French Provincial Furniture

Notorious Sponge Painting Mistakes

Sponging was such a popular faux finish pushed in the 80's that everyone gave it a try.  Bad sponging jobs from amateur painters have turned the majority of the public off from sponging faux finishes all together. I am an active buyer on craigslist, and way too often have I seen very poor sponging finishes in homes that is no wonder that sponging has such a bad rap. Everyone has seen this finish done wrong. Sponge painting is one of the key tools in every professional faux artists tool kit that if it is done properly can be one of the most fantastic finishes around. We want to show you the main reasons this faux finish fails and what you can do to get it right.

1. Sponge Faux Finishes Fail When They Become Fantasy Finishes.

Paint applications are designed to replicate different materials found in nature. Have you ever heard of pink marble? Neither have I, so why would you paint it in your home? Faux finishes are created for the illusion of expensive materials or natural finishes found in nature without the cost of them.When Versailles was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the Opéra was constructed entirely of wood. Some areas consisted of marble, but much was painted to resemble marble in a technique known as faux marble. The furniture was made of real gold, but I suppose money cannot buy everything they wanted, so painting gave the illusion of the material they hoped to buy to complete architecture in their design.

One example of fantasy painting mistakes is the faux wood designs in odd ball colors.Wood rockers (click on the rocker to see product details) used to create faux wood are one of the very best tools any decorative artist should own. When this simple tool is used with the right colors, it can re-create the most realistic expensive wood that would other wise retail for thousands.  Faux wood doors, cabinets and whole wood rooms can be re-created using a wood rocker. The trick again is color.

Woolie Wood Graining Tool

Stained wood in odd colors such as blue and green just do not work well, because blue wood cannot be found in nature. Painting wood is entirely different.  Staining wood in odd colors isn't wrong, it just isn't a high end look.

The point of faux finishes are to be illusions to the eye and realistic to some degree. An excellent example of this is by artist Jean Pronovost, where real marble is mixed with faux marble. Odd colors are a dead give away that the finish is artificial. As you can see in their design, you wouldn't have known the tub surround was fake marble unless they pointed it out.

An faux artist never wants a viewer to figure out what tool they used to complete a faux finish, but rather to guess if the work is real wood, marble, or stone. Today fantasy finishes are a fad of the past. 18th century finishes which resemble the high end natural finishes have always remained popular.

Sponging can be used to create the beautiful Tuscan wall finishes you would find in Italy and Spain.  Sponging can also create beautiful lime stone walls, and natural elements you just cannot buy at home depot. Choosing the right colors can really go along way in creating a natural looking stone wall.

2. Sponge Faux Finishes Fail When They Don't Have A Lighter Base Coat.

Many people think that the sponge does the work in the overall finish, which is not true. In fact, your base coat is one of the most important elements along side the glaze in this finish.

(This is a perfect example of what you can create with a sponge and with a lighter color. Sponging can be very subtle and look fantastic! This most likely is stone, but you can achieve this overall effect with a sponge.  )

Most times an experienced painter doesn't have to tape off their walls, but in this finish, it is almost imperative to tape the corners and ceiling because you are forcing a sponge into corners which would create a mess without tape.   A base coat of paint in a solid color should be applied as your first step.

Great painters don't happen over night. I have had my fair share of bad sponging jobs! Oh ya!

One of the biggest mistakes I have made was working with dark colors as my base coat. I have noticed that the best sponging finishes are those with a lighter base color.  Working with a lighter base coat, allows your glaze be a shade darker than your base paint.  Working with slight shade differences gives you a more professional appearance, such as the natural stone range above.  Working from there, you can add in some additional toned colors using a entirely different tool to give it more of a natural look.

With a dark base color, the overall effect just looks like mud.  You then have no opportunity to add several layers of glaze.  

Great painters need to learn from their mistakes.  I got interested in decorting in my 20's, and helped an ex boyfriend fix up his condo.  I suggested we paint the door frames in silver.  I think back to that design idea and shake my head.  What was I thinking? 

I have made my fair share of bad sponging jobs, as every painter has.  I once used a burnt orange as my base color, and used the sponge to create an over all effect in brown. It was a disaster. Again, the choice of the base color was wrong, and unnatural. Lighter colors work the best which allow a lot of room to add more than one colored glaze.

(Below is our previous apartment which I taped off with painters tape, in hopes of creating a nice pattern.  The navy became too dark in our tiny apartment, so I decided to keep the tape on the wall and sponge over it. (which I would never suggest to anyone)  Someday that tape is going to be horrible to remove.  I never took pictures of the apartment set up because it never was a show home with my painting projects all over the place.  (My poor husband)  These pictures were taken on our way out of the apartment.  I should post the antique settee re-upholstered*  I was really pleased with the overall effect. )

3. Sponge Faux Finishes Fail When Glaze is not utilized as the second tool.

Almost everyone associates faux sponging with blotchy blemished effect which is what most people achieve with sponging.

Why does this happen?

A. The sponge is often overloaded with paint that it looks blotchy. One way or another you will have to pay for this mistake. I remember very well the days it took me to sand down the finish on our bedroom walls from applying too much paint instead of glaze.

B. Don't work on a faux finish if you don't have the energyto take it slow. Everyone wants quick results, but this is a finish that you want to take your time with.

A faux sponge roller allows you to get the finish on the wall, and use a different medium such as a hand broom, or rags to break up the patterned finish.  (Click on the picture to get to the product)

C. Get your paint pre-mixed with glaze. This prevents you from dipping your sponge right into the paint and then into the glaze, which always turns out saturated with paint than a translucent finish.

One of the most important secrets to sponging is to only have your base coat in straight paint. ALL the rest of the applications should be with glaze. Either using a trowel, or a rag, or a sponge, your application should be using glaze.

What is glaze exactly?

Glazes are binders which only minimal paint is added which makes the overall color more transparent. The more glaze that is added, the more transparent the finish. When working with glazes, be aware that they tend to dry quickly, so have some water in a pie pan easily available to make some corrections.

 Best Look Faux Finish Glaze

Blend & Glaze Decorative Painting Liquid

Ici Paints RL2420 04 QT Faux Int Ltx Glaze

There are two types of glazes: water-based and oil-based.

A. Latex or water-based glaze is very easily to work with and can be cleaned up with soap and water. If you are working with glaze for the first time, take a sample board and try out a couple techniques before attempting your walls.

B. Oil-based glazes are more durable, but they also need much more time to dry.  Oil based finishes will have been used with paint thinner in order to work with the glaze. 

4. Sponge Faux Finishes Fail When ONLY The Sponge is used.

One application tool sometimes isn't enough when an artist is trying to re-create stone. Different methods are used to apply paints, glazes, and texture when an artist is trying to create faux stone, wood, and other natural surfaces. A variety of paintbrushes, sea sponges, putty knives, and rags can be used to create different textures.  In the past I have used plastic packing material to create texture.  At one point I was using my kitchen broom. Look around and see what you can use from what you have.  Take a bunch of rags and elastic bands, and attach them to your roller. 

Don't be afraid of picking up a hand broom and moving your glaze around. Multiple tools are going to provide a more natural look than one simple application using your sponge.

Ragging is a faux finishing technique similar to sponging off where you apply glaze to the surface with a brush or roller, and you remove it with a cotton rag.

Layering on colors are time-consuming, but well worth it. The most important part is to carefully choose colors that work well together. You want to work from lighter base coats to shades of the same color which are darker.

Floppy Faux Roller - Floppy Faux Roller
Wagner Spray WallMagic 4-Inch Rag Roll Dual Roller Covers

Purdy 031925-003 6-Inch Large Sea Sponges
Complete Faux Finish Kits - 14320 Rag Faux Kit
Wagner Spray Tech. 0510161J Wall Magic Dual Roller Kit

Woolie Glaze Donut Paint Tool

Another technique involves newspaper. Pressing paper into glaze and removing can create a beautiful finish.

5. Sponge Faux Finishes Fail When The Design Is Not Muted.

The biggest trick to sponging is to allow your overall finish to be muted, and subtle. Just like you began with an over all base coat of paint, you want to finish with an over all coat of glaze. A day after you have completed your overall sponged effect, use a roller and paint every area (ceiling to the baseboards) using a mixed glaze in the color you sponged with. It is amazing what this will do to tone down your obvious brush effects, making it much more subtle. You will not see the overall effect until the glaze dries. This step pushes amateur painting techniques into professional ones.

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