Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tools of the Trade

With every job you do, having the proper tools can make an otherwise difficult job seem easy, or easier than if you don't. Many of the faux finishes have the type of the tool to use right in their name, sponging for example. This can be deceiving.... there are sponges and then there are sponges. I once witnessed a do-it-yourself faux sponging go bad. After making a color choice and choosing the sponging finish technique, a client decided to try the finish on their own. The problem came when interpreting the finish, they used a rectangular kitchen sponge. Now this can be a good tool if you want a geometric hand. Being precise in the placement, keeping the lines even can give you a great look. Using different shades of the same color or analogous colors would be terrific. However, this client wanted a soft touch, monochromatic look. You cannot get this with a rectangular sponge - the edges are too severe. Having the right tool would have created the desired effect.

I am going to give you a list of the tools I suggest for specific faux finishes, some of which you have in your home. You do not need to go out and purchase expensive tool for most faux finishes. Cotton rags for example are great for ragging on/off or for fresco washes. Most of us have old t-shirts, towels and sheets we can cut up that are great for these finishes.

sea sponges - sea sponges are exactly what they are called, sponges from the sea. A great benefit to using a sea sponge is that it has lots of texture, I call them 'stipples'. You can cut them to fit into small spaces and corners. This tool is used in a variety of techniques, sponging being the most popular and well known. I also like to use a sea sponge to add texture at the end of a projcet when doing a wash or marble finish. You can purchase sea sponges in many locations such as most local hardware stores, arts & crafts stores such as Michael's or online.

rags - cotton works best- this can be old t-shirts, towels, old fabrics and sheets. You can buy a bag of rags at Home Depot or Lowe's if you do not have any of the above items. It is best when using cotton rags that you wash and dry them before using to faux. This will get all the pieces of loose threads and lint that may exist off the fabric. You do not want to start a finish and have small deposits of cotton on the walls, this will drive you crazy! Rags are good for ragging paint onto the walls or ragging off. These techniques are exactly as they sound.
Ragging on - applying paint to a rag, lightly, and dabbing it on the wall until the desired amount of color is applied to the wall.
Ragging off - applying paint to the walls, and using a clean rag to dab the walls until the desired amount of paint is left on the wall.
Believe it or not, these finishes look very different from each other.

cellophane- any brand will do, but you need a lot, as this can be a very messy process. I would suggest a garbage pail lined with a garbage bag kept nearby so that as you are done with a sheet, as it is loaded with too much paint, you have a place that is convenient to toss it out, without fussing trying to get it into a garbage bag. This can create a nightmare of a clean up if you try to get the paint covered cellophane into a loose garbage bag. Cellophane creates a texture that can look like the walls are covered in the product itself. You can apply the paint to the walls and then place a long sheet of cellophane on top of the paint, mush it up, ( I know that is not a real word, but I think you know what I mean) create wrinkles in the plastic and then take it off the wall. It will remove some of the paint and leave a unique finish.

paper bags - this is a tool many use like cellophane, but it is not as messy of a finish. You can use supermarket brown shopping bags for this process. Again, you can apply the paint to the walls and with crumpled up bags, press the bag onto the wet painted wall and remove it for a wrinkled look. You can also apply the paint to the wrinkled and folded bag and using the bag, apply the paint to the wall. Make sure the cut the bags into manageable sizes. Another unique finish is to use the bags ripped into smaller pieces, depending on the look you want and using wallpaper glue, put up the ripped pieces, overlapping them on the wall. Then use a glaze, either tinted with color or as is, and apply over the papered wall. This gives you a completely different look than faux finishing using a bag. It is not exactly a faux finish, more like a homemade wallpaper treatment. Unique nonetheless!

woolie- here is a tool that as a professional you should not be without, and as an amateur it will be the best investment you can make! The Woolie is a tool that is available in some stores, or online, as you can see from the link. It has a faux sheepskin texture fabric that is on an easy to use handle. It is easy to clean and comes in two sizes. The smaller tool is great for corners and hard to reach small spaces. Well worth the investment! The Woolie will give you a soft touch finish and can change any flat finish painted room to a muted finish in no time at all. The only tip I have to offer here is to be sure not to load the Woolie with too much paint. You can use the tray supplied in the kit and dip the Woolie in, or, as I prefer, use the tray as a holder for the Woolie and apply the paint to the tool with a brush. This will allow you to control the amount of paint on the tool, and subsequently on the wall.

blue steel blades -a must for venetian plaster finishing. The plaster is applied using these blades and then burnished using the same blades. Be sure to keep the blades clean as the plaster can dry and cause problems by getting into the wet plaster on your walls. Venetian plaster is a very difficult and labor intensive process which can be overwhelming after only thirty minutes of starting, if you are not prepared. I would suggest reading up on this one, searching on YouTube for hints and how-to video before you attempt this process on your own. You can buy the blades at your local big box hardware store, paint store or online at a number of sites. Here are two I have found - doityourself.com OR Plastering Tools- Venetian Plaster and Faux Finish Supplies, Tools and workshops.
I own the symphony blade kit and love it! Three sizes for all spaces!

spackle knife- A basic tool, mainly used for fixing the cracks, pin and nail holes and divets in the walls prior to painting. They can also be used in an artistic way to apply paint to the walls for a different look. Spackle knives come in a variety of sizes and are available at your local hardware stores. It is important to keep the spackle knife clean while working to alleviate the problem of the dry plaster ending up mixed into the wet spackle being applied to the wall. This can cause a problem when the time comes to sand the area, as the dried up piece that got mixed in can crack out and create another divet that will need repair.

artists paint brushes - These come in all different sizes and shapes. Using an artist's brush will allow you to correct problems easily and act as a great tool for finishes like marbleizing and veining. Most arts & craft stores carry a variety of brushes. You do not have to buy the most expensive brush to get the effect you want. I find that Michael's has a great selection of brushes.

paper plates - I know, this is a crazy tool! I feel this is one of the most important tools to have when starting ANY faux finish technique. I use paper plates in many ways, they make great palettes for your paint! They are terrific when you want to dab off the excess paint from the tool you are using, be it a ragg, sponge, or any of the items mentioned above. The best part is that this is an affordable tool and most people have this in their home!

So, there you have it - my list of my favorite tools. Before trying any finish yourself, make test boards using foam core, actual sheet rock or poster board. Test the tools and the finish on a sample board before applying it to your walls to perfect the technique. Place the finished board in the room and look at it in all different lighting to be sure you like the finished product.
The most important tip... have fun with it - after all, it is only paint!

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