How to Faux Paint Mottled Walls

Mottled Wall Finishes

Once you have prepared your walls for faux finishing as described in part 1, you can begin the fun part of the project; transforming your bare wall into whatever look you want. Mottled faux wall finishes are typically the easiest for beginners to try.

There are many faux painting techniques used to give walls the mottled look of leather or suede, parchment, Italian plaster and many others. Typically these looks are achieved by brushing, dabbing or swirling layers of color over a basecoat color.

The mottled look can be subtle, with different hues of the base color being applied to add depth and giving your wall color a nice variation in intensity and shading. Or, you can achieve contrast for a bolder look by applying a light color basecoat with dark glaze layered over it or a dark basecoat color with lighter color glazing.

Blending and swirling the edges of the glaze can soften the mottling and is where the real artistic touch comes into play. Glaze can be applied using rags, sponges, brushes or even a feather duster, depending on the look you want to achieve.

Experiment with Your Faux Finish First

A seasoned faux painting artist always begins by painting small sample boards to perfect a given finish before starting on the walls. This ensures the technique will be consistent and repeatable and that the client agrees with the finished look before seeing it on the walls! And the less experience you have, the more important this step will be!

You really don’t want to paint an entire room only to find that it looks amateurish and needs to be completely redone; this is the fear that keeps most people from trying faux painting in the first place.

Start by painting on practice boards to experiment and perfect the mottled finish you want to achieve. Then go ahead and mask off the baseboard, window casings, etc. on one wall and try your technique out, starting with one wall or section of the wall if you are faux painting a large wall or the entire room.

How to Get an Even Faux Finish

Regardless what tools and technique you choose, the most difficult part of creating a mottled faux finish is getting a consistent, even look. One way to move quickly and keep a good rhythm is to have a partner. Working together, one person can apply the glaze while the other one does the blending and mottling. This also helps since 2 sets of eyes may see problems that one person working along would miss.

Fortunately, glaze takes quite a while to set up, so you have time to do your blending and if you make mistakes you can simply wipe it off and start over again. Here are some tips on working with glaze when doing a mottled faux wall finish:

  • It’s best to work on smaller sections of say 3 or 4 square feet at a time than to try doing an entire wall at once which lets the glaze dry and makes it harder to blend, swirl and smooth the mottled look you’re going for.
  • Try to make each section irregular in shape rather than rectangles or squares; this way any overlaps in the glaze will be less obvious to the eye.
  • Try not to “overlap” glaze onto sections you have already done since the overlapped area will have more glaze than the rest of the wall; these overlaps will be obvious when the wall is completed and the glaze dries.
  • While working step back every so often and look at the whole wall. Check that the blending and mottling are smooth and without too much obvious overlapping between the sections you’ve completed.
  • Take your time and don’t be afraid to wipe off sections you aren’t happy with and redo them. This is not a job you want to rush; remember you are an artist and like any artist, some mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, glaze, like clay, remains soft long enough that you can usually fix your mistakes.

Color Washing Faux Finish Technique

One simple technique you can use to achieve a mottled look is color washing, which blends different colors. Typically three colors or hues of one color are used, with a base coat of white or another neutral tone, a mid tone glaze color over it and finally accented with a deep tone glaze color. You can reverse the sequence if you want a darker overall color, using the deep tone over a darker basecoat color and mid tone and highlight accent colors.

The mottling can vary from the subtle look of “clouds” to a heavily variegated texture, depending on the contrast in your base and accent glazes as well as the blending tool and blending strokes you make. A brush or rag is typically used to blend the accent glaze but, again, experimenting is the only way to decide what blending tool and strokes to use in order to get the look you want.

Here are the steps to create a simple color wash textured finish:

  1. Start by painting the wall with your base color, using an eggshell, satin or semi-gloss enamel paint. Let it dry before you begin the glazing steps below.
  2. Mix your basecoat of glaze using about 4 parts glaze to 1 part paint; a gallon of glaze mixed with 1 quart of paint should be enough to cover about 400 square feet. Check with your paint center for the exact mixture recommended by whichever paint brand you’re using.
  3. If you want a more transparent look add more glaze to the mixture; using less glaze will give a more opaque look. Use a stir stick to blend the paint and glaze together completely. Pour the basecoat glaze/paint mixture into a paint tray.
  4. Next, using a separate bucket, mix your accent paint color with glaze; the same ratio applies but you can experiment on your practice boards to get the look you want; in some cases you might want to use more or less glaze in the accents than in the basecoat. The accent glaze mixture will stay in the bucket since you’ll be using your chosen blending tool (brush or cloth is usually best for color washing) to apply and blend it for whatever mottled look you want.
  5. Use a roller to apply the base glaze color to the wall in an irregular shaped section that is about 3 to 4 feet in area, starting on one corner of the room. Apply the base glaze evenly over the section.
  6. While the base glaze coat is still wet, use a cloth or brush to blot the accent glaze color over the base.
  7. Use your blending tool to blend the accent glaze coat into the basecoat glaze, using small and large criss-cross, overlapping motions, letting the brush strokes show through as needed to achieve your desired look. This is where it is important to follow the same technique you used on your practice board in order to get the same look on the wall!
  8. Rinse or wipe off your blending tool frequently so that you don’t get a build up of glaze; this helps keep your finish even and consistent.
  9. Keep repeating the process one section at a time until the entire wall is completed. Take care to “cut in” around the edges and corners of the wall and areas where you have masked off window trim or other things you aren’t painting. Cutting in smoothly is another part of color washing that takes practice!

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