There’s no better way to spruce up a space than with a fresh coat of paint. But if you want to give your walls even more punch, consider taking it a step further by applying a decorative painting technique. Even if you’re not the next Van Gogh, there are plenty of simple methods you can use to make a huge difference in the look and feel of the room. To help you decide what’s best for your space (and your abilities), we’ve rounded up the most common wall painting techniques, from stencil for cutting. Before you start, read our guide on how to paint a room, then dive right in.
Create a two-tone look on wood with this technique (also known as “liming”), which works best on ring-pore wood species such as chestnut, ash, elm, and oak.
“The first step in whitewashing is to sand in the direction of the grain of the wood with 120-grit paper,” advises decorative painter Pauline Curtiss. “Take a wire-bristle brush and scrape in the direction of the grain of the wood. This will remove the softer areas of grain, leaving a recessed area that will hold the color.
After that, apply the paint or stain, taking care not to leave any texture or filler in the sunken areas. Gently apply a thin coat of finish so that the paint covers only the recessed areas, then wipe or paint over a second color and allow to dry until slightly tacky. “Remove paint from raised areas using steel wool or 220-grit sandpaper with no pressure,” she notes. “Finish with a durable protective top coat.”
Create an inky look by applying a glaze over a paint color in a circular motion using a damp cloth or sponge.
“Start with an eggshell finish, as flat finishes absorb the glaze before you can handle it,” advises Atabeigi. Wet the wall first if you are in a dry climate.
This simple art form involves using a water-based sealer (eg Mod Podge) to decorate with paint and scraps of paper or fabric. “To avoid creasing, apply the gel medium, place your pieces on the wet surface and let it dry completely before adding the final coat,” says decorative painter Haleh Atabeigi. Complement it with a matte or glossy finish.
Make your walls sparkle with this gilding treatment (if you’re up for a challenge, this is arguably the hardest technique on this list). Proper surface preparation is crucial: “Filling and sanding is important, because every little dent will show it,” warns Curtiss. Apply gilding glue (such as this one), being careful not to leave any brush or roller marks. “Use cotton cloth gloves to handle the gold leaf so it doesn’t tarnish,” advises Curtiss, noting that peel and stick gold leaf is much easier to handle compared to loose leaf.
Place and smooth the sheet over the sticky area of the surface where the glue has dried, then remove the paper backing. Pro tip: “If it hasn’t fully adhered yet, use a makeup brush to press down on each part,” says Curtiss. Applying a top coat will help protect it, but will also make it less shiny.
half painted walls
“Half-painted walls are easy to do and a great way to ‘simulate’ architectural details,” says Molly Torres Portnof of Brooklyn. DATE Interiors.
Paint the top color first, then measure the height of the bottom color using a laser level to create a smooth line with painter’s tape.
Use this simple technique to blend and smudge the edge of your painted space. “Start with a loaded brush and let it run out of paint on your edge,” Atabeigi advises – “then before the paint dries, with another clean, damp brush, rub the edge so they blend more.”
Level up by using a single feather or duster to create swirling patterns in the paint, resulting in a marbled look. “Make sure your paint has a good consistency,” says Atabeigi. (If it’s too thick, the feathers will clump together, but if it’s too thin, the paint will run, she explains.)
To create a seamless gradient effect, Atabeigi recommends doing “a 50/50 blend of the colors that meet and painting a four-inch strip between color changes.” Each color must have its own brush, and it is important not to mix them!
Perfect for powder rooms and other small areas, this simple method produces a soft, textured effect. Use a rolled-up rag to apply paint or remove glaze, forming a pattern on the surface. Less is more, says Atabeigi: “Resist the urge to do too much.”
French for “streaks,” this semi-advanced method — which involves sticking your brush on a pole to create long, vertical lines — mimics the look of linen, adding warmth and sophistication to any space. Start by painting the base color on the surface, then use a large faux brush with short, wide bristles. Mix your chosen glaze with paint or pigment and brush over the entire surface.
“Keep your hand steady,” Curtiss warns. “If you’re doing large areas, you can use a laser level to make registration easier. Let each coat dry completely before going the other way. Finally, don’t forget to apply a protective top coat.
When it comes to using stencils, preparation is key. “Make sure the surface is smooth and even,” says Curtiss. “Take the stencil and hold it against the surface using tape or adhesive. Apply the paint with a brush or roller, using minimal paint so it doesn’t bleed under the edges.
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