You Can Do More Than Just Roll On Color

Interior Color

He’s a faux pro. After 25 years as a painting and wallpaper contractor, Guido Bernstein of Carbondale says he “was looking for a new mountain to climb.” He found just that in the magical world of faux finishes, using “bagging, ragging, sponging” and other techniques that can add depth and rich texture to painted walls, disguised flaws and create the illusion of marble, brick, wood, even leather and other materials.

Faux (pronounced “foe”) means “false” in French. The term covers a variety of techniques ranging from simple to complex, Bernstein explained to a half-dozen or so people at the recent hands-on class at MAB Paints in Carbondale.

The tools can be as simple as rags or even plastic grocery sacks, crumpled, rolled or “poufed,” and used either to apply a paint glaze to a background surface, or to remove part of a brushed on glaze. They can be as exotic as the goose feather Bernstein wields to lay down fake marble veins. And they can be as expensive as the incredibly soft badger hair paintbrush (“$100 used, $175 for a new one”) he gently flicks across the freshly painted veins to soften the effect of faux marble.

A glaze medium is the key ingredient. It’s added to the latex paint to make it translucent, allowing the base coat to show through the glaze. The glaze also gives the paint a gel-like consistency and slows the drying time, allowing a painter to adjust mistakes.

At the MAB class, Bernstein showed the variety of finishes that could be created just by using slight variations of the same basic taupe shade. After he demonstrated each technique, participants were encouraged to try it themselves. They applied paint to panels with a smooth white surface that can easily be cleaned afterward.

Bernstein works with clients to get their ideas, then creates large sample boards of color and textures. These can be taken to the home so owners can assess the effects in the intended surroundings before tackling large surfaces like walls, ceilings, or countertops.

Bernstein, whose parents were both artists, began house painting in 1974, working for Larry Weatherford. In 1980 he attended the United States School of Professional Paper Hanging in Rutland, Vt. After attending seminars on faux painting by The Wall Doctor and by Pro Faux, the most well-know instructors in the United States, he was hooked on faux. He continues to study through workshops, books, videos and experimentation.

Bernstein, whose parents were both artists, began house painting in 1974, working for Larry Weatherford. In 1980 he attended the United States School of Professional Paper Hanging in Rutland, Vt. After attending seminars on faux painting by The Wall Doctor and by Pro Faux, the most well-know instructors in the United States, he was hooked on faux. He continues to study through workshops, books, videos and experimentation.

Though Bernstein still enjoys painting and paperhanging, he finds faux finishing offers him a chance to exercise creativity and produce unique surfaces.

And it’s affordable, he adds. He says the cost of faux finishing is comparable to buying wall paper and having it installed. He doesn’t’ quote per-square-foot prices because surface preparation, techniques and number of coats vary widely, but he’s happy to provide free estimates on specific jobs: his phone number is 596-8128.

Displaying a wood grain panel, Bernstein told the group it’s easy to take a simple metal entrance door and “spruce it up–or oak it up, in this case” so it looks like elegant wood. Some of his samples resemble travertine marble or granite. He said one local restaurateur paid about $2,000 for a granite countertop “when I could have done a faux granite one for $200.”

Metallic colors can be used in faux finishing, too. “As the light changes, it crackles, it’s alive,” he said. “It sure beats Mylar wallpaper. I’ve taken off a lot of that.”

Unlike wallpaper, faux finishes don’t need to be peeled off the wall. “You just paint over it if you get tired of it,” Bernstein said. He showed a panel with an “elephant hide” finish, richly textured, that can hide a multitude of wall defects.

Maureen Odum of West Frankfort said she was at the seminar to learn techniques she could use when she builds a new home on her farm. Carol Andrew of Marion also was intrigued by the possibilities of the faux techniques. Mark Frank of Chesterfied, MO., asked if you should take the lighting into consideration when choosing a technique. The answer was affirmative.

Bernstein generally uses satin or semigloss paint as the base coat. You don’t even have to use two tones of paint to get a rich effect, he said. You can use a satin base coat, then sponge on the same color in semigloss for “almost a tapestry effect,” he told the group.

When sponging, he advised the group first dip the sponge (a shaggy natural sponge, not the smooth cellulose models) in water and squeeze out the excess. Then dip it into a shallow container of one part paint mixed with about three parts of latex glaze. For the best effect, “do it lightly and turn the sponge before you make contact. You’re just kissing the surface” with the glaze-laden sponge, Bernstein advised. How not to do it, he said, is uniform rows of blobs.

“The last color you sponge on will be the most visible,” he said. “If you think your first tone is too intense, go over it with a lighter tone to reduce the intensity.” He demonstrated working wet-on-wet, using sponge or rag to either apply or remove the glaze coat. With a negative technique, the painter applies base to a very small area (so it doesn’t dry), then takes a damp sponge and tapes the surface to remove some of the paint.

With his audience hooked, Bernstein worked his way up to “drift marble.” He took tubes of acrylic artist colors and laid down dabs on a paper-plate palette, then poured glaze over all.

Slathering a coat of glaze over the base coat, he dipped a feather into one of his accent colors, then used its edge to streak a vein across the surface. “The shakier you are, the better,” he quipped. After laying several colors of veins over the surface, Bernstein wet the badger hair brush and lightly brushed at right angles to each vein, to soften the edges and remove brush marks.

A metal “spatter brush” that resembles a tiny rake gives a different effect. Several colors of spatters on a dark background give the effect of granite or sandstone.

The multitude of material, techniques and finished effects makes faux painting fascinating. At a recent home show in DuQuoin, Bernstein said he handed out more than 400 business cards as people crowded around his booth.

He believes the appeal of faux painting is simple: “You’re limited only by your imagination.”