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Faux How To Get Started
Feature from PWC, January/February '93
In this feature, Robert Lowes chats with ProFaux about about how contractors can get started learning more about faux finishes. It's easier than you may think!

What's that rumble you've been hearing?

That rumble is a band wagon passing by called Faux Finishing. Have you felt like jumping aboard? Maybe you lost a job because a prospective customer asked you to marbleize a fireplace mantel, and you said, "What?" Maybe you've heard how faux finishers make twice as much money as ordinary painters. Maybe you what to raise the level of your craft beyond spraying apartments eight hours a day. So where do you learn how to literally fake it?

Contractors have plenty of faux educational opportunities to choose from, ranging from free, two-hour demos at your local paint store to two-week courses costing $2,000 or more. The variety of choices, however, demand that you do some homework. Some courses stress faithful duplication of natural objects. Others teach less realistic "fantasy finishes." You may get your own tools for hands-on learning You may not.

Un, Deux, Three, Faux:

Faux, the French word for "false," is an encompassing term that refers to glazes, finishes that imitate stone and wood, and fantasy finishes. Paint is applied with sponges, feathers, rags, squeegees, and ordinary brushes as well as special tools, like check rollers, newspapers,and potatoes. Faux finish workshops and schools have proliferated in recent years, reflecting the revival of this decorative art after decades of dormancy.

While marbleizing might save a customer money, such finishes can represent an economical bonanza for contractors. A normal faux finisher can make $50 an hour because their doing art work. The Majority of contractors are "informationally starved" when it comes to faux, said Greg Frohnapfel, artistic director of the Ohio School of Specialist Decoration (now ProFaux) in Akron. "Half couldn't pronounce the word a year ago." (Fo, by the way.)

School Shopping:

Demonstration at paint stores serve rather like taste tests before going on to the more elaborate faux educational possibilities. Dealers for Martin Senour Paints, for example, hold workshops on sponging, ragging, rag-rolling, and stenciling (graining and marbleizing are excluded). Attendees try their hands at the finishes after a slide presentation. The workshops last several hours and admission is free. Some paint store workshops are more ambitious.

German-born contractor Joe Kuhn in Lexington, MA, has attended several day-long faux classes at a local paint store to sharpen skills that he originally acquired as an apprentice in his native country. "Some things I didn't know," said Kuhn, a residential contractor. "Some of it was basic." The workshops, held on Saturdays, cost him $125 a piece. Then, of course, there are the specialized schools for those who are really, really serious about it. They typically stress hand-on learning and the creation of sample boards that will help students market their new found skill. Tuition covers tools and materials.

True or Faux:

Whether you spend $300 or $3000 on a faux finishing degree, you want to get your money's worth. How do the schools compare in terms of the quality of the instruction? It's hard to tell from what schools have to say; most were not shy about pointing out others' perceived shortcomings. Greg Frohnapfel came down hard on classes sponsored by paint companies: "Some companies are doing irreparable damage to their reputation by sponsoring poor workshops. All they know is faux is hot, and they're trying to beat their competition to the market.

Such views do suggest some helpful criteria, though. Take credentials, for example. An instructor should be a certified journeyman painter as opposed to an artist or hobbyist. That way, the instructor is sure to approach the subject from a contractor's point of view. That may be an important point, given that the contractors comprise about half of the students at the faux finishing schools. Similarly, contractors should note if a school emphasizes faux finishes for furniture as opposed to those for walls and other architectural elements.

Prospective students should also ask to see color photographs of the work produced at the schools. If you receive black and white photographs, consider it a bad sign. You should request names and phone numbers of Alumni and ask them about their experience. And while they're at it, prospective students should checkout these items:

  • Does the school teach you how to market your faux finishing abilities and estimate jobs?
  • Do students have their own separate work tables?
  • Is literature provided that will walk through faux finishing techniques after you go home?
  • Does the school emphasizes traditional faux finishes that faithfully duplicate stone and wood, or does it stress the fantasy finishes that only suggest stone or wood?

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