Sunday, June 26, 2016

Plaster Moulding Project- IX; Faux-Marble, the Finishing Touches

This project is coming to its end after many months of work. I have enjoyed the journey and all of the new things learned along the way. As with any sort of project one might undertake for the first time, there were things that I would do differently if I could start over, and there were things I wanted to do differently, but the clients wanted done another way. In the end, though, I am generally pleased with the results, and though it has nothing to do with furniture, I rate it as one of my best projects.

Four newly minted and installed  "marble" panels.

I usually call myself a "cabinetmaker", which is the proper English term for one who makes fine furniture, (not kitchen cabinets!) but lately I have been using the title "artist" much more frequently, as that is what I have been all my life. I do painting, drawing, sculpture, and woodwork. Not to mention the occasional metalworking project, or ceramics, hey, I even dabble in music a bit as well, that should definitely put me in the "General Arts" category, shouldn't it? 

My earliest and strongest passions in the arts, however, were furniture and painting, and these two fields are what I have spent the most time at over the past forty years. I have been painting since I was 10 and my artwork often involved buildings, ruins, and other architectural elements, so it was no real stretch for me to undertake the painting of "faux-marble" for this house; I have been doing it for years on a much smaller scale in my paintings, as you can see below.

A Cubist's Anticipation of Inspiration (2006)

Narcissist's Contemplation of His Search for a Key
Lost in Plain Sight
(Just a gratuitous excuse to post a couple of my paintings)

The process of doing the panels began with some pieces of 3mm MDF, cut to the appropriate sizes. I had the idea of laying out a group of them on the work-table and painting them all as if they were one slab of marble, to expedite the process and to give a more uniform look the the entire project. Another reason for this is that when painting individual panels, the edges tend to look less involved than the centres do.

The process begins by sponging on lots of white paint
I used "milk paint" for this project. It is made from lime and powdered casein proteins, and is sold in dry form to be mixed with water as needed. I like this paint because one can achieve a vast range of colour and effect simply by varying the proportion of water. 

The whole "trick" to getting good marbling effects is to allow transparencies of many of the colours, and a "bleeding" of the colours underneath.

Here you can see the colour of the board showing through behind the white,
you will note even see this colour in the end, but its effect will be there
Beginning the second layer; a salmon colour.
(This was actually from the second batch of panels)
Two layers of salmon and a layer of light yellow applied to the first batch

The third stage of the process is the one which takes up the most time. This is the "veining" process, where lines and patterns are painted on with a fine brush. There are actually many brushes which are sold specifically designed for this purpose, and some of them might even be useful, but I just used and ordinary fine camel's hair brush. This veining business cannot be done in one go, as it will look extremely weak. The secret is to have various shades of colours and go over the lines two or three times, from the lightest shade to the darkest, (but never completely covering the previous application). Another step is to then go along some of these lines with a line of white. This whole process takes several hours, and involves holding the brush completely vertical and passing it over the surface with a wiggling motion whilst varying the pressure to achieve thicker and thinner lines. These colours were done with liquid type watercolours.

A section of veining after three passes with various shades made from mixing
burnt sienna, yellow ocher, and Prussian blue. 

Although the third stage is the most time consuming, it is the fourth stage which is the most crucial, because it is here that the magic happens. As you can see, the picture above does not have much of the look of real marble. That comes with the over-washes which are achieved in the forth stage. These are a series of light layers of (for this project) pale yellows, whites, and Burnt Sienna colours which mute and blend the underlying paint together.

The second set of panels after veining and applying five wash layers

My first batch wound up being a bit on the monotonous side for my taste. Any one panel looked nice and had the effect of real marble, but as a whole group, they looked too similar. For the second batch I spent more time paying attention to the real marble around me, and added some inspiration from the patterns I saw in them: the results were much more satisfying and evoked the comment concerning one panel in particular of "This one is a masterpiece!", from the client. It is nice when one's efforts are noticed and appreciated.

A close up of one corner of my "marble slab"
This is part of the first group which were a bit too monotonous for me
Just another reminder of the "before"
(Compare this to the next picture to notice that the
grid in the floor has also been re-done)
A nearly finished project. Only subtle details which
would not show up in these pictures remain

The project is nearly complete now. There are still a few details to be sorted out, such as the fact that the white moulding is still raw plaster and must be painted with a flat white paint. It will still look exactly the same, but this will give more protection to the plaster. Another detail will be the addition of a fine beaded moulding around the marble which will be painted gold as well; it will be the only other detail which will give any other truly visible change to the project. (well, it will make a big difference once they get some more paintings on the walls as well.)

Stay tuned for the next project in this house, which is to do a ceiling medallion and oval moulding decoration in the dining room. That project will commence in about a month, though I have already begun the carvings for it.


  1. You continue to impress me.
    Those panels look incredible.

    I like the narcissist picture the best. But that is probably because I have never really bee a fan of cubism.
    I would love to be able to paint - or just sketch. But I have never taken the time to learn much of it.
    I am pretty good at sketching technical things like machines and buildings, but I can't do a dog or a horse or a human so it will look right.
    So all in all I agre that artist is the correct term for you.

  2. Thanks for you comments Jonas. As with anything requiring skills, "Übung macht dem Meister" (exercise makes the master) The best way to be good at something is to do it, and then keep doing it as much as possible, there is no shortcut, and even if you are impressed with your own work, you always know that you can and should get better.

  3. Get immediate access to 16,000 woodworking plans.

    Teds Woodworking has more than 16,000 woodworking plans with STEP-BY-STEP instructions, sketches and blueprints to make every project very easy...