Faux painting techniques have long been employed to help minimizes building costs by mimicking the effect of expensive materials, like marble, exotic woods, and carved moldings. Proper execution of key techniques can result in a finished product that is near indistinguishable from the genuine material. Some of the most common techniques used in historic building include marbleizing, faux bois, Strié, and trompe-l’oeil.
Quite simply, marbleizing seeks to take an ordinary material, like wood or plaster, and transform it to look like polished marble. Skilled craftsmen use a variety of techniques to create their desired effect, often varying them depending on if they are trying to mimic the look of a specific type of marble, or merely wish to achieve a generic look. The depth of field exhibited in the work of highly skilled craftsmen comes from utilizing two main, yet distinct techniques:
Scumble: this technique uses thinned opaque paints that are applied over an opaque paint basecoat. This process can be repeated with different colors and paint consistencies, which ultimately provides more depth.
Glaze: unlike paint, glazes are semi-transparent and can have an oil or water base. Varying the level of pigmentation in the medium and consistency of the glaze medium results in a layered effect.
Woodgraining (Faux Bois)
Wealthy merchants incorporated various kinds of moldings within their home. They were often very expensive and had to be carved entirely by hand. Most moldings were crafted with common wood, like pine or oak, to help minimize costs. Woodgraining served as a way to not only escape from the limited color palette of the time by adding natural wood tones, but also simulated expensive mahogany or English oak.
Though wood was a ubiquitous building material, exotic wood species were not. Like many faux painting techniques, woodgraining is a process of layering paint/pigmentation either with a brush (most common) or by sponging, and then buffing the finished product with oils, or applying varnishing, to give it a rich wood polish. A thick, opaque base layer disguises the actual wood species and offers a neural starting point for subsequent layers.
Strié is a French glazing technique that simulates the look of fabric, most commonly silk and linen. Like stenciling, the principles of the application are quite simple, but it can be rapidly complicated depending on the desired effect, or scale of the application. In its simplest form, a base coat of glaze is applied to the wall and a brush is dragged either vertically or horizontally (sometimes both depending on the fabric being simulated) resulting in soft lines. The finished result looks like a traditional weave, but stenciling and raised stenciling techniques can give it a jacquard effect.
Forced perspective, stenciling, and free-hand painting meet to bring to life this popular three dimension effect. Though the technique was perfected in the early 13th century to enhance large wall murals (traditionally in churches) with three dimensional detail, trompe-l’oeil found its way into wealthy homes and early colonial government building.
Large stenciled areas can be given an added look of realism by applying shadow from a forced perspective point, mimicking a raised plaster relief. This method has practical applications for both walls and ceilings. Interestingly, the technique was popular across a range of architectural styles including colonial, federalist, and beaux-arts.
Faux painting has the power to transform flat, humdrum spaces into truly remarkable surfaces. Whether your project aims to create the look of a material—marble, wood, or fabric—or seeks to create a three-dimensional effect on a flat surface, a professional conservation firm can create, restore, or expand upon existing detailing. Various testing methods can be used to determine original color schemes, application processes, and original designs. Prior to starting any project that requires highly skilled craftsmen, it is important to understand and review past projects to not only ensure their experience aligns with your needs, but also that you are satisfied with the quality of their work.