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Redhill-based mural artist Helen Barnes

PUBLISHED: 16:22 14 September 2009 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013

Helen Barnes' magic touch: the blank walls of a basement swimming pool transformed

Helen Barnes' magic touch: the blank walls of a basement swimming pool transformed

With her paint brushes in hand, Helen Barnes can transform a room into anything from a Grecian garden or a potting shed to an underwater fantasy world. Here, JANET DONIN talks to the Redhill-based mural artist about her spectacular work

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2009

With her paint brushes in hand, Helen Barnes can transform a room into anything from a Grecian garden or a potting shed to an underwater fantasy world. Here, JANET DONIN talks to the Redhill-based mural artist about her spectacular work

Name: Helen Barnes
Location: Redhill
Tel: 01737 241549

Have you ever thought of turning your loo into a golf course, or your bedroom into a fairy grotto? Perhaps you'd like your landing ceiling to resemble a light-filled glass dome or have a secret doorway leading to the garden painted on your wardrobe? All these are possible in the hands of Redhill-based artist Helen Barnes.

"Every home has a dead area," says Helen - which she can't wait to turn into something magical. Her speciality is trompe l'oeil - or the art of deceiving the eye into believing its seeing something real when it's actually just a painting. "I love the challenge of transforming a home and bringing a blank wall to life," she adds.

Her task always begins with a visit to the client's house to get a feel of the fantasy they have in mind. Helen then goes away and mocks up a couple of watercolours of her ideas. When they are accepted, and "we're all in the same financial frame," work begins.

Initially, she draws out the design roughly with acrylic crayons to see the shape, then fills in the background with emulsion before painting in the details. "In small areas like a loo, the detail has to be exact because you're so close to it," she explains. "But in a large pool area, for instance, only certain areas are detailed because you can convince yourself that the rest is the same."

Helen, 51, has been doing murals for the past 20 years, and is an associate craft-based member of the British Interior Design Association, so she has a wealth of experience. During that time, she has painted everything from the ceiling at the Savoy Theatre ("I felt a bit like Michelangelo") to exhibition stands. One of her favourite commissions, however, was to paint large wild beasts resembling those in the French Lascaux caves, rampaging along a dark underground corridor.

Toilet humour

At the other end of the spectrum, the confined space of the smallest cloakroom is another enjoyable challenge. On one occasion, she had to paint an entire golf course around the walls of a loo, including a specially commissioned notice reading: 'Please do not wash your balls in the sink!' Another WC was painted to resemble a theatre, as if you were on stage while sitting on the toilet, looking out at an applauding audience. "When it comes to the loo, I can be quite quirky, so you do need a sense of humour with some of my work!" she laughs.

Swimming pools are wonderfully large-scale commissions, which Helen loves to undertake. Transforming these with deceptively realistic 3D effects is her speciality. Her favourite commissions have included an Arcadian landscape through a Grecian arch, an impression of an open window on to a balcony, and a library of shelves packed with books.

However, interpreting the fantasy of a child's mind can be rather more of a challenge. "Children know exactly what they want, which is terrifying!" says Helen. So far, she has painted underwater scenes complete with dolphins, the inside of space ships using fluorescent paint that glows in the dark, and jungle scenes that are so realistic even Rousseau would have approved.

"There's nothing I like more than giving a home a whole new perspective," says Helen. "I know my murals are a fantasy, but I always believe in them!"

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