This section provides a list of techniques, materials, and common references that are frequently used in the design and decorative painting profession.


Before starting on a project, a special attention must be given to the walls, to insure that their surface is smooth and free of the so-called orange peel effect -- an unsightly bumpy look caused by a crude application of paint: too much paint was applied at the same time or a coarse roller sleeve was used. To go faster, many painters are tempted to use wooly rollers that carry more paint and sometimes save an extra coat. The result is cheap looking, distracting, with this orange peel effect that will show under the new glaze. However, time is always an issue, and many customers will pass on a much needed sanding for monetary reasons. If you try to achieve a faux marble or faux wood, for instance, your surface needs to be totally smooth, otherwise the bumps will give away your faux finish and detract a great deal from it. The same applies to lacquer or metal paint finishes.


Also called Galluchat, Shagreen is the tanned skin of a variety of fish: such as spotted dogfish for the small grain specimens, stingray or shark among others for the larger and harder grains. It appears as a dotted skin, with regular dots parted around a center, ranging from small circles to tiny dots. The center shows five or six larger irregular dots resembling mini pebbles. Shagreen comes in blue gray or blue green, or sand/coffee color. It is a ravishing pattern that will be used on small surfaces, and presented in small rectangles to be more believable. During the Art Deco period, starting at the end of the First World War and ending just before the beginning of WWII, the vogue for these skins equaled the vogue for leather in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Fish skins sheathed furniture, armchairs, armoires, cabinets, boxes, lighters and small accessories.


Refers to a gleaming or glistening brightness. Some like it to be shiny, others prefer it to be flat. Obviously, a flat paint will have little Light Reflective Value and will be less easy to maintain. A flat finish provides for a more elegant backgroundand hides walls defects; however, in a shaded room, you want some gloss, a satin for instance, to animate the walls. The higher the gloss, the smoother the receiving surface must be; gloss will enhance every imperfection and poor paint application. The natural light commands to your choice, all the more as paint does not offer the variety of hues provided by a glazed or gesso covered wall, which brings diverse intensities of hues or colors. Utilitarian rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens will also require a minimum of sheen to withstand steam, humidity and frequent cleanings. Ceilings in excellent condition will look beautiful with a satin or semi-gloss sheen, and will cast down light to the room.


Projection of minuscule flecks of paint or stain to age a finish, or to imitate the tiny holes in stones for instance. It adds to distressed looks by providing a more realistic and soft touch. Gold spattering adds freshness and light.


It was the fad of the eighties: diluted paint or tinted glaze was sponged onto walls with a natural marine sponge, imprinting a soft stone-like pattern. Unfortunately, too often the results were blotchy marks all over the surface. It can however look wonderful and discreet when it leaves a warm mottled finish, with one or several colors. This is the base technique for stone or marble faking. You need to rinse your sponge often to go over the imprint and soften it. This is the same approach as using a crumbled rag or paper or a plastic bag. The more you manipulate the imprint, the lighter and softer it becomes. The two types of marine sponges work best, although synthetic ones also yield excellent results.

Stains and staining

Some stains do not resist repeated sun exposure and consequently whiten. I find that oil-based stain resists better than vinegar or water-borne ones. For a darker tint you may need to mix your own natural pigment powder, straining it even if the pigment was well ground. It is always advisable to sample your tint, for its shade will vary depending on the essence of wood on which it is applied. Also, it is safer to dilute the stain and apply several coats to better control the final tint. It is spread with a pad made of a cotton fabric, for instance an old T-shirt; you need to move very fast, working from one extremity of the piece all the way to the opposite one, to avoid leaving blotches of stain in some areas. If it occurs, you can remedy it by quickly rubbing diluents on it, then waiting for the stain to dry and adding another coat. Once wood has been stained it needs to be protected by several coats of finish.


There is whole range of stencils available on line, from cutesy flowers to spectacular William Morris frieze or Ikat patterns. You could make your own stencil, cutting it with an Exacto knife or an electrical hot blade. Stencil always looks better when executed or finished by hand, by comparison to solely resorting to a sprayer. Their use is infinite: on ceiling, walls, doors, above chair-rails, floors, furniture, children's rooms and so forth. It often proves less costly than doing a mural or a faux finish on the wall, yet will surely transform it. You want to use a latex paint that dries fast and allows you to move on quickly. You may also be tempted to do a raised stencil, using gesso or plaster instead of paint to achieve a tone on tone brocade pattern for instance, or to replicate embossed leather. The most important thing to remember is to not overload your brush and to wipe it on a rag, to prevent paint from running under the stencil.


A stipple brush will crush the glaze and reduce it to a fine powdery layer with minuscule dots, similar to the skin. For some faux technique such as wood graining, stone, bronze, grisaille, as well as for a fading away look, you need to stipple the background. It provides a grainier look than a regular application of glaze followed by ragging.


They are heavily toxic, yet you need them sometimes to strip varnish or paint. You have to decide if you prefer using a hot gun, that will soften paint to be ultimately removed with a spatula, or if you prefer sanding down to the wood the paint or varnish to be eliminated. In either case, these methods require that you wear a mask, or work in a highly ventilated area or outside. Sanding and using a hot gun will atomize paint or varnish and project them all over the surrounding area; the paint stripper is smellier yet containable in terms of side effects. If you can hook your sanding machine to your vacuum cleaner with a special attachment, it may be the safest removal technique to operate indoors. Anything done outdoors is less health hazardous and messy. Green strippers lack efficiency; some would say they lack efficacy as well. They are reliable only for small projects, assuming that you have time to apply countless coats of strippers. To clean the wood once it has been stripped, you need to use different steel wools, from coarse to fine, to obtain a smooth and bare wood.


It can be a necessary evil, to be done outside or in a very well ventilated area using a mask. When furniture has lost its appeal due to a damaged paint or too many layers of it, or a varnish that has turn opaque with an orange or green shade, it is time to strip it. With imagination and some work, lackluster furniture may get a vibrant second life well worth a messy exercise. To complete this operation, you need a strong stripping solution: unfortunately, the low environmental impact versions that I have tried so far are absolutely useless and very expensive. The product has to rest roughly 10 to 15 minutes on top of the wood, depending on the thickness of the paint or the hardness of the varnish. It is removed with a plastic spatula, not a metal one, to avoid scarring the wood. You have to repeat the process several times until you see the bare wood. When this is done, you remove the excess of this waxy solution with steel wool. The steel wool (#1) should be unrolled then folded again in a loose square pad, and you may stretch it and fold it again until it is soaked with stripper. When the surface is free of any debris and dry, sand it with a medium or fine grade sand paper. If you intend to repaint the piece, use a good quality primer that will hide knots, remaining wood stain or water damages, and you may want to have it colored like the topcoat to save one extra layer of paint. The UMA primer is excellent and adheres to any surface. For varnish, I favor a water-based choice: it is environmentally friendly, odorless, dries quickly and does not yellow, unless applied on top of an oil-borne paint. If you opt to leave the grain visible and need a sturdy finish, to protect for instance a vanity top, you may want to use the Sikkens brand that stays more or less clear with a tad of a purple tinge to it. It can be used for exterior projects as well. In this renovation project, it is important to sand with fine grade sand paper between each coat to guarantee a smooth finish.