When faced with a bare wall, French painter and visual artist Elsa Jean de Dieu doesn’t draw a blank. Instead, her stunning, hand-painted masterpieces are putting Hong Kong on the mural map, writes Adele Brunner.
How long have you been an artist?
I come from a family of artists – my grandfather and great-grandfather were both painters – and I started creating art before I went to school. I studied art and interior design in Paris, and then went to the Atelier Tourtoulou. There, I learnt how to become a specialist painter in the traditional way by studying and perfecting special mural art techniques such as how to achieve trompe l’oeil effects.
When did you set up your company?
After moving to Hong Kong in 2008, I worked first with a local company and then with an interior designer friend of mine. I subsequently struck out on my own and set up my wall design company Elsa Jeandedieu Studio in 2015. I’ve worked mostly with corporate clients – such as Chanel, Pure Yoga, Pure Fitness and Tate Dining Room – but I think the demand for residential murals is growing.
Why do you think that is?
Hong Kong’s style and design tastes are changing and people are looking for something unique. Nine years ago, Sheung Wan, Kennedy Town and Sai Ying Pun were totally different to the way they are today – they are really cool areas now – and the same goes for art. One of the problems here, however, is that many people don’t own their apartment or house and they move around a lot. I can produce something on canvas, which I do in my workshop, but I prefer working directly on a wall. It’s more fun.
How do you feel when faced with a blank wall?
Super excited! I love that I can start with nothing and in a few hours create a story. It is a magical feeling and always gives a room great character and energy. However, once I start work, I don’t stop until I get it looking just right. This can often be stressful because I sometimes get stuck in the creative process and can’t work out what a painting needs to look perfect. And then it will suddenly come to me in a second. That’s what makes my job so interesting.
What is your signature style?
I don’t have any particular style – I follow the client’s brief and enjoy giving them the freedom to choose whatever they want. Although the subject matter isn’t always my idea, I’m usually able to create what I like in terms of colour and composition. Some clients have very strong ideas but if they don’t, I will suggest different concepts in a presentation, go through their likes and dislikes and get to know them. I always manage to find a solution and can translate someone’s thoughts and ideas into a wall design. In that respect, I suppose I would describe myself both as a bit of a chameleon and a psychologist.
What does the process entail?
I prepare a drawing on paper first but once on site I draw and paint directly onto a blank wall. It is an intense process and usually takes from two to six hours for a children’s illustration, for example.
You create children’s murals?
This is a new side to my business, partly because I want to do more residential projects but I also want to make the public aware that murals are fun and affordable. I’ve got a portfolio of animal illustrations that clients can choose from and customise with colour, letters, names and quotes or I can come up with a totally new design. People often think murals have to be huge but they can be any size and still look great in a room. My main aim is to make children and their parents smile whenever they look at my creations.
What kind of paint do you use?
I use non-toxic acrylic paints. Kids can sleep in the room on the same day that I’ve painted the mural.
What are your most popular animals?
So far, I haven’t done the same thing twice!
How much does a children’s mural illustration cost?
They start at HK$2,000 for a mini hand-painted animal [approximate size 15cm x 20cm] and one quote, including a consultation and design work. They make really special birthday, baby shower or christening gifts.
What’s your favourite colour?
I don’t really have a favourite. All colours are beautiful and it is the combination of different colours that I love the most. If I had to choose one, it would probably be green. I am a trail runner and get my inspiration from being outdoors in nature.