BAG DIY: Trompe L'Oeil Cartoon Bag

This trompe l'oeil cartoon bag is inspired by the bag designs of Jump From Paper and Roberta Di Camerino. If you aren't familiar with the term "trompe l'oeil", it's French for "to fool the eye". It a decorative type of painting which alters how you process what you're seeing. This is more commonly seen in murals and pavement art of Kurt Wenner. We're doing a much more simplified and graphic version. This bag design gives the illusion of additional details, using cleverly placed paint. The black lines give it a 2D cartoon effect, influenced by Pop Art. I used an old white pleather bag that had some black discoloration. If you don't have an old bag in need of a makeover, you can find many basic bags at thrift stores. Recently, I've found a few nice bag for upcoming projects. I used Tulip Soft Fabric Paints because they bond well to many different fabrics and stay flexible when dry. Surprisingly, they covered the discoloration completely. They have a few formulas, but for this project matte or velveteen are the best choices. Ok onto the project!

These are the bags that I'm referencing in this project. I'm including them here, to give you inspiration for your own bag designs.
Roberta Di Camerino

Jump From Paper

CRAFT LEVEL: Intermediate - You need a steady hand for painting details.

TIME: 4 hours + - This depends on how fast you paint, how big your bag is, and how intricate your design is. This took me well over 4 hours.

COST: $10-$20 - Covers paint and the bag, if you don't already have them on hand.

  • Tulip Soft Fabric Paints in Matte or Velveteen - You can buy them separate or in a multi-pack. You can choose any colors, but you must have black. I used pink, blue, purple, green, and black from a 10 pack of paint
  • An old bag with minimal details - Either one you already own, or thrifted. Mine is a matte vinyl
  • Soft small paint brushes - You need at least 2, a detail and flat brush
  • A cup of water - To wash paint brushes
  • Paper towels - To dry paint brushes
  • A foam plate - Works great as palette
  • Wax paper - To cover your work surface


1) Look over your bag and the above inspiration photos. Decide what details will work the best for your bag style. Mine has a functional front zipper pocket, buckles, removable handles, and a full top zipper. The back is blank with the exception of the buckles for the handles, so I could be creative with how I paint those faux details. I knew I had to work around the front zipper, but since the pocket fabric is internal, I had freedom for how to paint the pocket details. I removed the handles from the buckles before painting, but most bags won't have that feature.

2) I started with the front, creating a rectangle around the pocket with green fabric paint and a flat brush.

TIP: For the best opacity, you will need multiple coats of paint. Let each paint coat dry completely for about 10-15 minutes, before adding another coat, or the paint will become patchy.

3) I painted the fabric buckles pink. Following the buckle lines, I painted faux buckle straps below and above the pocket rectangle. I painted slightly beyond the buckle sides, so it looked more uniform. I found the detail brush helped greatly to get into the small areas...behind the buckle, and the sides. It makes more precise lines than just a flat brush.

4) Above the pocket, I painted a small pink rectangle, for a designer label. I painted the front zipper pull pink too.

5) I painted the remaining front fabric purple, using the small detail brush to get precisely around the buckles, pocket, and sides. My bag has piping around the perimeter, so I had to make sure to get close to that. It wasn't a big detail if I got paint on the piping, as I painted that black later.

6) I painted the sides and bottom blue, using a flat 1" and a detail paint brush. I painted the top zipper pull blue too.

7) For the back, I painted that buckle fabric pink too. I created the same buckle straps as the front, but they are more pronounced as I didn't need to go around a pocket detail.

8) In between the painted buckle straps, I painted a faux pocket in green. It starts about 1/3 down from the top, to the bottom. After I had painted several coats, for a nice opacity, I added a button detail in blue.

9) I painted the remainder of the back with purple paint, just like I did for the front.

10) I decided the back could use more detail. I liked the hang tags on the Roberta Di Camerino bags, so I painted one of those at angle "hanging" from one of the buckles. With blue, I painted an angled rectangle about 1/2" down from the right buckle. I added a half circle to the top, that is slightly away from the tag edges. I painted about 3 coats to get full coverage. In the center, slightly away from all edges, I painted a green rectangle, giving that 3 coats to get full coverage. We'll come back to this during last details.

This photo shows more progress, which you'll learn how to farther down.

11) I painted the removable straps pink to match the buckles. I used a flat brush for the fronts and backs, and a detail brush for the sides. It's important to make sure the straps are fully pink.

12) When the straps were dry from coats of paint, I used the detail brush to edge them in black. the black is very opaque, so you'll only need one coat. I painted around the edge of the top of both straps. When they were both dry, I painted around the back of both straps. When they were dry again, I painted around the sides of each strap, making sure to get into the seams well.

13) I painted the bag piping black with the detail brush, making sure to be careful and not get paint elsewhere.

14) I added black dash stitch lines to the front and back of both handles. I painted the buckle holes black, on both sides, for a more cartoon effect.

15) Time to outline the remaining details with black paint and the detail brush. On the front, I outlined the buckle straps, the buckle fabric, the pocket, and the zipper. On the back, I outlined the buckle straps, buckle fabric, pocket, button, and hang tag. On the sides, I outlined the zipper ends.

This photo shows the handles reattached, but this is the last step after all the painting is done.

16) I added additional details using the black paint and liner brush. I added stitching to the back button and ACME to the front label. Along the buckle straps, handles, buckles, pockets, and hang tag, I added dashes to represent topstitching. I outlined the zipper pulls in black.

17) To finish off the hang tag, in black, I outlined the hang tag and center rectangle. I added a small circle to the half circle top. I added oval chain links from that circle up around the back of the buckle, and down, stopping where it meets the tag half circle. I added J. Rabbit (aka Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit) to the hang tag.

18) On the bottom seams, I outlined and added dash stitch lines in black.

19) Lightly paint the zipper teeth black. Opaquely paint the zipper fabric black.

20) Buckle the handles back onto the bag.

That's all folks! A little cartoon humor...for an appropriate project. This bag has a lot of details, but it's those details that help achieve the trompe l'oeil cartoon effect. Tulip soft fabric paints come in a large range of colors that can be mixed just like other paints. I used the colors unaltered. A little goes a long way, which is great for any paint. You could do this in black, white, and greys for a comic strip feel. I like the bold bright colors, as it really make the purse a statement piece. However you decide to re-design your purse, have fun with it. Happy Makery!

DISCLOSURE: I Love To Create sent me the pack of paint to use. The project, opinions and photos are my own.


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