Faux Painted Walls | Preparation & Painting - Tips, Tools & Techniques

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Painting walls? you say, where did that come from, I thought this was about Fine Furniture Finishing? You're right of course, but there are so many inquiries about, and interest in various aspects of the rest of interior finishing, that I thought (and hope) you would find this useful. You'll find that once again, you already have most of the information you need for making your rooms beautiful from the videos, but there are some additional tips that are different from finishing furniture.

As with many other things, there are several ways to get the results you want; I'll give some examples, and you can adjust it for your situation.

Begin by removing everything you can from the room. Sometimes large pieces of furniture can't be taken out, and you'll have to settle for scooching them toward the center. But it's well worth the effort to get it as cleared out as possible. Remove the shades from any light fixtures that are attached to the walls, and mask off any parts of them that would be damaged by paint. Take out their bulbs if you can't keep the masking well away from them, or the heat could start a fire.

Take down any window coverings and rods. Use a central container (like a pie tin) for all the miscellaneous hardware, screws, picture hanging hooks or nails, etc. I also remove all switchplate and electrical outlet covers, even if I'll later be painting them the same color as the walls. Put a piece of masking tape over each switch and electrical outlet to keep them clean.

It's easiest to cover the entire floor with one, or several, dropcloths rather than move a smaller one around as you go. And speaking of dropcloths, the best ones for the floor are either the old fashioned heavy canvas, or the paper/plastic laminates. Plain plastic on the floor is slippery underfoot, and paint spills and spatters are not absorbed; you'll likely track the paint out of the room and onto unprotected areas. Old sheets and fabrics are okay for spatters, but will allow spills to penetrate to the floor (or furnishings) underneath. Furniture and other objects are fine with the inexpensive, lightweight plastic.

For a sharp line between the ceiling and walls, or between the wall and a ceiling molding, pull long lengths of masking tape and apply to the ceiling or molding, making a straight, or nearly straight line. Particularly on older surfaces that have been painted many times, it can be hard to decide exactly what is wall and what is ceiling. Split the difference, and try to make smooth curves rather than jagged lines. After masking, run a very thin bead of LATEX caulk along the edge where the tape and the wall meet. Then smoosh it down with a finger, leaving a thin smear that is partly on the tape and partly on the wall. This will keep paint from creeping under the edge of the tape. This tip also works anywhere that two surfaces meet, such as trim-to-wall.

For masking tape, I'd recommend one of the "long mask" types of tape. They're usually blue in color and are made to stay up for several days without leaving residue behind, as standard tape can do.

Overlap this line of masking tape with your hand masker loaded with a 6 inch or wider band of masking paper onto the ceiling, or tape lengths of newspaper out onto the ceiling. This will prevent paint smears on the ceiling as you manipulate the paint on the wall with your sponge or rag, etc. Do the same with all the other edges of the walls where they meet baseboards, door and trim moldings.

Getting ready like this takes a little time, but you can now be quite sloppy with your brush, roller, rag, or sponge, and it will be much faster and less frustrating than trying to go around wiping up paint or touching up later.

What about the preparation of the wall itself? Obviously you'll want to repair any major damage first, using wall patching compounds for the big stuff, spackling for small holes or cracks. Paint these repairs with the same paint that's already on the wall if you are going to be using that existing color as your base for your faux effects. Large repairs should be primed with something, whether it's primer, or just some extra wall color you have around, or it will show as an area of sunken color when you apply the new base color, and it will not take the subsequent sponging or ragging the same as the rest of the wall.

Kitchen walls should be scrubbed with TSP or other wall prep formulas that you can find at your paint store. Bathroom walls probably should be scrubbed, or you can use a dry cleaning sponge (it's like a big dough-ey eraser), also available at most paint stores.

Walls that have a sheen to them (i.e., not flat) should be rubbed down with the dry cleaning sponge. Flat painted walls are usually okay to be re-painted without cleaning. Incidentally, if you use a wet method to clean the walls, do it before all the masking.

Whew! All this, and we haven't even lifted a brush or sponge yet! But all this preparation work not only makes for a better job, it's an easier one as well. When you don't have to worry about bumping into things, or working carefully around exposed details, or wiping up after drips or splatters, you can focus on your painting and the effects you're creating. I really believe it also takes less time overall to do it this way.

If you're going to be using the existing wall color for the base of your new look, you are practically there, -ready to start. Hold on for a minute though, let me mention a couple of tips if you're going to be starting with a new base coat of paint. First of all, you have to ask yourself what kind of technique you plan to use for the decorative part, or the faux part. If it's an effect that doesn't rely on "slipperiness", you can use a flat sheen paint for your base wall color. An example of this would be sponge painting, or sponge "printing" where you plan to use a technique similar to the faux granite that was demonstrated on the videos. Here you don't particularly count on any areas of squishing one color onto or into another.

But that might be one of the few, though popular, effects that will work on a flat sheened surface. For most other techniques, you will want the ability to move the top coats of paint or glaze around a little (or a lot) and here you will want a little bit of slipperiness. For these kind of looks, you'll be better off with an eggshell, satin, or semi-gloss base paint. These paints are not only smoother, they're also less absorbent, and so will let you manipulate the glaze mixture around without immediately sticking to the base paint. This is the same as several of the demonstrations on the DVD's. A satin is probably the best choice for most finishes except maybe for a stippled look, where I would choose the semi-gloss.

Now the next choice (decisions, decisions!) is whether to use a latex paint or an alkyd (oil base) paint for your base coat. For furniture, I usually prefer using oil products for their durability, ease of manipulation, and transparency of color. For walls, my preference for the glaze coats is the same, with the added advantage of a longer open time as well. But they sure are stinky, even dangerously so, when you're rolling it out in great quantities, and, at least for the base coat, I wouldn't blame anyone for choosing latex. If your walls are beautifully smooth, and you want to end up with a high gloss final look (maybe for some faux marbles, or a faux leather or lacquer look) I would still choose the oil base as it really rolls and brushes out so smoothly. But for other stuff, the latex is an easier choice. Still, it's a choice, and you get to make it...

So get out your roller and tray, and a brush for cutting in the edges that a roller can't reach. Use a short nap (1/4 inch, or foam) roller for smooth surfaces, a 3/8 or 1/2 inch nap for textured surface walls. Latex or alkyd, open windows and put a fan in one of them to exhaust air out and help keep the rest of the house from smelling like paint. You may choose to wear a respirator with latex, and I would certainly do so if you're using alkyd paint.

Have at it! This part usually goes very quickly if you've done all your prep work, even for a fairly large room. Using an extension handle on your roller will save you from going up and down a ladder, and will speed things along.

Remember to paint any of the switch plate or electrical covers that you want to blend in with the walls. Personally, I prefer to blend in the outlets by painting, but like clean, metal switchplates that I can easily see, and that won't get dirty or chipped by frequent use.

Here's a big thing not to forget! Before you get to this stage of base coating your room, I really, really recommend that you have prepped and/or primed a (biggish) piece of drywall for a sample. In fact, if you're at all unsure about what base color you want to use to achieve the final effect that you want, you might want to do this long before you buy a gallon of paint. Buy a quart. Buy a sheet of drywall (it's cheap) and cut it (you can do this at the store so it fits in your trunk) into pieces that are large enough for you to judge the effect, and to practice the technique(s) you'll use.

You can make your samples out in the garage or the basement way before you start taking down the curtains, but it's probably even more important than doing it for your furniture projects because you can't just wipe it off so easily to start over, and, there's so much of it when you're done. I certainly don't mean to make the whole process sound scary, but it's very much worth having a sample, and looking at it in the light of the room that you will be painting. Even with just a plain old solid color paint job, I'm sure most of us have had the experience of seeing an entire room's worth of a color that came out too ____ or not enough _____.

Okay, you've got a nice fresh basecoat of the perfect color. Let it dry at least overnight, longer is fine. Does it need a second coat? If you can see different sheens as you sight along the wall, it probably does. If you are just going for a pure, opaque color instead of secondary applications of glaze, it probably needs another coat. But if you are planning on any of the broken color techniques that will get one glaze coat or more, one coat is probably enough.

If you will be using a technique that involves little or no "scrubbing" of the subsequent glaze color(s) such as sponging, ragging, frottage, positive styles of faux marble or other faux stone, you can move on. If you will be using any pressure to move or remove some of the glaze like negative faux methods or "antiqued" looks, let the base paint dry for at least another day. This assumes room temperature (or warmer) air and normal (or lower) humidity. Moving a lot of air around helps quite a bit. Keep the exhaust fan going in the window, with another blowing into the room. Maybe another small one in any corners that are out of the main flow.

Over a latex base you can use a water or an alkyd glaze, but if you choose alkyd, try to give the base coat an extra day for drying. If you used an alkyd paint for your base color, you must use an alkyd glaze.

The secrets to getting good results with wall glazing include having enough of your glaze/paint mixture already mixed in enough quantity to do the entire room, so that you don't have to try to mix and match more for that last several square feet. How much you'll need depends on what technique(s) you've chosen; sponge painting and ragging on use a lot less than negative methods, for example.

You'll treat each wall the same as if it were a large tabletop, working from one corner until you reach the other corner. For right-handers, it's usually easiest to start at the left edge and work to your right. If you are using a "positive" or printing technique, you can be quite casual about this. But if you're using any method that requires blending, or softening, that requires working wet into wet, you must work quickly enough to keep a wet edge moving forward along the wall until you reach the next corner or other break in the wall.

This means that you may need (and it's always nice to have) a second, and maybe even a third person to help. Typically, the first person will apply the glaze with the chosen tool(s) while a second will follow, manipulating the wet glaze with another tool. A third person may be softening the effect of the second, or may be applying another accent color, or be directing the others while standing back far enough to see the larger effects happening on the wall. In practice, these positions may often shift as one person climbs a ladder while another works below, etc.

The important thing is for the person applying the wet glaze to work fast enough that they are able to keep going forward from still wet glaze, but not so fast that they, or the others, cannot keep up with the manipulation of the wet glaze. This is why the alkyd glazes are generally easier to use since they usually have a longer "open" time. Meanwhile, you have to try to stay out of each other's way...whew! You quickly discover what a relief it is to reach a corner, where you can rest (and regroup?).

Here, once again, is where having a finished sample is so worthwhile. You'll have a good idea of how to get the effect you want, and know where you can dawdle along, and where you'll have to keep moving to keep the glaze wet.

Before starting with the glaze, remember to replace any switch or outlet covers that you want to have receive the same techniques as the surrounding walls. I like to remove them for the base color earlier so they don't get welded in with paint. Or you can replace them later, and touch in the effect to blend them in.

You'll usually want to begin with the shortest wall, or least conspicuous wall. I hate to say that it's for "practice", because theoretically, you've already done that when you were making samples. But the full sized wall will always be a little different, and so this gives you a place to "warm up." If the worst disaster befalls you, or you don't like the full size results, a short wall will be easier to repaint. In fact, if the base color coat has had plenty of time to dry, you may be able to wipe off your first effort and start again. A fresh base coat will not stand much scrubbing though.

More likely, you'll be at least reasonably pleased with your results, and may just slightly modify your techniques on the next section. Keep in mind that you will probably not be seeing most of the walls in their entirety after you replace furniture and pictures, and will not notice small differences, especially if the glaze color(s) stay the same throughout.

Lacking an inconspicuous wall, start with a window wall. Not only does this usually have a smaller surface area because of the space the windows occupy, but they also break up the wall into smaller sections above and below them, and small differences will be harder to see. Also, the fact that they are letting light into the room makes it more difficult to actually "see" what's on that wall. Conversely, the wall opposite the windows will be more highly illuminated, and hence, more important to get right.

If your chosen effect involves more than one glaze coat (such as a lacquer look, or multiple colors for faux marble, for example), be sure to let the first glaze dry thoroughly; fresh glaze is more fragile than the base color coat against abrasion or solvents.

When the glaze has dried overnight, sight along the walls to see if you're happy with the sheen. Cured glaze is reasonably tough, and doesn't necessarily need a protective clear coat, but oftentimes there is a big difference in sheen where there is a difference in how much glaze was left on top of the base. If you're pleased, you are finished; otherwise roll on a coat of clear varnish in the sheen of your choice. This will give you additional depth usually, the exception will be putting a low sheen varnish on top of a deep colored wall, where it will sometimes give a frosty effect (might be just what you want). Once again, your sample can guide you. A varnish coat goes on quite quickly compared to everything else, so don't let that stop you.

Wait until your glazework or varnish is at least dry to the touch to begin removing masking materials. If the tape is pulling up any of the fresh base coat and/or the glaze coat, use a razor knife or blade to slice the edge between the tape and the wall. This is particularly likely if you used caulking on the joint between the two.

Removing the masking and folding up the dropcloths is certainly the most fun part! Seeing your walls bordered by the crisp lines of moldings and ceiling is most inspiring and rewarding. I find myself admiring the work after each part of the room is reassembled with its furnishings, artwork, lamps, etc. I can't wait to see how it will look in the daytime/nighttime, how it can make many of the old things look different with the new colors and textures of the walls. Definitely a worthwhile project...

- Dave


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