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Home Improvements: paint magic with decorative artist Meg Boscawen

Drawing on a well-established tradition, Meg is a young painter making waves in the interior world. Here she shares her tips for the dilettante decorator wishing to dabble in murals and more

Ellen Hancock
Home Improvements: paint magic with decorative artist Meg Boscawen

The story of how Meg Boscawen got from one of the lockdown unemployed to supremely sought-after decorative artist could be envy-making if she weren’t so very down to earth about it all. “Needing something to do during those long months, I started painting interiors for people on commission,” she tells us on a bright spring day. “I really enjoyed it – and people seemed to like them – but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I wanted to be in those rooms, painting those spaces myself.” On a whim Meg, ever determined, found the number of a respected specialist who’s name she’d come across called Lizzi Porter to ask how she could train in decorative art. The phone went straight to voicemail. “I never dreamed she would call me back!” says Meg.

But Lizzi did, just minutes later, and asked Meg to come into Mayfair members’ club 5 Hertford Street the following week. “I turned up looking very scruffy compared to everyone else there, but nobody minded!” Three months later, Lizzi asked her to join her on a project. It was the best practical training, she says, “but saying that, I also have Instagram to thank for where I am now. As a small business, it’s indispensable. I’m able to market myself for free – that’s pretty amazing.”

And where is she now? As we speak, halfway up a ladder, finishing yet another project for a client in Chelsea who liked her first Charleston-style door so much she commissioned a second project… and a third and a fourth, including a tendril-strewn wardrobe for her young daughter. When she’s not working on private commissions Meg can also be found helping out at Hertford Street, or collaborating with interior designers such as Jane Churchill and Studio Duggan.

Her MO is varied. She can mock you up some marble, turn her hand to tortoiseshell or, as she’s done here, put on her Bloomsbury bonnet. Everything Meg does is painstakingly freehand – “Lizzi was strictly anti-masking tape” – which lends her work a certain liveliness. “Though I wouldn’t say I’ve got a particular style,” she adds. “I’ve been told variously that that’s a good thing and a bad thing – all I know is it allows me to turn my hand to anything. Today I could be doing a folksy wardrobe, tomorrow a geometric pattern on a wall, the next day a woodgrain tabletop. That’s what I love about this job.”

She hopes this versatility will keep her in spattered overalls for years to come. “I look at Lizzi, who’s been doing this for decades, and I just pray we don’t go back to the minimalism of the Millennium – all neon and Philippe Starck. Though I suppose learning how to navigate that as a decorative artist would be quite fun…”

Consider the context

“For every job I do, even if the client is quite sure of the design they want, I still have to make sure all the elements make sense in the room. Things have to be fluent in order for them to work.

“I find the best way of doing that is to choose something that exists already in the scheme to jump from – it might be an abstract motif from a cushion, or a colour from the curtains or lampshade. By looking at the fabrics and furniture that will surround the finished painting you can ensure you’ll pick the right patterns and palette. And, if you’re painting a door, remember you’ll have to make sure both sides work – on both sides!

“On a related note, I try to avoid using red as my core colour. It’s so forceful and, as a consequence, it can start to feel quite tiring; you’ll probably want to change it after a few years. Green, on the other hand, is proven to be a much more relaxing colour.”

Don’t try to control things too much

“I think this is the best advice to give anyone doing any kind of art: try to let go. I went to a painting class recently, in which the teacher made us use our non-dominant hand. It was such a good lesson in liberating the marks we made. I often find that my best lines are those I do with the loosest grip on my brush.

“When you think about how much of decorative art involves trying to mimic the natural world – the veins of marble, the spiral twines of plants – it makes sense; trying to copy nature in a controlled way feels like an oxymoron.

“It’s helpful to remember when you’re doing trompe-l’oeil effects such as woodgrain that you’re painting wood, you’re not making wood. It’s your interpretation. Break down the thing you’re emulating into the lines and shapes you can see and take it from there; trying to make it look too real is an easy trap to fall into.”

Top up your toolkit

“I couldn’t live without a charcoal pencil. A regular pencil can leave marks on the surface you’re painting that can be difficult to rub out, whereas charcoal comes off very easily; you just wipe it. Always make sure you’ve got a clean brush for varnishing and some good colourants too – you can get them for a couple of quid from Brewers – which you can add to the varnish. Playing around with them is such fun. The brownish ones are particularly handy for antiquing things that look a bit new – but just beware: they’re incredibly pigmented so you don’t need much.

“YouTube is also the most brilliant tool. Everything you could possibly want to learn is there. I use it all the time. There’s so much to learn.”

Further reading

Meg Boscawen

Meg on Instagram

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