From Rags to Riches
by by Claudia Myers, Spokane Art Supply
Faux, loosely translated as “fake,” is the term used for decorative painting techniques used to create an illusion resembling something real, something that looks like fabric, rock, stone, metal or wood. Faux finishes were developed by artisans in Europe thousands of years ago. Today, they’re very in style, thanks to television shows and home décor magazines that fuel interest, and environmentally safe products that are easy and fun to use.
Depending on the complexity of the desired finish, faux techniques may be accomplished with a variety of household items. Or, they may require more sophisticated artists’ materials and tools. The customer base ranges from professionally-trained artisans, to crafters and homeowners. To service such a wide variety, you need to identify their experience level first.
Professional decorative faux artisans will not use any item on your shelf. They know what tools they need, and are very particular about quality and consistency. Crafters often know what they want to accomplish, but need help finding the correct materials. The novice will come to you because he or she needs advice from the very beginning, along with one-on-one service.
Home décor is the fastest growing market for faux finishes. A big reason is price – the cost of applying a decorative finish is far less than installing the real thing. Changing a motif is as easy as over-painting the existing surface. Some faux techniques can hide imperfections. Metallic applications cut costs to a fraction of the authentic counterpart. Finishes can be applied to walls, floors, ceramic tile, windows, planters, stepping stones, concrete, retaining walls and furniture (old and new).
Moving away from décor applications, artists use faux techniques on paper, canvas, glass, or even recycled items from the thrift store. The breadth of application is only limited by imagination or time!
For customers who do not want to deal with solvent-based materials, there are many faux finishes that use latex or acrylic paints. Because of the space limitations this article presents, I will concentrate on those. Keep in mind that solvent-based products are necessary for specific techniques.
How the process works
The first coat of paint is the basecoat, and should provide a satin or semi-gloss surface. If the basecoat is too porous, it will soak up the glaze quickly, making it difficult to maneuver.
The next coat, basically an acrylic resin binder, is called glaze. The glaze coat is where the action takes place, thanks to its slimy, gelatinous consistency. After it is applied, glaze must have an “open time” during which it can be moved, removed, texturized and manipulated.
Some decorative painters choose to make their own glaze by mixing acrylic medium with whiting, water and retarder. Others will only use a specific brand. Pre-mixed glazes are available without color so that the artist can create his or her palette by adding commercial colorant or artist-grade paint. Glaze can also be purchased pre-colored.
The order in which color is applied, the number of layers, color palette and manipulation techniques greatly affect the final outcome. To experiment, use a poster board base coated with satin white latex. Notes can be made right on the sample board for reference. Advise your customer to practice before attempting the actual project. Never guarantee results.
Faux finishes maximize the effect of trompe l’oeil
Trompe l’oeil or “Fool the Eye” is a combination of multiple techniques that create a realistic, three-dimensional illusion. Faux techniques are used to give specific characteristics to trompe l’oeil components.
Trompe l’oeil is used to depict stationary objects and architectural elements such as columns, doorways, moulding, ornamental ironwork and other inanimate structural components. The ultimate goal of trompe l’oeil is realism.
Murals are large scale trompe l’oeil. Architectural elements are combined with landscape or figures to create complete three-dimensional illusions. Ivy trailing around a staircase that leads nowhere, a window, encased in moulding, that looks out into a garden scene, vines wrapping themselves around a trellis, large foliage presentations that never need watering, even sky and clouds or the night sky. There are no limitations to the possibilities.
In home decor, the desired effect is to bring the outdoors inside. To create this, the painter has to pay attention to not only the elements depicted but also to color scheme, perspective and shadows.
Keep a good selection of books on trompe l’oeil. They will give your consumer lots of ideas and will walk them through the planning process step-by-step.
Covering the stencil spectrum
Stencils are more than an oil board, or plastic cutouts of letters, stars or hearts. Basic letter and shape stencils sell every day, and fill the need of an easy way to trace a shape. But there are also stencils available for the decorative painter; some are complete trompe l’oeil scenes by themselves. Complex, realistic designs are created using multiple overlay stencils. The stencils are made from a lightweight yet durable mylar, or flexible plastic. The designs are laser cut for accuracy with registration holes to assure that each layer is positioned correctly. Many architectural elements such as columns, pedestals, ironwork, brick, stone, gothic windows, trellises, fences, garden benches, floral and animals are available in sizes that are applicable for murals. Overlay stencils are very expensive: some cost $100 or more. If you make the investment to stock them, you must also invest in the time to sell them.
When customers ask if you carry stencils, your response should be, “What is your project?” Don’t just point the customer to the stencil aisle. If the project is a yard sale sign, a can of spray paint or a marker and poster board is probably all that’s needed. If the project is more complex, your customer will have questions. Don’t leave him or her floundering in front of the mass of stencils — you don’t want confused and disappointed customers. Once you have determined the objective and desired outcome, your expertise can help with the correct type of stencil, paint and tools.
Materials for stencils – the paint sticks, creams, brushes and the stencils themselves – are very specific to the technique. Watch the next issue of this magazine for stencil specifics, along with details on specialized faux finishes.
The concept of faux decorative painting, including trompe l’oeil and stenciling, has opened up the realm of possibilities for how, what and where to paint. Art materials retailers already stock many products used to create these finishes. Don’t be left out of this lucrative market.
This is an overview of faux techniques that are used to simulate precious stone or other materials.
• Gilding and metal leafing is a process of applying an adhesive to the area where the artist wants metal leaf. A gilder’s brush, which is wafer thin and made with a single row of soft hair, is used to pick up the fine metal sheet and place it on the surface. Since leaf is so light and thin, it grabs onto the tacky adhesive instantly. Excess is brushed off with a soft brush.
Red basecoat is traditional, but any faux finish can be gilded. Leaf is available in 24k gold, imitation (or composite metal) silver, and various shades of variegated.
• Lapis lazuli is created by floating gold and white flecks in a deep ultramarine base.
• Marble is created by a combination of smooshing, bagging and veining. This wet-on-wet technique uses a lot of glaze and retarder. The directional flow of natural marble is created by dragging veins through wet glaze. Color combinations define the type of marble.
Metallic paints are available premixed and formulated to create realistic, aged metallic surfaces. Rust, iron, stainless steel and green and blue patina can be used on a variety of surfaces.
• Terra cotta can be created by throwing sand into a wet terra cotta basecoat for a random, patchy finish. Patches can be sponged with red, burgundy or apricot glazing mix.
• Tortoise shell is created by overlaying multiple shades of sienna, crimson and black.
• Verdigris is a natural green-blue deposit that results when metals age. The basecoat is done with metallic gold paint then ragged with blue and green teals. A final color wash is done with warm white and a splatter with raw umber.
Basic Faux Techniques
• Antiquing is used to make things look aged. Oil-based antiquing mediums are very popular especially with large furniture pieces because of their open time. To get a dark, rich effect, let the antiquing medium set up until tacky, wipe off with a soft, lint-free rag, then soften with a blender brush. Wipe out highlight areas where the furniture would naturally wear.
• Bagging is the same technique as ragging, but crumpled plastic is used to apply the paint/glaze mixture. The final texture depends on the gauge of the plastic. Plastic food wrap gives a fine texture but is courser than ragging. When the surface is completely covered with glaze and removed, rather than applied, with crumpled plastic, it is called negative bagging.
• Color wash is created with thin layers of translucent color. The effect is a warm, rich glow. The glaze is applied in a random, slip-slap manner.
• Combing, graining, stippling: A mixture of paint and glaze is applied to the desired surface. By dragging various types of tools through the wet glaze, patterns are created as the glaze is removed. Graining combs come in various sizes; pencil liners are wide brushes made up of a series of small round brushes. Stippling tools can be small stencil brushes or large stippling blocks up to 6˝ across.
• Crackle finish is created by different expansion/contraction properties of paint to medium. The surface is first basecoated, then a crackle medium or hide glue is applied. The thicker the medium that’s applied, the larger the crackle pattern. Since different brands produce slightly different results, the user should test first. The basecoat will be the color that shows through the “crack.”
• Dragging is done while the glaze is wet. A flogger brush or texturizing tool such as a check roller is moved across the surface. Textures such as chambray, denim or woven can be created this way.
• Distressed leather. The first layer of glaze is removed by negative bagging. After the surface is completely dry, two other shades of glaze/paint mixtures are randomly rolled onto the surface. Glaze is then lifted off with a damp rag.
• Fresco resembles the Old World plaster walls found in Italy. Best suited for textured plaster walls, you can simulate this finish on textured drywall, stucco walls or create the “fresco” look by adding mediums. Mix up to three glazing colors. Apply the first glaze with a bristle brush in a random motion, letting the brush stokes show. Rag lightly then repeat other shades, overlapping to create mottling and variation.
• Frottage is French for “rubbing off.” This is a similar look to smooshing but creates more texture. Paper is crumpled then flattened out, taking care not to press out the creases. Lay the paper on the wet glazed surface. When the paper is removed, a texture is left behind.
• Leather is defined by the color scheme used. For example, Cordovan is replicated by using a dark, rich red color for the basecoat and finished with a dark brown/black overglaze. Cheesecloth is used to remove the overglaze and create the leather-like pattern.
• Ragging is also a popular, fast and easy technique. Dip a soft rag in glaze mix and wring out the excess. Roll the rag in different directions or stipple in a pouncing motion.
• Smooshing is negative bagging. The surface is completely covered with a glaze mixture, then removed with crinkled plastic exposing the undercoat. It is a fast technique that creates lots of texture.
• Sponging is the most common and easiest technique. A natural sea or sea wool sponge is used to create a random pattern. Small pores create a fine, soft look. Larger pores create bold textures. If more than one color is used, the last color will be the most dominant.
When Art Materials Retailer asked Claudia Myers how she marketed faux finishing products in her store, she thought for a moment before she answered, “Poorly.”
The problem lies in the dichotomy of customers. On one end, explained Claudia, you have the customer who wants to sponge-paint a papier-mâché gift box. “Spokane Art Supply can provide her with everything she needs,” said Claudia. “But many folks who do faux finishing are painting entire walls. They need to buy the majority of their supplies from a paint store or home store. We can sell them the occasional sponge or checking roller but, ultimately, they’ll have to head back to the home store if they’re doing a whole room.
“That brings up an interesting question, and it’s not a new one — how do art materials stores get into the home décor market?” continued Claudia. “I would say that it’s up to each individual retailer to decide what markets he or she wants to approach, and to what extent.”
In Claudia’s store, sales for faux finishing products “just bump along. But if Martha Stewart does a program on stenciling, we’ll see a jump. Some art materials stores tend to pooh-pooh the Home and Garden Network, but they should really reconsider,” noted Claudia.
Nancy Jones, who created the art that illustrates this article, teaches faux finishing, and she sends her customers to Spokane Art for supplies. “Getting back to the marketing question, networking has worked best for us, and Nancy is a great contact. She has her own studio, but will do a demo day in our store. Demo days are super for introducing unfamiliar techniques to a new audience.”
When I asked Claudia to recommend suppliers of faux finishing products, she pointed out that glazing mediums differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, and folks who do faux finishing have very specific preferences. She mentioned that Golden Artists Colors makes a specific line of faux finishes, as does Deco Art. She noted that Liquitex just introduced a new glazing medium worth investigating.
A California-based company whose products go by the name Modern Masters makes a range of faux products that they sell primarily to movie studios and casinos. “For those places, its all about sets and backdrops,” said Claudia. “They’re all faux and trompe l’oeil.”
What about the peripherals — plastic wrap used for bagging, for example. Should an art supply store sell those kinds of products? Said Claudia: “I don’t sell things that people can buy cheaply in many other places. The other day, I had a watercolor group in here that needed paper towels. I didn’t have any! It really makes you stop and think about your store’s mix.”
Here’s a list of basic stocking items for a faux and stencil department:
1˝-3˝ bristle brushes
blending (goat hair) brushes up to 3˝ wide
sponge and nap rollers
Stock an acrylic glaze, retarder, extender, texture mediums, varnish, Crackle Medium and Franklin Hide Glue (used for crackling). Depending on your market you may want to carry pre-mixed glazing colors. You may also want to expand with selections of specially-formulated paint for glass, tile, fabric and metal. Other accessories include spray adhesive for stencils, mylar and stencil burners for those who make their own stencils, sandpaper, cheesecloth, tack cloth and natural sponges. Most of all keep a great selection of idea and how-to books.