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As Seen In The Faux Finisher
Secrets of Marbling Success
Feature from the Faux Finisher Summer 1999
In this featured section, Pro Faux explains the details of marbling and the contracting work they did for Oak Associates Ltd. and Caler & Co.

Secrets of Marbling Success

Thought of as a fad in the late 1980s, faux finishing is more popular now than ever. Best-selling books, popular how-to shows and the explosion of decorating magazines are all keeping the ancient craft of faux painting very much alive.

Today, the painting contractors offering marbling services are not only separating themselves from the pack but earning a handsome $50 to $75 per hour for their skills. Hearing or reading this is usually a strong enough motivator for contractors and individuals to want to learn how to marble surfaces.

While decorative painting can be quite lucrative, we'd never encourage someone to do decorative painting on that alone. To be successful in this field, one need patience, practice and perseverance. Marbling is not difficult but requires one to slow down from the normal pace of general house painting long enough to figure out how a certain marble finish is rendered. With repetition comes speed and confidence in marbling.

Actually there are so many related decorative painting categories (for example: marbling, graining, glazing, texturing, gilding, trompe l'oeil, floral, stenciling), it almost seems strange to isolate just one. More often than not, decorators and homeowners are mixing several finishes within the same space. This is not so strange because nearly all decorative treatment almost calls for another.

If you look at grand rooms from the Renaissance you would likely find paint treatments on furniture, accessories, moldings, floors, doors, and of courses walls. This is not so strange because nearly all decorative finishes rely on the principle of the tinted glaze:

"The idea adopted most enthusiastically by designers has undoubtedly been the use of the tinted glaze. Manipulated while still wet, these glazes can produce a dizzy array of effects ranging from pin tucks to crushed velvet, while still achieving a soft see-through quality far removed from the thick, brash, opaque feeling of modern miracle paints. - "The Art of the Painted finish for Furniture & Decoration" by Isabel O"Neil.

Marbling with paint, were faced with the challenge of approximating the color, texture and translucency of real stone. This may seem an overwhelming task to the first-timer, but with a little guidance, quality paints and tools, almost anyone can imitate marble! The more you play with the faux finishing glazes, the more you'll surprise yourself.

When you begin, take a really good look at the marble you're about o imitate (not copy). What are the three main colors you see? Does it have lots of contrast and activity in the veining or is it subtle? Are the edges between colors hard or are they soft and blurry? Are the veins all the same width going in the same direction? do the veins vary considerably, stopping and starting, going from thick to thin, disappearing and reappearing again? These are the things you ask yourself before you paint. Don't waste time worrying if you can do it - of course, you can. Just remember that some of the best things happen in paint by controlled accidents - for instance, letting the solvent drip or puddle naturally and then taking full advantage of those marks by using all or part of that new information in the background or veining.

Using quality tools and materials can not be stressed enough. We always tell out students that if you're using the best tools and products, you'll automatically eliminate 85 to 90 percent of the failure rate. In addition, it is a joy to work with good products, and you can feel confident that your work will last long time for others to enjoy.

Modern Reception Area

We recently completed two small commercial projects using tinos marbling in the design. First was Oak associates Ltd., a prestigious investment firm headquartered in Akron , Ohio. Working closely with in-house designer Sheila Tarr, we used several surface treatments including mahogany graining, elephant hide texture, silver leaf, sky effect, hand painted oak tree and tinos marbling.

In this modern reception area, we painted elegant and timeless tinos marble as a transitional band of complimentary colors between the lighter, softer dry-brushed sky effect and the darker, richer crimson-toned mahogany. The band was positioned to visually divide the two ceiling heights. The marble color was taken, in part, from the dark blue-green carpet and wallcoverings used through out the offices. We choose a block width that would be both believable and appear to rest on the points of the faux mahogany paneling below. Normally one would not see marble resting on top of wood but the band is relatively thin. Besides that's the beauty of paint. We are only limited by our imaginations - not the material.

To achieve the tinos effect, we masked off the area to be marbled with low tacked painters tape. We then base-coated with black low-luster acrylic enamel using a very fine roller for the smooth finish. We mixed a blue-green wash with various artist gouache pigments (found next to the water colors at most good art stores) and water (you may add skim milk if the liquid wants to bead up on the black enameled surface). We generally mix the darkest color first in a small plastic pot with an old filbert brush.

Pouring a small puddle of this color into a shallow plastic plate or retired cookie sheet, we dipped the longest fronds (feet) of the goose feather into the watery green mixture. With the other hand, we carefully tease the fronds back towards the base of the quill so that they stand perpendicular (feather-light actually) we tapped the fronds or longest tips onto the dried enamel surface. While these rivulets of liquid are still wet on the surface, we used the same feather like conductor's baton, whisking over in different directions to create hundreds of delicate overlapping marks. This operation is repeated, approximately one-quarter of a square foot at a time, until the entire block is covered.

We then lightened the blue-green wash gradually by stirring in a little permanent white gouache. We repeated the tapping and whisking with the slightly lighter value. Large veins can be added with the tip and side of the feather with this value as well. Mix a still lighter value by adding more white and lighten up some of the interesting shapes created accidentally by the veining process. Finally we highlighted some of the larger veins with a very light green or even white.

Grout lines add realism to the design because the veins stop abruptly at the edges. Changing the value slightly where the blocks meet also will help to show the grout line. a black permanent marker and a straight edge also can be used over the dry douche to accentuate the grout lines. We completed the look by rolling on a coat of satin polyurethane varnish (solvent-based).

Bold Conference Table

Caler & Co., a full service marketing and advertising firm also based in Akron, Ohio, created a bold conference table design for trial attorney, Michele Morris. "Steve (Caler) incorporated many of my favorite wood patterns and colors to create this distinctive table and conversation piece for my new office," Michele said. The faux finishes we applied over the dated laminate pleasantly surprised Michele's father too, a retired lawyer who used this table for decades in his own law practice.

The tricky part about painting over laminate is in the surface preparation. It is imperative that the surface be clean above all. Scuff sanding for a good mechanical bond also ensures maximum adhesion. We then like to wipe the surface down with xylene or XIMGON Prep because neither leaves an oily residue behind. O utilitarian surfaces such as countertops, always use a quality product that's designed for non-porous surfaces. Most major paint manufacturers offer such a product. One excellent primer/sealer/bonder us XIM's 400W. Over this, we rolled on a thin coat of black alkyd enamel and let it dry.

The following day, the tinos marbling was completed. Skim milk added to the color really helped here as the watery gouache mixture repels more on top of alkyd than acrylic base coats. Finally the table received numerous thin coats of semi-gloss polyurethane varnish (solvent-based) for many years of wear.

The benefits of gouache are that it is fast-dry, child-safe, with no odor, offering artist's quality in wide color selection and hard edge lines that are sometimes difficult to achieve in oils. While most gouache (pronounced goo-wash) is only available in small artist tubes, it goes a long way when properly diluted.

A few secrets of your marbling success include the use of natural materials such as feathers, natural hair softener brushes, chamois, cotton rags, etc., to produce natural looking marks in your imitation of marble. Use a bright white background for 95 percent of the marbles you imitate (Tinos is one of those rare exceptions). This way, the light has something to reflect off, giving your glaze colors maximum translucency and depth. Use a marble finish where appropriate. There is something unsettling when marble is used on a ceiling, for instance.

Look to mother nature for inspiration when imitating marble. She holds far greater secrets than all of your competition put together.

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