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Applying Faux Finishes

Most faux (look-alike) finishes involve adding a tinted and diluted wash or glaze to an already painted surface to create a textured, layered effect. A wash is water-base paint that has been diluted with water. A glaze is an oil-base product that has been diluted with solvent. Usually several splotchy layers in varying colors or shades—sometimes subtle, sometimes bold—are applied over a base coat that is still visible in the background. Both the application technique and the choice of colors determine the final outcome. Generally, faux finishes add depth, texture, and interest to walls.

Some techniques involve selective removal of color. For these, the glaze or wash is applied over the entire base-coat surface, and then some of it is removed to achieve the desired effect. If you use a fast-drying latex wash, you’ll have to work quickly to avoid lap marks caused by edges drying before you can blur or feather them. To slow the wash’s drying time, add a little commercial glaze to it. Working with a partner will speed the process, too. Because the background color is meant to be visible, evaluate the condition of the base coat before you begin. You may need to repaint if the walls are damaged or if the base coat is dingy or the wrong color.

If your base coat is oil-base or acrylic paint, you will need to use an oil-based glaze that has been thinned with solvent. You can use oil glaze over a glossy finish if you sand first. (Water-based products will not adhere well to a glossy finish, even if it has been sanded.) If your base coat is latex or alkyd paint with an eggshell, satin, or semigloss finish, you can apply either a water-base wash or an oil-base glaze. If your faux finish involves adding layers (rather than taking away layers), it’s generally best to work with an eggshell base coat. If your faux finish involves taking away paint, it’s best to work with a semigloss base coat.

Generally, your first layer of wash or glaze will be more diluted—as much as 9 parts water to 1 part paint for a wash—-than subsequent layers. The final layer of wash or glaze will be the most visually noticeable, so it’s important to think through the color scheme before you begin applying layers. Note: Give special attention to keeping the coverage consistent in comers. The simplest faux finish techniques—colorwashing, sponging, and ragging on—also work well for walls that have imperfections, because the layers tend to conceal flaws.

■ Before you begin, set up the space and cover the floor and furniture as you would for any interior paint job.

■ For colorwashing, start with a thin solution of glaze or latex wash. If you apply a light wash or glaze over a darker paint, the effect will be chalky or antiqued-looking. A darker wash or glaze over lighter paint will lend a translucent quality. To colorwash with a glaze, apply the glaze, diluted 70 to 90 percent with solvent, with a brush. Blend it out with a dry paintbrush or rag, wiping off glaze until you achieve the effect that you like. You can apply additional layers in the same way; just be sure each preceding layer has fully dried. To colorwash with latex washes, mix 9 parts water to 1 part paint. In a hurried and slapdash manner, apply this very thin wash. Let the layer dry, then in the same way, apply two or three more layers. Next apply a thin layer of wash, diluted with 4 parts water to 1 part paint. Then, using a damp sponge or paintbrush, blur the edges to blend the wash with the background color.

■ Sponging is similar to colorwashing, but it involves applying diluted paint in successive layers with a large, damp sponge. A sea sponge (a natural sponge) with medium-size pores is a popular choice. Start with a damp sponge, moistened with water if you will apply a latex wash, or with solvent if you will add a diluted glaze. Dab the wall gently, and rotate the sponge while you lift it off. Use smaller sponge segments for corners. In the hardest-to-reach corners, use a fine artist’s paintbrush to create dots that mimic the sponge effect. Let each layer dry before applying the next.

■ Ragging on is like sponging, but it involves using a damp cotton rag instead of a sponge. The effect is a mottled appearance. This works well with colors that are similar to the base coat or variations on the same color.

■ Ragging off involves covering the entire base coat with a wash or glaze, then selectively, and quickly, removing paint using a moist rag. This technique requires fast work. Using an alkyd glaze gives you a little more time because it remains wet longer.

■ Dragging is another removal technique that creates a uniform striped effect. The technique involves covering the entire base coat with a wash or glaze, then dragging a brush or rag across the surface to create parallel stripes. This technique works best with a semigloss base coat and with walls in excellent condition.

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