There’s an almost endless array of paint techniques, many of which evolved centuries ago when rural peasants created paint treatments using natural materials such as clay and lime to disguise inferior woods and imitate the look and finish of walls and furnishings seen in the salons of the well-to-do. These and many similar paint techniques can easily be used to combine a palette of colours within a room.
Not only do many paint treatments bring different colours together, they can also be effective in imitating certain materials, turning gyprock into sandstone, timber into marble, cement into slate, and simple plain fabrics into works of art.
Broadly speaking, contemporary paint techniques can be divided into non-distressed effects (including the application of contrast or toning shades of colour to highlight architectural elements against solid painted surfaces such as walls and ceilings), distressed effects (which take in all those painted finishes which create textured, broken colour effects and are usually defined by the tools used to achieve them, such as sponges, rags, combs and spatter brushes), illusionist effects (where paint is used in clever ways to simulate the look and texture of natural materials such as timber, stone and marble), glazes and washes (which are generally used to create the other three effects already mentioned, glazes producing a luminous effect and washes being used to achieve a finish that is soft and fresh).
Distressed finishes work well on walls and furnishings alike and can often be utilised in a room to create harmony between the main vertical surfaces and the various furnishing pieces placed within a setting. Distress effects include both additive (where paint is applied in different layers) and subtractive techniques (where paint is removed to reveal traces of the base colour underneath).
Some of the main distressed (broken colour) effects that you might like to employ include ragging (where paint is applied with a rag over a dry base coat or a wet second coat is wiped off in interesting patterns), sponging (where a darker contrast colour to the base coat is applied with a sponge that is dabbed over the surface, or a top colour is removed with the same dabbing sponge treatment), combing (where a top colour is combed ‘off’ a wall or furnishing with a special large tooth comb in either straight, wavy or circling patterns), dragging (which follows the same idea as combing and employs a large dry bristle brush to remove a top colour with straight dragging strokes), stippling (where flecks of wet paint are removed by a dry bristle brush ‘stabbed’ over the wall or furniture surface), and spattering (which involves the gentle flickering of contrast coloured paint — often several colours in different layers — over a base colour, the process using a dry brush loaded with paint and ‘flicked’ at the wall or furnishing).
Key illusionist techniques include marbling (where paint is gradually built up in different layers — usually working from light to dark — to create the impression of veined marble and then finished with a high-gloss varnish), wood graining (involving dragging and various other techniques to simulate the look and pattern of timber grains), tortoise-shelling (where a layer of tinted varnish, burnt umber and black oil paint is applied over a thin yellow base coat to simulate tortoise shell), and the master of all illusionary treatments — trompe l’oeil (where a scene or setting is painted in three dimensions on a flat surface to deceive the eye into thinking a door is about to open or it is looking through a window to a lush garden).
While you will need the services of a professional artist to create an effect as advanced as trompe l’oeil, many of the other effects can be simple and fun to achieve. You also have the option of availing yourself of one of the growing number of special-effect paint products on the market, which make achieving everything from a suede look to a metal effect as easy as picking up a paint brush.