12 Decorative Painting Techniques | Accent Walls | Color and Texture

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florapompeiiThe act of painting walls precedes even architecture. As a fundamental human experience it reveals a natural human response to our environment. From the Paleolithic cave paintings through the evolution of the decorative arts; we have adorned our walls with colors and pattern, flora and fauna.

Decorative techniques are used to alter the feeling of space, affect mood and offer atmosphere and illusion. From accent walls to larger areas, paint and plaster provides for a variety of textures available to create subtle finishes of depth and interest. It’s a great way to share in the richness of our long artistic tradition, and experience the loveliness of decorative painting!

These painting techniques are meant to be used in small doses, subtly, and sparingly. Our design service may include one, or a combination of these hand painted affects, where we may incorporate them to emphasize special features, create small and dramatic accent walls, and add a lovely, hand brushed quality to your interior design statement as a whole.

1. Color Wash

A color wash is a faux painting technique used to create a subtle wash of color over a wall by applying multiple layers and colors of tinted glazes to create depth, movement and drama. It is generally applied with a softening brush over a solid paint layer, using sweeping strokes to blend and meld the glaze colors together.

Color washing was historically created with oil-based products because of the long drying time, but with today’s health and environmental consciousness, paint companies are producing more user-friendly water based glazes. This finish can create the illusion of an old Tuscan plaster effect.

2. Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a faux finish whereby a brush is pulled through a wet glaze or paint, producing fine blurry stripes of the base coat color showing through and creates an effect of soft graduated lines on the wall. Dents and cracks in the wall can enhance this affect and the surface textures are built up slowly.

3. Sponging

This decorative effect is produced by either applying or removing color by “pouncing” with a natural sea sponge while the paint is still wet. This is done by tapping the sponge in a random pattern on the wall, and at the same time working to create a consistent finish. For covering large surfaces a sponge roller can be used. Sometimes this technique involves laying down undiluted paint in a patterned or mottled way so it will serve to disguise any flaws in the wall surface.

4. Stippling

Stippling is a decorative paint color technique and is also known as “pouncing”. A glaze or paint is applied to the surface and while it is wet, a stippler is pounced onto the surface causing the glaze to disperse into tiny dots.

Stippling gives a very even film of glaze while removing brush strokes in a wet glaze – its brushes or stippling blocks have short cut bristles that make fine pinpoint marks on the painted surface. A stencil brush can also be used.

5. Strie

A faux painting technique used for achieving a subtle mix of fine stripes or brush strokes by pulling a dry, stiff bristled brush or rubber comb through wet paint. Strie is also referred to as “dragging” where a drag brush is held down to push through the wet paint while trying to keep the line as straight as possible.

This technique can be done on its own, with the streaks directed either vertically or horizontally or by overlapping horizontal and vertical strié creating the affect of fabrics such as linen or denim.

6. Venetian Plaster

Involves the application of pigmented limestone and marble dust to create the look and feel of authentic stone creating a rich finish with depth. It is a lustrous and silky smooth finish and is traditionally applied in thin, multiple layers. There are a variety of Venetian plaster products to be used today that come ready mixed in a range of muted colors. The plaster is applied with a steel spatula. A luminous finish can be created by choosing a top coat you can burnish.

7. Stenciling

Stenciling is a decorative painting technique whereby a tool is used to apply a repeated image or pattern by dabbing paint with a sponge, stenciling or stippling brush over the negative space cut out of a sheet of mylar or stiff oak tag.

A little research will reveal motifs including Classical, Egyptian, Japanese, Indian, Pomeiian, Art Deco, Mexican, Victorian, Chinese, Contemporary and more, can be accomplished.

8. Spattering

This technique ranges from boldly bright and blended colored flecks to watermarks caused by sprinkling paint thinner on a wet base coat. It is a random affect produced by using a paintbrush, toothbrush, or air gun using various techniques, and creates a rich and complex finish.

There are many ways to spatter, yet no matter which way you go about this, it is so messy that everything in the room should be covered. It can be done by hitting a loaded paintbrush with a wooden stick or other paintbrush. Smaller areas can be accomplished by running a toothbrush over a fine metal screen. An air gun with a compressor and special nozzle produces a fine even finish. The closer you stand to the wall surface, the finer the spattering.

9. Metallic Finishing

As the name implies, these are decorative finishes that use metallic paint in various techniques over other painted finishes. Golds, silvers and bronzes are used over different colored base coats to achieve the appearance of antique gold, burnished bronze or shimmering silver.

Metallic paints are water based these days, (personally I love Modern Masters), and require a carefully prepared smooth wall surface and base coat. This paint application requires lots of experience as it reflects the light and produces a beautiful prismatic effect.

Comment: “Once I painted the living room wall of a client’s home with a rich metallic copper finish. This wall was exposed to direct natural light, which had the potential of revealing any imperfections. As luck would have it, this client was an antique car collector and had restored fabulous automobiles as a master of that ever-so-perfect-car-buff- paint-finish!”

10. Ragging

Ragging is decorative finish in which paint or glaze is either applied or subtracted with a damp rag on the wall surface. The material of the rag affects the finish, and can range from absorbent cotton to cheese cloth. It is crumpled, folded or rolled to create a variety of affects over the wall surface.

11. Fresco

This particular technique recreates the soft contrast and weathered look of frescoes by ever-changing recipe of a combination of sponging, glazing, stippling. plastering and mottling to achieve this effect.

The original frescoes were created using two techniques; that of either buon or secco (Italian for wet and dry). Buon-frescoe was pigment mixed with water on a thin layer of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster. The pigment absorbed by the wet plaster for a number of hours, dries and reacts with the air. This is a chemical reaction which fixes the pigment particles in the plaster.

The secco-frescoe consisted of adding a binding medium to the pigment such as egg, glue or oil to attach the pigment to the wall. The pigment then is absorbed by wet plaster and eventually dries and reacts with the air; a chemical reaction which fixes the pigment particles to the plaster.

A third type used during the Renaissance was called Mezzo frescoe and is painted on nearly dry plaster so the pigment penetrates only slightly into the plaster.


This faux painting finish is arrived at by studying pieces of marble or photos of it to become familiar with each variety’s special characteristics. For the best effect, the marbling technique is to be used sparingly; perhaps on columns, baseboards or crown molding. Marbling is a gradual process of adding more and more shapes and veining in many subtly mixed colors.

Note: A surface needs to be in good condition to best approximate the cold smoothness of stone. The base coat is best cured before beginning this step by step procedure.