Decorative finishes – are they for You? 11 Tips

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“Way Back” in the mid-80’s it was all about oil. Oil bases, oil glazes. Traditionally and historically, decorative and “faux” painting artistry was executed in oil products because, well, that’s what there was to work with if you wanted the best results.

Fast forward to Now, where “faux painting” is almost a household word and it’s a “DIY paradise” from Home Depot to Anywhere. With oil-based products currently on the wane for the most part, there’s a plethora of water-based materials to choose from.

Wood you be able to guess?

Wood you be able to guess? Source: Thalman Designs

Many fine contemporary finish artisans still elect to use oil, for all the reasons why oil glazes have created beautiful surfaces for hundreds of years. Mainly, it’s the Glow. Somehow, the richness of oil based products creates a luminosity and richness that’s unparalleled.  In the hands of the right artist, well, you just can’t touch the results with any other method.

Painted Ceiling by Iris Lee Marcus, Boston.

Ceiling by Iris Lee Marcus, Boston artist. Source: Iris Lee Marcus

My personal perspective: even though starting with oils, for years I’ve continued to use only water based products.

Blended Glaze-the feeling of colored light and air

One of my favorites: A softly blended glaze-the feeling of colored light and air

In making the change many years ago I developed a way of working that actually enabled me to create as smooth and luminous a surface as my earlier work with oils. So, I became a convert of sorts. It has, of course, helped that we can now get products that are such a high quality that they “work” almost as oils do. In addition, we now have access to many interesting and versatile texture products that make inspiration really flow.

The in-depth detail of blended, luminous layers

My reasons: Easier cleanup, less down-time between layers, and—while I’ve always loved working with oil, and even the smell of oil paint (growing up in an artist’s household might have something to do with that)—I found that clients did not always appreciate the lingering aromas.

This personalized motif adds a new twist on an old look

It’s easy to get carried away in the dramatic possibilities. I’ve always appreciated and marveled at the amazing execution and exacting appearance of fine “Faux Marble” work and other more elaborate techniques. I’ve also enjoyed doing them myself, to the best of my ability. But my personal process has developed more along the lines of wanting to do beautifully layered background color in glazes, tinted plasters and other materials, for a simpler kind of look, even in a dramatically layered metallic look like this one.

Stainless Steel look for this bathroom.

Through the looking glass...it's Stainless Steel? Nope, just paint and...

So, after that little orientation to the subject: Are you ready to try Faux Finishes, Decorative Painting, or whatever you want to call using glazes to create your own uniquely dramatic home environments?

Here are ten tips—plus one—to help you decide:
1.   Are you patient?
2.   Can you mix colors? Think in layers.
3.    Try taking a class or find a way to practice your techniques before you launch into a room-sized project
4.    Research products with a long “open time”.  Why?
5.    Do you want translucent layers or more opaque color? Translucent layers will use tints, more opaque colors use paint for coloring.
6.   “Marks” or not? To start with, something with a fine pattern might be easier to achieve. A seamless look is much more difficult.
7.   Find someone to work with you on your project.
8.   Always do a mock-up of your finish, with all layers included in stages (so you will know what to expect in your process).
9.   As with many things, it always looks easier when someone else is doing the work.
10. Remember: It’s only paint! If you don’t like or love the results, paint it out!
11. There’s a reason why experienced professionals get professional results.

For an expanded view on the subject, please check out my own HGTV.com interview on faux finishes written a few years ago by an hgtv.com editor.

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