jean De Dieu graduated from the MJM School of Art in Paris and went on to specialise in wall decor at IPEDEC (Institut Superieur de Peinture Decorative de Paris). The world's best decorating schools are in countries that were artistic hotspots during the Renaissance: Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

The United States also has great schools, such as the North American School of Decorative Art in Chicago and the Pierre Finkelstein Institute in New York.

But before aiming high, you should start with drawing classes to learn the basics. And you'll need to practise and practise.

Average pay

Work is often project-based. Income depends on the artist's experience and on project size. But you can also get a salaried job at a company specialising in wall decor.

Newbies often start out as assistant decorators with a salary of around HK$10,000 a month. With time, experience and talent, that can go up to HK$40,000.

Work prospects

Art and decoration runs in Jean De Dieu's family. Her father ran a company that restored old buildings and furniture. At age 13, she decided to become an interior decorator so her father took her to visit IPEDEC. She started practising with her father and at age 17 Jean De Dieu painted her first trompe l'oeil on a facade in Nimes.

Thanks to her artwork at university, she got a job with Ateliers Lucien Tourtoulou, working for prominent clients there for three years. She restored antique furniture and decorated luxurious hotels, restaurants and homes.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Jean De Dieu moved to Hong Kong and joined Arte Mural, a local company specialising in wall decor. Her hotel projects include the 3,000-square-foot lobby at the Grand Hyatt and her restaurants projects include Lei Garden in Shenzhen and Woolloomooloo in Tsim Sha Tsui.

For such grand projects, painter decorators need assistants who help mix colours and prepare and maintain tools. Assistants may also be asked to do certain easier stages of the artwork.

Long-term work prospects

After years of experience, painter decorators can set up their own company or even become well known as artists.

Where to apply

Hong Kong companies such as Arte Mural specialise in wall decor. With more and more architectural projects in Asia, opportunities are increasing. Send your resume and scans of your artwork to your chosen companies. Remember you can always start out as a house painter or illustrator.

A day at work

For Elsa Jean De Dieu, the beauty of her work is that every day is different.

One day she may work on new ideas and materials, the next she will work on site, meeting designers and architects. Or she will do research on her latest project or make plans and establish quotations for the work. When she's on site, she arrives at about 9am and starts by changing into her work clothes. She then tells her assistants what to do and sets a target for the day. Work goes on until 6pm or later.

Jean De Dieu says an important part of her job is to regularly liaise with the architect. She needs to figure out what both the architect and the client want. It is her job to listen to them and translate this into a decor they have in mind.

Work on site can be gruelling with hot, humid, noisy and crowded conditions. The artist's job itself is physical. Jean De Dieu says the satisfaction comes when the work is finished and she sees the results of all their efforts.

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