Decorative artist: Lucinda Oakes

From her studio, this artist, designer and muralist produces wallpapers, paintings and hand-crafted silks inspired by richly embellished works from the 18th century

Meet Lucinda Oakes

For more than 20 years, Lucinda Oakes has been creating wallpapers, screens, panels and fabrics, inspired by traditional trompe-l’oeil designs as well as the rich patterns of classical chinoiserie. Her commissions run the gamut from small pieces for private residences to large-scale installations.

Lucinda Oakes

Lucinda in her Sussex studio.

My style comes directly from a childhood watching my father, George Oakes, at work. He was head designer and bespoke painter at Colefax and Fowler and often worked from home. Although I gained an MA in fine art, it was my father who taught me the techniques involved in decorative painting, sending me to the South of France to fulfil a commission he didn’t really want to take on as he’d recently retired. As a novice, painting directly onto someone’s walls was nerve-racking, but I loved the work straightaway.

Lucinda Oakes

Lucinda’s studio and artwork.

I spend most of my time in my studio if I’m not working on site. Here, I paint large watercolours depicting subjects such as foliage and flowers, rustic garden buildings and fountains.

Lucinda Oakes

Samples on the walls include grisaille trompe-l’oeil and silk panels with tulips and irises.

However, the materials I use depends on the project. Distemper is especially beautiful and powdery soft to look at, despite being a difficult medium to master. Oil on silk is also tricky, but immensely satisfying to work with as you can make lovely brushy marks, while achieving incredible detail. I enjoy painting on a large scale. It is challenging to make an entire room work in terms of colour and scale, but great to see a big piece of work come together. I use oils to paint fireboards (boards that sit in front of the fireplace when it is not in use), to create a traditional looking still life or trompe-l’oeil, and on silk. Bigger works sucks as folding screens, large paintings, wall coverings and murals require water-based emulsions and acrylic paint.

Lucinda Oakes

The charcoal drawings are studies of Chinese figures for panels.

A couple of years ago I was commissioned to paint a large ballroom in a château on the Côte d’Azur. I was asked to give the huge white room the look of the interior of a rustic Italian church. My team of three painters and I transformed it into a trompe-l’oeil panelled room of multiple types of fantasy marble, in shades of soft greens, greys and whites. The distemper we used gait it a hazy, magical feel, as shafts of life shone through it oeil-de-boeuf windows.

Lucinda Oakes

An array of paints and brushes.

I previously worked on making a scenic painted wallpaper for a house in the USA. I worked on it for several months here in my studio and rolled it up to be shipped to the States. I then travelled there to oversee the installation, touch in joins and add a few extra details here and there. 

Lucinda Oakes

A scaled-down impression shows how it will look in situ.

Although I’ve yet to paint a mural for my own house, I’ve had something in mind for the sitting room ever since we moved in more than a decade ago. Whether or not I will ever find the time to do it I don’t know, as being a working mother is pretty time-consuming. For now, we have a large colour sketch that I made for a fireboard up on the wall and that adds character to the room.

Lucinda Oakes

Lucinda working on a hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper.

Lucinda Oakes, lucindaoakes.com.

Photography/ Alun Callender