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Combing Paint Techniques

Introduction

Using a decorative-painting technique called combing, you can transform the plain surface of a wall, dresser, or terra-cotta pot into a textured and stylized veneer. This method of painting involves applying a base-coat paint, covering it with a glaze of a complementary or contrasting color, then pulling the teeth of a combing tool through the glaze to reveal the base coat. The result is a striped finish that resembles the grain of natural wood.

There's no need, however, to limit yourself to lines: This technique can be used to create checkerboard, plaid, and other patterns. The design will depend on the tools you choose, such as squeegees, triangles, potter's ribs, graining combs, or homemade cardboard tools. Martha uses this technique to decorate the door of a tag-sale cabinet in a three-color checkerboard pattern.

Basic Combing
Tools and Materials
Primer (if painting a terra-cotta pot)
Latex house paint in satin or eggshell finish
Fiber paintbrush
Graduated plastic container
Oil-based semigloss paint
Paint thinner, such as mineral spirits
Alkyd glazing liquid
Combing tool, such as a squeegee, triangle, potter's rib, graining comb, or cut or corrugated cardboard

Basic Combing How-To
1. If combing a terra-cotta pot, apply a coat of primer; let dry.

2. Apply a base coat of latex house paint; let dry.

3. In a graduated plastic container, combine 1 part oil-based paint, 1 part paint thinner, and 2 parts alkyd glazing liquid. Mix thoroughly, and let sit until thick, about 10 minutes.

4. Apply a thin, transparent layer of the glazing mix on top of the base coat. With a steady hand, pull combing tool through glaze in desired pattern. Wipe combing tool clean after each pass. The glaze will stay wet for approximately 30 minutes. If more time elapses, dab paint thinner to loosen the glaze; the thinner will not affect the latex base coat.

Three Color Checkerboard Combing
Tools and Materials
Latex house paint in satin or eggshell finish
Fiber paintbrush
Graduated plastic container
Oil-based semi-gloss paint (in two different colors for three-color combing)
Paint thinner, such as mineral spirits
Alkyd glazing liquid
Low-tack tape
Painter's comb
T-square

Three Color Checkerboard Combing
1. Apply a base coat of latex house paint to surface; let dry.

2. In the graduated plastic container, combine 1 part oil-based paint, 1 part paint thinner, and 2 parts alkyd glazing liquid. Mix thoroughly, and let sit until thick, about 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, block off the section to be combed with tape.

4. Apply a thin, transparent layer of the glazing mix on top of the base coat in the blocked-off area. With a steady hand, starting all the way on the left side, pull the comb through the glaze vertically; use the tape as your guide. For each following set of lines, align the leftmost tooth of the comb with the last line of the previous set; wiping the comb clean after each pass, repeat the pulling process until the area is completely lined. Let dry for 12 hours or overnight.

5. Mix the second glaze color following step 2, let set for 10 minutes, and apply a thin layer on top of the combed area. Starting at the top, pull the comb horizontally from left to right, creating a checkerboard effect. Wipe the comb clean. For the following set of lines, use the T-square as your guide; prop it up on small pieces of wood (chopsticks will do) so as not to smudge the paint. Align the topmost tooth of comb with the last line of the previous set, and repeat the pulling process. Continue, wiping the comb clean after each pass, until the area is completely checkered. Let dry for 12 hours or overnight.

Reviews (1)

  • 1 Dec, 2007

    This is a great idea. I've used the same technique with wadded up plastic shopping bags. The possibilities with this application are endless!