Woodgraining and Marbling Paint Effects

Illusionist Methods

For the beginner, it is best initially to attempt illusionist effects on a small scale, or to divide up a bigger area into workable sections such as panels or blocks. A good way to start is to study a piece of the material you want to represent and to practise copying the pattern and texture onto hardboard (masonite) or lining paper. You can retain the colours, scale and application of the original or you can opt for a more abstract and freer approach. Bear in mind, though, that you are unlikely to attain realism: that is very much in the province of the professional.


Although most of the effects described here can be achieved using water-based paints, for real depth and translucency it is better to use oil-based glazes.


Unless you are marbling a black surface, it is easiest to work from light to dark. Apply several layers of a dirty-white glaze tinted with small amounts of raw umber or black. Distress each layer while it is still wet, using a rag or brush. While the surface is still workable, ciss it with white spirit. Choose a darker colour for the veining, and paint on fine lines with an artists’ brush; while these are still wet, smudge the lines gently with a cloth or feather. Varnish to protect the painted surface.



Apply a base coat of yellow oil-based paint thinned 3:1 with white spirit or turpentine. When this is dry, paint on a layer of varnish, tinted brown and thinned 2:1 varnish to white spirit or turpentine. Distress the varnish with an artists’ brush, working diagonally. Apply dots of varnish between the marks, and add squiggles of burnt umber and black oil paint following the same diagonals. Smudge gently with a dry brush and protect the surface with varnish.


Antiquing is the process of artificially ageing a surface. On walls this can be achieved by applying a wash or glaze tinted with a small amount of raw or burnt umber, so that the ground colour is softened and deepened. An aged white can be made in the same way.

To age woodwork, apply a light wash or glaze and rub off the excess; then sand down the surface so that the grain shows up in contrast.


Woodgraining can be bold and decorative or it can restore a subtle suggestion of graininess. For a realistic effect, it is important to look at samples of the type of wood you wish to suggest and to practise copying its patterns of grain.

The basis of the technique is dragging. For the glaze, choose a colour slightly darker than the ground coat and drag with a dry brush to make parallel lines.

1. Distress the dragged surface while it is still wet by softening the lines with a dusting brush.

2. Draw the grain pattern on in chalk. Paint the grain in a deeper shade of glaze using an artists’ brush. Print on ‘knots’, if desired, using cork or bunched blotting paper.

Remember that wood-graining is an effect that attempts to imitate nature, so avoid monotonous lines.


One way to give walls a sense of depth and age is to paint them with distemper, which dries to give a soft, chalky finish. Distemper is no longer commercially available, but you can make your own. Bear in mind, however, that distemper is not compatible with modern paints: if you later decide you want to paint a distempered wall you will first have to strip it.

Recipe for Distemper

1. Mix decorators’ glue according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Leave to set — it should cool to a jelly.

2. Half-fill a small bucket with cold water and add a 3 kg/11 lb bag of whiting. The whiting should rise to the surface. Let it soak for an hour and then stir.

3. Reheat the glue until it is runny. Add it to the whiting mixture, stirring constantly. To tint, add powder-colour dissolved in cold water to the whiting mixture before you add the glue.

4. Use the distemper full-strength or, for a wash, diluted with water.

* An alternative to distemper, but which creates a similar effect, is thinned flat oil-based paint.

02. June 2011 by admin
Categories: Decorating, Painting | Tags: , | Comments Off on Woodgraining and Marbling Paint Effects


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