Decorative Painting

By Stacee Harger
Better Homes & Gardens Home Ideas, 1996

You donít need any artistic training to make your walls come alive with texture and color. Anyone can give a room a complete makeover by sponging, stenciling, rag-rolling, or combing. Follow these step-by-step instructions to turn plain white walls into your own personal canvas.

One of the quickest, easiest decorative painting techniques is sponging. It involves dipping a sponge in paint, then lightly patting it onto your desired surface. The result is a random, textured finish that can be the crowning touch to any room.

Before you begin, paint a solid base coat of the color of your choice, and let it dry overnight. If you are painting over a previously unpainted surface, be sure to apply a primer coat or an extra coat of base paint to the walls.

Use a natural sea sponge and experiment until you find a look you like. Itís wise to test your technique and color combination in an inconspicuous place such as the inside of a closet.

To begin, wet your sponge with water, wringing it out thoroughly. This will make the sponge more pliable and allow the paint to adhere better to the sponge.

Pour a small amount of paint into an old plate or pie tin and dip the sponge into it. Cover the sponge with a small amount of paintótoo much will weight it down and ruin the effect. If you get too much paint on the sponge, use a newspaper to blot off the excess. Cup the sponge in your hand and push the paint lightly onto the surface

Space the patches of color as evenly as possible, but change the position of the sponge for an irregular, mottled effect. A wall with close, overlapping sponge marks will have a sleek, sophisticated flair. Widely spaced sponging, with little or no overlap, will produce a heavily textured, more casual appearance.

If you want to apply several layers of color, dab the first color over the entire surface. When the surface is dry, apply the second color and then the third in the same fashion.

Helpful Hints (sidebar)

  • Wear plastic gloves. Household rubber gloves will leave unwanted fingerprint impressions.
  • Use a natural sea sponge as opposed to a synthetic one. Sea sponges give a soft, mottled appearance; synthetic ones donít have large enough pores and will leave harsh, unattractive lines.
  • Use a clean sponge that has been wrung out in water to blend any hard edges.

Stenciling is one of the oldest ways to give your walls some charm. Our Colonial ancestors used to decorate their modest homes by etching simple patterns along the walls. Today, stenciling is still an increasingly popular way to create a border on walls and ceilings. Stencils can draw attention to a roomís architectural details, or mimic wallpaper when applied over an entire wall. You can find different sizes and styles of stencils in paint and crafts stores. Or, if you want a one-of-a-kind look, create and cut your own patterns.

The hardest part of stenciling is positioning. To get it just right, measure the stencil motif and the area you want it to cover. Divide the length of the area by the width of the stencil size to come up with the number of times the stencil will be repeated. Lightly mark the spots where the edge of the stencil will be.

To begin, position the stencil and anchor it securely with masking tape. Put a small amount of paint into a paint-can lid or paint tray. Acrylic water-base paints work best because they go on smoothly and dry quickly. Dip the tip of the brush into the paint and remove any excess by dabbing the brush onto paper. The secret to successful stenciling is to use a nearly dry, round brush.

Hold the brush perpendicular to the stencil and paint with an up-and-down motion. Donít stroke or drag the paint across the stencil because it will smear under the edges. Work from the edges of the stencil toward the center. When done, carefully lift off the stencil.

Helpful Hints (sidebar)

  • Practice on paper or cardboard before stenciling walls.
  • Use a separate, clean brush for each paint color.
  • Repair a torn stencil by putting a small piece of transparent tape over the torn area on both sides of the overlay. Use small scissors or a craft knife and carefully recut the open areas of the stencil covered with tape.

Rag-rolling is a more precise technique that produces a luxurious textured finish. The final look will vary greatly, depending on the type of fabric you choose, but generally the finish resembles watered silk.

Almost any type of cloth will workócotton sheets, burlap, cloth diapers, or cheesecloth. There are no limits, so be creative. To prepare your fabric for rolling, twist it into a tight 6-inch-wide sausagelike roll. The texture of the fabric will determine the finish.

Rag-rolling requires completing a whole wall or room at one time, so itís best to tackle this task with two people. One person can apply the glaze or paint while the other follows with the rag.

To get started, apply a base coat of semigloss oil-base paint or a thinned-down glaze, letting it dry completely. Then apply a second coat of a different, complementary color, using a roller or a brush. Most designers prefer pastel shades for rag-rolling, and neutral base coats. The background color should be several shades lighter than the paint you apply on top of it.

While the second coat is still wet, roll your fabric lightly over the surface from top to bottom, holding it at both ends. This will remove some of the new color, exposing the base coat. Change the direction of rolling often to create an irregular design. When the fabric roll becomes saturated with paint, discard it and pick up a fresh one. Use as many colors as you like, letting each layer dry thoroughly between coats.

Helpful Hints (sidebar)

  • Gloss or semigloss paint works best when ragging. It wonít be absorbed too quickly by the wall or the rag like flat paint will.
  • Before beginning the project, prepare enough twisted rolls to do the entire room. This saves precious time needed to get the job done quickly while the paint is still wet. A 12x14-foot room may need as much as the equivalent of a double bed sheet in fabric.

To create this interesting, striated finish, you drag a comb or other toothed instrument through a layer of fresh paint or glaze. Combs can be found in paint or crafts stores, or you can make one yourself by cutting notches into the edge of a squeegee.

To prepare the wall, apply a base coat. Any type of paint can be used for this first coat, but semigloss or high-gloss paint creates a slicker surface for combing. When dry, apply a complementary color of paint over the first layer. Be aware that the top layer will darken the color of the undercoat somewhat.

Comb the surface while the new layer is still wet. Begin at the top of the wall, in a corner, and pull the comb through the paint or glaze.

Again, you may want to have a partner for this project. One of you can brush on the coating while the other follows and combs through the paint before it dries.

Use long, smooth strokes, and wipe the comb clean of paint after each run down or across the wall. The direction in which you comb is entirely up to you. Some people prefer waves of squiggly horizontal lines, while others like bold, vertical stripes.

If you become proficient, you might even try a basket-weave or crosshatch design.

Helpful Hints (sidebar)

  • Use a corner as your stopping point when combing, so it will look more natural.
  • Donít worry if you canít keep the design consistent. Irregular patterns add to the creativity of the finish.


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