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Painting: Special Effects

Martha Stewart Living, May 2009

Paint has the power to pick up the pace in a room. But to really get a space moving, you've got to rock, roll, comb, and drag.

That's what Martha Stewart Living paint expert Tom Eberharter discovered when he took a new approach to the time-honored art of creating eye-catching patterns and illusory surfaces through paint. 

With the clever use of small crafts tools and filmy glazes, he updated the concept of sponged, ragged finishes -- so popular in the 1980s -- and traded the spattered look for clean, graphic patterns such as gingham and herringbone.

The designs, for all their crisp geometry and shiny finishes, are easy to apply, making it possible to breathe new life into plain walls and tired furniture over the course of a single weekend (and better still, without hiring a decorator).

Much of the magic lies in the glaze, a luminescent, translucent layer that allows a base coat of opaque paint to show through. Its a method borrowed from Renaissance artists, who applied glazes to paintings to reproduce the luster of satin and the richness of velvet. At home, glazes can be mixed with latex paint and water to create a rainbow of original tints.

Different paint tools effect different looks. Tom put an assortment of basics to work: retrofitted paintbrushes, rubber combing tools, paint rockers, and even household materials -- who knew steel wool had an artistic side? 

When pulled through a layer of wet glaze, the tools leave designs in their wake. As if by sleight of hand, the technique also doubles the dimension of painted surfaces, giving the patterns texture. The options are endless, Tom says. Play with the base colors, tinted glazes, and techniques to establish the appearance you want, and then test the look on a sample board. If it moves you, rock and roll.

Gingham Wall
Faux-Bois Dresser
Raw-Silk Wall
Raw-Linen Headboard
Fine Linen Wall
Herringbone Chair
Combed Wall "Tiles"

About Glazes
How to Make Them
Premixed tinted glazes are available from major paint suppliers, but the range of colors is limited. Fortunately, it's easy to create colorful glazes at home (and to come up with more-interesting hues) by following this formula: 1 part latex or acrylic glazing liquid, 1 part latex paint in desired shade (pearl finish or satin finish), and 2 parts water. (Glazing liquid, which has a consistency similar to paint, is white or pale gray in its liquid state but clear when dry.)

How to Create Effects
To increase the warmth of a surface, use a glaze that is deeper in value than the underlying color. A cool, deep glaze washed over a warm background creates rich depth. For a cool, silvery effect, swab a warm glaze over a darker warm tone. A light glaze thinly applied over a dark tone produces a cold tone.

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