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Paint Pizzazz: Decorative Painting Techniques

Updated: Feb. 17, 2023

From dull to dramatic in one weekend

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Transform a room in one weekend with one of these three creative painting and glazing techniques. All are easy-to-do, attractive and inexpensive. We show you how.

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Overview: Three wall finishes, materials and techniques

For less than $100, you can transform a room in a single weekend. All it takes is some paint, glaze and masking tape. We’ll show you how to create three distinctly different decorative finish designs using simple tools and techniques. Even though the three finishes look unique, they’re all created by masking off sections of the wall and applying a glaze finish.

The techniques for masking and glazing are easy to learn and don’t require any special skills. However, you will need a good bit of patience since each finish entails multiple layers of glaze and careful applications of masking tape. You only need to paint one wall to achieve a dramatic effect. You could complete a wall in a day, but it’s better to set aside a weekend to allow plenty of drying time between coats of glaze.

The first step in each finish is to paint the wall with the base coat color. For this you’ll need typical painting supplies like a stepladder, drop cloth, paintbrush and roller. In addition, each of the designs requires slightly different tools and materials, and we’ll tell you about these as we show you how to create each pattern.

Note: For more ways to spice up bland walls, search for “venetian plaster,” “wainscot,” “wallpaper” and “stencil” in the Search Box above.

Random rectangles: The effect

Four layers of glazed boxes overlap to create this contemporary design. We chose golden hues, but you could produce the same effect using different colors. In general, use a darker or more opaque color for the first layer of boxes, and lighten the color and increase the transparency for each of the three succeeding layers. Where layers overlap, new shades and colors will appear. That’s why it’s essential to create a sample board before you start.

We used latex paint thinned with glaze for the first layer and thinned semi-opaque metallic finishes for the next two layers. Before you commit to applying the finish to the wall, choose your colors and mix the glazes. You can buy the paints, glaze and sponges at paint stores. Then make a sample board by painting a piece of drywall, hardboard or MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and applying the glaze. Overlap sections of glaze on the board to see the effect. Of course, if you like the way our wall looks, just copy our formula. When you’re happy with the choice of colors, you can start on the wall.

Random Rectangle Appearance and Formula

Recipe for rectangles:

Base coat color: Benjamin Moore Semolina 2155-40, eggshell.

First set of rectangles: One part Benjamin Moore Dash of Curry 2159-10 thinned with 3 parts Benjamin Moore Latex Glaze Extender Clear 408.

Second set of rectangles: One part Modern Masters Tequila Gold ME661 thinned with two parts Glaze Extender.

Third set of rectangles: One part Modern Masters Gold Rush ME658 thinned with two parts Glaze Extender.

Fourth layer of rectangles: One part Modern Masters Flash Copper ME656 thinned with one part Glaze Extender.

Random rectangles: The technique

Photo 1: Make the rectangles

Mark rectangles on the wall using a level and a watercolor pencil. Then frame the rectangles with masking tape.

Photo 2: Spread and pounce

Spread random 6-in. swaths of glaze with the end of a sponge. Pounce with the second sponge to spread the glaze.

Photo 2A: Close-up of sponges

We used “hump-backed” sponges, which are available at paint stores.

Photo 3: Apply additional layers

Add a second, third and fourth layer of overlapping boxes, using a lighter-colored glaze for each layer. Let the glaze dry at least two hours between layers.

Choosing the size and position of the boxes may seem daunting, but don’t worry. The wall will look better with each layer you apply. Buy a watercolor pencil at an art supply store in a color that matches your color scheme and use it to mark the walls. The watercolor lines will disappear as you apply the glaze to the boxes. We drew square and rectangular boxes that ranged in size from a 34 x 14-in. rectangle to a 48-in. square. Photos 1 – 3 show the process. Draw the fourth layer of boxes to enclose any base coat color that hasn’t been covered by previous layers.

Tape off a series of boxes. Then, using the following steps, you’ll spread a thin layer of glaze within the taped-off boxes to create a cloudy effect. Wet the sponges and wring them out before starting. Then use one sponge to spread a few 6-in.-long swaths of glaze on a small section of a box. “Pounce” the flat side of a second dampened sponge onto the glaze to spread it out. Rinse the pouncing sponge in clean water occasionally to get rid of built-up glaze. Work quickly across the box so that you never have to overlap onto an area of glaze that’s already dry. Complete all the boxes with the first glaze color and let the glaze dry at least a couple of hours before starting on the next layer.

Draw another set of boxes on the wall that overlaps the first set and repeat the glazing process. Repeat these steps for the third layer. Complete the wall by covering any unglazed base coat with the fourth layer of glazed rectangles.

Corner Technique

Finishing right up to an inside corner with a sponge is difficult. You’ll get uneven coverage or a buildup of glaze that looks bad. A better technique is to finish within a few inches of the corner with the sponge. Then, while the finish is still wet, use a dry brush in a pouncing motion to work the glaze into the corner.

Shimmery stripes: The effect

Overlapping bands of glaze applied between torn strips of masking tape create this wavy striped wall. We designed a pattern that repeats every 15 in. and is made up of three layers of glaze. See Figure A for the masking tape placement for each stripe. The recipe below lists the paint and metallic glaze colors we used. You can choose your own colors to create a unique look or copy our recipe.

Shimmery Stripes Appearance and Formula

Recipe for stripes:

Base coat color: Benjamin Moore November Skies 2128-50 eggshell.

First layer of stripes: One part Benjamin Moore Blue Danube 2062-30 thinned with three parts Glaze Extender.

Second layer of stripes: One part Modern Masters Smoke ME243 thinned with two parts Glaze Extender.

Third layer of stripes: One part Modern Masters Flash Copper thinned with one part Glaze Extender.

Shimmery stripes: The technique

Photo 1: Apply masking tape

Stripe the wall with masking tape. Stick the tape to the top of the wall, then stretch out a section long enough to reach the bottom before you press it to the wall.

Photo 2: Create a wavy edge

Tear one edge of each piece of tape to create a wavy edge. Wavy edges should face each other.

Photo 3: Apply glaze

Wipe a swath of glaze onto the wall with the sponge. Start a few inches from the completed area.

Photo 4: Pounce the glaze

Pounce the flat side of a second dampened sponge between the torn edges of the tape to spread the glaze. Remove the tape and let the glaze dry.

Photo 5: Repeat the technique

Apply masking tape for the next set of stripes. Tear the tape edges and apply the glaze using the same technique as you used for the first stripe. Remove the tape and let the glaze dry. Repeat the masking, tearing and glazing steps for the final stripe.

You’ll need three rolls of masking tape for one 12-ft.-long wall. We used 2-in.-wide blue “long-mask” tape from 3M and liked the tearing characteristics, but you can experiment with other brands. Photo 2 shows how to tear the tape. Apply the glaze with the edge of one sponge and use it to spread a short swath of glaze onto the wall (Photo 3). Pounce a second dampened sponge over the glaze to spread it out in a thin layer (Photo 4). Twist the sponge as you pounce it to produce a random pattern. Photo 5 shows how to mask off and apply glaze to the second and third stripes.

Weathered wainscot: The effect

Create the look of mossy tiles with this simple masking and glaze technique. After marking off and masking around the diagonal squares (Photos 1 and 2), use cheesecloth to apply a cloudy layer of glaze (Photo 3). Then add a second uneven layer of glaze to produce a mottled effect. Pull off the tape and let the glaze dry. Then apply masking tape around the remaining triangles and apply two coats of glaze to them. Add a molding along the top to create an elegant wainscot.

Weathered Wainscot Appearance and Formula

Recipe for wainscot:

Base coat color: Behr Home Song 400C-2, eggshell.

Both coats of glaze: One part Behr Grape Leaves 400D-6 thinned with three parts Glaze Extender and one part water.

Weathered wainscot: The technique

Photo 1: Create the pattern

Draw a diamond pattern on the wall. First make marks 24 in. apart on the top and bottom pieces of masking tape. Then connect the marks with diagonal lines to form the pattern.

Photo 2: Cut perfect corners

Create perfect corners where the squares meet. Mask around the squares, then slice off the excess tape. Use a sharp utility knife and light pressure to avoid cutting into the drywall.

Photo 2A: Close-up of corner

Remove the tape carefully to avoid tearing the drywall.

Photo 3: Apply and spread glaze

Apply glaze with a small paintbrush. Quickly pounce over the glaze with bunched-up cheesecloth. Work in small sections until the square is covered.

Photo 3A: Close-up of cheesecloth

Bunched up cheesecloth makes a good glaze spreader.

Photo 4: Apply a second layer

Add a second layer of glaze in random patches after the first coat dries.

Photo 5: Re-tape and finish

Complete the triangles by masking over the edges of the squares and applying glaze using the same recipe and techniques as before.

Mix one part latex paint to three parts glaze to make the finish. Then cut a 30-in. piece of cheesecloth from the roll and unfold it. You’ll find pads of cheesecloth at most full-service paint stores. Dampen the cheesecloth with water and lightly bunch it up to prepare it for use. Photos 1 – 5 show how to mark and mask off the squares and how to apply the glaze. We used special Frog, which is designed to minimize the amount of paint that creeps under the edges. (You could also use blue masking tape.) Just lightly press down the edges of the Frog Tape with a plastic putty knife to seal them. Let the first layer of glaze dry. Then add a second layer in a random pattern to create darker and lighter areas. Remove the tape and let the glaze dry completely before masking around the remaining triangles and repeating the process.

Working With Glaze

Think of the thin, sugary layer on a glazed doughnut and you’ll have a pretty good notion of what glaze is. In painting terms, it’s a thin layer of oil or latex that varies from nearly transparent to nearly opaque, depending on the ratio of paint to glaze. Glaze is a liquid you mix with paint to get a translucent look, and is also the name of the thin layer you’ll spread over the wall.

Mixing glaze
Mixing glaze isn’t difficult. Use a measuring cup to get the right proportions, but don’t worry about being too exact. You can add a little water to extend the working time and thin the glaze for easier workability. Just make sure it doesn’t get so thin it runs down the wall. Each of our techniques requires applying from two to several coats of glaze on top of one another. To avoid problems, it’s best to let each coat dry at least a few hours. It should be dry to the touch. Test by applying a piece of masking tape in an inconspicuous spot and removing it to make sure the tape won’t pull partially dry glaze from the wall.

Application tips
In each of the decorative techniques we’re showing, we’ve mixed either latex paint or special metallic finishes with latex glaze to create the finish. Both the “random rectangles” and the “shimmery stripes” techniques look better with even coats of glaze. There are several ways to avoid undesirable lap marks that can show up when you pounce over dried glaze. Starting out with a base coat layer of paint that has a little sheen helps because the glaze won’t soak in and is easier to move around. We used latex paint with an eggshell sheen. For extra working time, buy “latex glaze extender” rather than plain latex glaze. When you apply the glaze, work from one side to the other. Work fast to avoid letting the leading edge dry out. It’s also helpful to work in pairs, with one person dabbing on the glaze and the second person working it to achieve the desired finish. It’s better to err on the side of applying too little glaze, since you can always add another coat.

Tools and techniques
The instructions for decorative painting often recommend sea sponges, but we found that the inexpensive “hump-backed” sponges available at paint stores work fine. They leave a soft, subtle texture that’s desirable for the techniques we show here. Cheesecloth that’s unfolded and lightly wadded is another good choice. In either case, the application technique is similar. You apply a little glaze to the wall with either a sponge or a brush, and then spread it out in a thin, even layer with a second sponge or a wad of cheesecloth. If you don’t mind the extra work, simply practice on the wall. Then paint over it to prepare for the actual finish. Or you can practice on a painted piece of drywall, MDF or hardboard.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Paintbrush
  • Straightedge
  • Utility knife
You’ll also need “hump-backed” sponges or sea sponges.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Glaze
  • Glaze extender
  • Masking tape
  • Paint
  • Stepladder
Level – Level, 4-ft.