Once you have mastered some basic paint techniques, you may wish to try something a little more adventurous. Faux finishes allow you to imitate the effect of wood, stone, fabric and other unusual materials at a fraction of the cost. The key to success is to use a light touch — and to know when to stop. Never be tempted to splash on too much paint; rather, build up the effect in layers.
Draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Begin by looking at the real thing -marble, wood grain and stone — then at postcards, books, paintings, even films.
Walls that imitate materials such as terracotta or plaster are a wonderful foil for relaxed interiors. They look particularly good as a backdrop for wood or sumptuous textiles. Picking out the colour and, as here, the texture of the wall in the furnishings of a room brings cohesion to a scheme that may in fact contain many disparate elements.
Few people are fortunate enough to live with genuine, original old plaster walls. ‘Ageing’ a surface is a relatively simple process, however, and fun to do too. Dry brushing is an effective way of recreating the effect of an old wall, or you may wish to use layers of paint in slightly different tones. Start with the brightest shade and gradually ‘age’ the surface with layers of wash, working with the original shade and darkening it by degrees with a little raw umber. Smear on the paint roughly with a brush or cloth and when it is dry, rub gently at the paint surface with some sandpaper or wire wool, revealing glimpses of the original colour and even touches of plaster.
There are many different kinds of marble and, consequently, many different kinds of marbling. Study the real thing to decide on the kind of effect you want to recreate and practise on a piece of paper or board before you embark on your panelling or walls.
The key to successful marbling is subtlety. Here soft creams and greys applied with a very light touch look as appropriate with the wooden floor as they do with the more contemporary chrome table.
Use a soft cloth to rub some transparent oil glaze onto a base of two coats of eggshell. Dip a fine artist’s brush into a glaze of the required colour; quickly and gently flick some veins across the paint surface. Do not worry about a few breaks and blobs in the paint; this will add to the finished effect. Using the tip of a softening brush, softly stroke the veins to blur them. Dip a fine artist’s brush into white spirit and gently go over the glazed surface, roughly following the lines of some of the veins. Soften the surface again, this time in one direction only. And finally, take a clean softener brush and go lightly over the surface to eliminate any brush marks, and creating the desired cloudy finish.
Elaborate wood-graining effects that are designed to imitate rich and desirable marks and patterns — those found in burr walnut, for instance – will take some time to perfect, but even a decorating novice can achieve good basic graining effects.
Choose a suitable base colour – deep red is a good base for a mahogany effect while a pale golden cream creates realistic oak grain – and apply two coats of eggshell. Mix up the graining colour by thinning some transparent oil glaze with white spirit and colouring it with a little artist’s oil paint: a dark purplish brown or even black creates a realistic glaze for mahogany, while a little burnt umber can replicate oak. Apply the glaze in an even, dense coat on top of the eggshell.
Take a dusting brush and drag it along the length of the surface in a light sweep. Repeat this sweeping brush-stroke to blur any hard lines. With a clean softener or dusting brush, quickly and gently work across the gram.
Warm ‘terracotta’ walls are the perfect backdrop for today’s ethnically inspired interiors, and a convincing effect is simple to achieve.
Paint the wall with a base coat of matt emulsion in a creamy gold colour. Dilute terracotta-coloured emulsion – equal parts of paint to water – and coat the wall with a wide decorating brush, brushing backwards and forwards over the painted surface, continuing even when the wash begins to dry.
Allow the paint to dry out completely and then take a clean decorating brush dipped in water to dampen down the surface, working on the usual 1 sq m at a time. Dilute some cream-coloured emulsion: mix 1 part paint to 2 parts water. Using a 2.5cm decorating brush, make a rough pattern of lines across the damp piece of wall. Using a slightly dampened natural sponge, dab at the paint surface to blur and smudge the lines. Keep gently sponging the area until you have achieved the soft, cloudy bloom of terracotta. Use this technique with different colours to imitate lead or unfinished plaster.
To recreate on walls the wonderful blue-green patina of weathered copper, brass or bronze, start with a dark brown coat of matt emulsion. When it has dried, stipple a light covering of bright turquoise green over the entire surface, allowing a trace of the base colour to show through. Repeat the process in some areas, making the turquoise deeper.
Then look at a real piece of verdigris to get an exact colour match for the kind of effect you want and choose a bright shade of green. Go over parts of the turquoise green with a stipple brush. And finally, with a very light hand and an almost dry brush, stipple some of the wall once more — with faint traces of dark gold or bronze paint.
Finally apply a coat of matt varnish; you might perhaps like to mix a little white paint into it to dull the finish slightly.
There are really no limits to the kind of effects you can achieve on your walls. These walls have been given the soft, coppery bloom of verdigris. As with all faux technigues, it is essential that you study the real thing before you start, to ensure that you get the detail right.
A leather effect in deep oxblood, bottle green or dark brown can look very smart, particularly when used to add richness to a small space. Using a small to medium-sized decorating brush, stipple the wall thickly with a paler-coloured matt emulsion than the finished effect you are looking for. Allow to dry for at least 24 hours.
Repeat the process with a darker shade of emulsion, this time splaying and twisting the brush as you work to create texture. Allow this layer to dry, again for at least 24 hours.
Mix some artist’s oil paint – one part raw umber to one part burnt sienna — into a transparent oil glaze and rub this over the surface of the wall with a cloth; take another soft cloth and gently but thoroughly rub off the excess glaze, allowing the texture of the emulsion to show through. In places, rub the surface with fine sandpaper to reveal some of the emulsion, but ultimately protect the surface with a semi-matt varnish.