Faux marbling

Creating a decorative finish to match a marble mantel. November 22, 2003

We have a client who would like a mantel with a marbling or faux type finish. The base color would be an off-white with grayish color to match the stone and granite that the mantel will be placed on and next to. I have never done decorative finishes and don't want to sub it out. Can you point me in the right direction for spraying this?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
You don't spray anything but the base and topcoats. Everything else is manipulating glazes.

Three good books on various levels:
The Art of Faux by Pierre Finkelstein, ISBN 0 8230 0858 4
Painting Techniques & Faux Finishes by Louise Hennings & Marina Niven, ISBN 0-86573-182-9
Decorative Paint and Faux Finishes, Sunset Books, ISBN 0-376-01388-5

They cover from simple to fairly complex. Takes practice to do it well.

From Bob Niemeyer, forum technical advisor

First, you need to look at the books listed above.

The finish isn't very hard, but the way you perform it differs if you are using lacquer, urethanes or CV. Be sure to use a non-yellowing finish as marbles don't yellow like lacquers do. I could go on for pages about how to do it, but the system will vary depending on the look or sample you need to match. I like to use several glaze colors, sometimes up to four or five colors as real stone has many undertones to it. I would make plenty of samples and just play with the process till you get the look you want, also make sure your finish system is compatible. You don't need finish peeling off a few months down the road. Also, charge ungodly prices to do a finish like this. Why? Because we can.

From contributor B:
Finkelstein's book is the bible, and worth reading by finishers because of the variety of new and old techniques he uses/discusses. (He also teaches courses and will respond to requests for more info.)

I've done a number of these jobs, and Bob is right when he says to charge ungodly prices. These are time-consuming jobs, and to do it right there's a lot of on-site down time waiting for stuff to dry, and tweaking... there's nothing production-oriented about these jobs. You need to give the piece the appearance of depth, which means lots of seal coats between layers of glaze, or color.

This requires making sure that each layer has cured before applying the next layer (I've actually had 12 layers of sealer/glaze/color, before applying the finish. That's what was required to get the look the client would sign off on. Which gets to something else importantů samples, samples, samples!

A couple things I've learned from doing this work:
1) Document the hell out of each step used in making the sample (I even get sign offs every 3-4 steps just to be safe). 2) Get a carton of the Pre-Val handheld sprayers if this is being done on-site, since you usually can't/don't want to be spraying in somebody's den. 3) Target Coating's PSL is not good, but great, for faux work. Quick drying and dries clear. Though they state it shouldn't be brushed on, I've brushed it on and used the Pre Val spray bottles to apply it. You won't get an "off the gun" finish, but the stuff rubs out beautifully.

From contributor C:
Faux finishes are basically done in three steps.

Most faux finishes are easy to do, and are very forgiving, because all natural organic materials vary in color, patterns, etc.

1. They all start with a base background color coat. I prefer applying a clear seal coat to maintain some of the base background color.

2. A colored glaze. It is the glaze that actually creates the faux finishes, each faux finish depends on how the glaze is manipulated (worked out). On some faux finishes, different color glazes or different effects are added using the glaze, and then seal coated into separate layers creating different stones, marbles, leathers, woods, etc.

3. Clear coats are then applied to protect and preserve the faux finishes.

Make up some samples, just by changing the background color and the color of the glaze you can make a multitude of other faux finishes.

From contributor D:
One way of manipulating the colored glazes - a way that I have seen personally but not in any books - is to use the air nozzle on your air hose to push the colored medium around on the surface.

I know at least one high-end contemporary furniture manufacturer who creates fantasy and marbled looks like this as part of their standard operating procedure. They use Ronan Japan colors thinned with either Naptha or mineral spirits. But any colored glaze will work.

The next time you are in the passenger seat of a car or an airplane and it is raining outside, watch the water as it is blown on the side window and notice the paths it takes and the shapes of its trails.

From contributor C:
Here is another technique that can be used to create different effects in the glaze. Lay a piece of Saran Wrap on top of the glaze, and then lift it off.

To create other effects, take a plastic bag and crumble it up, and then begin to dab and mottle over the glaze.

You can use these two techniques with either water or oil glazes. Make up some samples to get the feel before you try these on your work.

From contributor E:
Sea sponges give a nice finish. Either dab the glaze on with them, or dab it off. You can then cloud it off with a softening brush. You can also do this with emulsion paints for interior wall effects.

From contributor C:
Another softening technique that can be used on the oil glaze is to use a dampened, balled cloth with mineral spirits. Just dab and mottle on top the glaze.

If you're using a water glaze, use water on the balled up cloth. This same softening technique can be used on a fast glaze that is made up with only mineral spirits and a paste colorant.

Apply the glaze, and then dab and mottle out with a dampened balled cloth with mineral spirits. This glaze is fast drying, and is not intended for doing all kinds of glazing.

From contributor B:
Another technique you can use for the "mica" effect is to apply an oil glaze. Then using either your gun (tighten nozzle as much as possible, and cut air way back) or the bristles on a short bristled brush, shoot fine drops of a variety of solvents... lacquer thinner, naphtha and alcohol as an example.

Due to the different flashing rates and solvent properties, they all create different effects on the glaze.

Contributor D, great idea. Never thought of that, but makes a lot of sense.

From contributor E:
If you're doing large areas such as walls, you need to work as a team. One person applies the glaze, a second does the manipulation. Otherwise, every time you stop one operation to perform the other, you leave a join mark where the glaze goes over itself.

From contributor C:
I do that technique by squeezing different cloths with different colors, dripping each of the colors in scattered spots. I then use a solvent on a cloth, and drip the solvent which randomly will float the colors.

That's true when you're doing some of the faux finishes. When working alone, I add different amounts of retarder to the glaze depending on the size of the work I am doing.

From contributor E:
You could do it two-handed.
Wax on, wax off! ;)

From contributor C:
Do they use waxes over the faux finishes too? I heard that they're really big on wax liming in the UK. (Is that considered a 'faux finish' over there ;) ?)

From contributor E:
Lime waxing is a quick way to re-create the look of old whitewash or distember that has worn off a surface. The wax has a white pigment blended into it and you simply rub it into the surface so that white deposits build up in the low spots. Antique wax is a brown coloured wax designed to re-create the buildup of muck and grime in the crevices over many years. You can do the same with shoe polish at half the price. It's also a good way to "age" Lincrusta wallcoverings.

(In case you didn't get it, and I'm sure you did, the reference to wax on, wax off, is from the film, Karate Kid, where Pat Morita has the lad polishing the car with both hands; putting the wax on with one hand and taking it off with the other.)