Home Improvement: Unique Wall Painting Ideas

A brief overview of the next 3 steps in wall paint: additive faux finishing, subtractive faux finishing, and trompe l'oeil

When changing the appearance of our homes, most people find that the most affordable way to create a dramatic change is by painting the walls. Painting single shade walls with contrasting a trim and ceiling color remains the most common technique, but with minimal extra effort you can create a more unique effect.


Before you begin using your rollers and brushes, there are things to do. Inspect the walls of your room for damaged paint or stains. Any parts of the wall that have cracking, peeling, or bubbling paint need to be scraped and sanded. This isn't very common indoors but you many find it in bathrooms, kitchens, and under leaky windows.

If you locate areas that are stained, determine if the stain is something that will come up. Most wall stains are, sadly, permanent. If this is your case (ink, wax, crayon, nicotine, smoke, etc.) invest in a stain blocking primer while you are buying paint. Be sure the stain blocker is approved for your kind of stain. If you don't prime over the stain it will "˜float' through the new paint and continue to be visible.

Now it's time to move furniture. Get all of the furniture in the room to be painted out of the way. You need to have enough space between the wall and the stack of stuff in the center of the room to paint and move.

Use a light cleaner to wash your walls. Do this, even if you don't want to. This will make you paint adhere better and last longer. Wash 3 foot wide strips of wall, starting at the bottom and working up. Rinse that strip immediately starting at the top and working down. Repeat all the way around the room. Let this dry for at least 2 hours. Better yet, do this the day before you go buy your paint. This way the walls with be completely dry before you put anything on them.

Drape any furniture that you left in the room. Use old sheets, tarps, or disposable drop cloths. IF this seems silly, imagine how far the paint could fly if you trip with a paint tray, or your ladder falls over. Also, drape the floor against the walls. Flooring is more expensive than paint, and paint will ruin whatever flooring is in your home.

Remove outlet covers and set them aside. Painting them to match is a fabulous touch, but it needs to be done separately.

Mask off anything that is left on the wall that shouldn't get painted. This might include trim, windows, and moldings depending on your plans. Use painter's tape from the paint department of the hardware store. This is usually blue, and is designed not to damage delicate surfaces.


Using interesting tools and contrasting or complimentary colors, you can create the look of many different surfaces. The simplest additive faux finish is sponge painting. Once you've painted the walls with a single color, take a damp sea sponge and blot another color onto the walls in a pleasing, overlapping pattern. You can experiment with this method by using several overlapping colors.

Another popular additive faux finish is wood graining. You will need a wood graining tool (available in your local paint department) and two shades of paint. Apply the lighter color to the walls and let it dry. Drip your wood graining tool into a shallow pan of your darker color and allow the excess to drip away. Choose the direction that you want your grain to run (vertical is most common and easiest on the eyes) and drag your tool slowly over the painted surface. As you pull the tool towards your body, rock it slightly to create a natural pattern.

Wood graining is especially pleasing to see on trim pieces. Because the pattern is tight and "˜busy' it is difficult to do on an entire wall. If you simply have to have the wood grained look all over your room, try it in very subtle shades. The closer your light and dark shades are, the less dizzying the pattern will be.


The other way to create a finish on your walls is to remove bits of the top layer to reveal the shade beneath it. For this You will once again paint the entire wall in a solid shade and wait for it to dry.

As you work with these method stay in sections that are 2-3 square feet, but be sure they are irregular shapes. If you grid out your walls to create these finishes it will be visible afterward.

The materials that you can use to do subtractive finishes are numerous. Rag rolling is the easiest way to create a one of a kind look. No two people rag roll the same way, so your walls will truly be unique to you. You will need a large number of rags. They do not have to be the same size or even the same fabric. The more uniform your materials, the more predictable your results, however.

Paint your walls and let them dry. Work your faux finish from the ceiling to the floor. Apply your first section of top color. Set aside your roller and tray, and take up a rag. Twist it loosely and press it against the wall, then, as the name suggests, roll it down through the paint. This will lift off some color and leave a pattern behind. When the first rag become too full of paint to lift off any more, grab a new one. If you toss paint-filled rags into a bucket of water, you can rinse them out, wash them, and reuse them later on the same project.

Subtractive finishes can be achieved with sheet plastic, waxed paper, cellophane, very dry paint brushes, news paper, or anything else your heart desires.


This is a French term that literally means "to fool the eye." These techniques require the most artistic ability and creativity, but they can also have the grandest effects. With these effects you want to, quite simply, create the image of something that isn't really there.

The simplest trompe l'oeil is the day time sky. On the ceiling of the room you choose, roll on a soft sky blue. On one side of the room, while the blue paint is still wet, use a dry paint brush to lift some of the paint. This makes that side of the room a bit lighter. I recommend using this effect on the 1/4 of the ceiling that is the farthest west.

Once this has dried water down some white paint. You will want three pans of white: one that is 2/3 water, one that is 1/2 water, and one that is 1/3 water. When these are thoroughly mixed use sea sponges, rags and artist's brushes to create clouds. A science book or web page can show you what different clouds look like from the ground.

If you are comfortable with this level of artistry, you can try bringing the sky into the room by creating a faux wall 8 inches from the ceiling and creating the sky above it too.

Mastered that technique? Consider what it would take to turn a room with a sloped ceiling into a tent. Do you have a dark bathroom? Perhaps it would look better if you made it into the bathing chamber of a castle, complete with crumbling stone walls. A single bedroom wall can be turned into the image of a walk out balcony, with French doors and a view of the Eiffel Tower.

There is no shortage of techniques for your walls: from the complex and grand, to the subtle and cheery. Experiment on foamcore board to see what your imagination will actually bring you, and have fun with it!

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