Decorating with Paint Effects
Traditional methods of painted decoration are enjoying a renewed popularity today, bringing a sense of richness to the interior. Many special paint techniques were originally inspired by the desire to reproduce the look of a particular material. In the past, when marble, fine woods, wallpapers and fabrics were extremely expensive and hard to come by, craftsmen applied their skills to creating excellent simulations.
In addition, decorators learned how to exploit the qualities of different paints to add a dimension of depth to a surface. Layers of transparent washes or glazes, distressed or unevenly applied, can build up a subtle texture that is impossible to achieve with flat colour.
Although certain highly imitative paint effects do require artistic skill for a professional result, most do not. With practice, experiment and a sound understanding of the properties of paints, it is possible to create distinctive decoration at a fraction of the cost of wallpapering, panelling or fabric coverings.
TYPES OF EFFECT
For the sake of clarity, each paint technique in the following section is described individually. It is important to remember, however, that effects can also be combined. Most professional decorators decide how they want the surface to appear and then use a combination of methods to achieve it.
Experiment is essential. Test your ideas on(masonite) panels or stiff paper before you tackle a wall. The most difficult aspect of using any special paint effect is achieving consistency over a large area; practise until you can work rhythmically and evenly. It is also worth bearing in mind that, although many effects require special tools, good substitutes can often, for the sake of economy, be adapted from household items.
There are a number of ways to increase the decorative potential of painted surfaces without using a special distressing or illusionist technique. Plain-painted walls and ceilings can be highlighted by picking out woodwork or plasterwork details in a contrasting or toning shade. Alternatively, decoration can be applied in the form of stencilled patterns painted onto walls, floors or furniture as borders, friezes or single motifs.
You can add depth and intensity to a single-colour scheme by applying several weak layers of wash or glaze (diluted 1:9, paint to solvent) over a base or ground colour. This method, known as ‘colour washing’, produces a finish of great luminosity and warmth.
Distressed, or broken-colour, effects represent a whole family of related techniques, most of which are defined by the tools used to create them. In all cases, layers of dilute wash or glaze are applied over an opaque background.
There are two methods of achieving the textured finish. The first — additive — is to apply the wash or glaze unevenly using a particular tool — such as a sponge, rag, comb, brush or whatever — so that patches are left where the base colour shows through. The second — subtractive — is to apply the wash or glaze in a continuous layer and then ‘distress’ it with the tool, revealing areas of base colour. In either case the texture of the finish will depend on the tool you have used: each implement leaves its own characteristic mark.
Techniques such as woodgraining, marbling and tortoise-shelling are essentially designed to simulate a natural material. Many of these effects are based on broken-colour techniques, with a distressed background being modified or decorated in such a way as to resemble the natural patterns and textures of stone, wood or whatever. Although it is impossible to achieve a highly realistic result without a high degree of artistic skill, more abstract patterning can be equally effective and is much easier.
Glazes and Washes
All special paint techniques depend on the use of glazes and washes. A glaze is a thinned or diluted oil-based paint; a wash is a thinned water-based paint. The correct ratio of paint to solvent is generally 1:3, but experiment is important. Glazes or washes diluted to a greater degree have more transparency and dry more quickly. Most effects can be achieved using either a glaze or a wash. A glaze produces a more luminous and sumptuous finish; washes are fresh and soft-looking.
Another consideration is the texture of the paint: matt, mid-sheen or gloss for oil-based glazes, and matt or mid-sheen for washes.
Remember that oil- and water-based paints are incompatible when wet.
Making a Glaze
You can buy ready-made glaze, but the following are recipes; all can be tinted using artists’ oil colours.
• Transparent oil glaze, thinned 1:1 with white spirit or turpentine
• White undercoat, flat oil or eggshell, thinned 1:3 with white spirit or turpentine
• Undercoat or flat oil thinned 1:1 with transparent oil glaze and then mixed 1:1 with white spirit or turpentine
• Linseed oil thinned 1:3 with turpentine
Making a Wash
Thin emulsion (latex) paint 1:3 with water and, if need be, tint to the desired shade using artists’ gouache. Allow each coat of paint to dry before applying the next.