What is Decorative Painting?

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  • Written By: Cathy Rogers
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Decorative painting is a broad category that encompasses numerous painting techniques and mediums applied to a variety of surfaces. Contemporary decorative painting includes tole painting, folk art, and faux finishing.

Originally, tole painting referred to decorative painting specifically on tin. Tole is a French word meaning lacquered or enameled metalware. The original tole painting medium was oil paint and common elements included fruit, flowers, and leaves. Traditional folk art originated with peasants and the style incorporated the use of natural-bristle round brushes, primary colors, and a great deal of stroke work, such as the comma stroke, C-stroke, and S-stroke. The style of traditional folk art varies according to the culture that it represents.

Contemporary decorative art is applied to many surfaces, including plastic, wood, glass, fabric, and fiber board. Other possible surfaces are tiles, porcelain, ceramics, and pottery. Frequently, acrylic paint is the medium used for painting because it dries faster than oil and because it's water based, and therefore easier to clean up.

Decorative painters use many specialty brushes, along with extenders, glazes, and gels, to create special effects. Contemporary painting does not involve as much stroke work as traditional folk art. Common subjects include flowers, animals, fruits, birds, people, and scenery. Decorative painting is relatively easy to learn, and therefore quite popular.


In the 18th century, artists taught apprentices a method of one-stroke painting to decorate pottery or furniture. In this method, the brushes were loaded with multiple colors of paint so that the highlight, body color, and shadow were applied simultaneously. This method provides depth to the element, but is quicker than applying each layer individual. One-stroke is still a popular method of decorative painting.

Several methods of painting are common in home d├ęcor. Faux finishing simulates stone, leather, marble, wood grain, and other finishes. Various faux finishing techniques include antiquing, crackling, smoking, sponging, and wood graining. Trompe l'oeil is a technique that creates the appearance of reality. Stenciling, in which paint is applied through a cut-out image, is commonly used to decorate walls or furniture.

Other methods of painting used on walls or furniture include ragging, stippling, and pickling. Ragging creates texture as a crumbled piece of cloth is used to apply or remove small amounts of wet paint. In stippling, a stiff brush is used to apply paint over another color to create a blended look. Pickling, also known as a wash, gives wood a white or washed out appearance.


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Post 2

A really good way of getting decorative painting supplies is to get sample pots from house paint sellers. They used to be free, although they usually cost a few dollars now. Sometimes they are given away as free samples, so sign up for painting supplier mailing lists and keep your eye out.

These paints are often extremely hard wearing and thick. You can also get waterproof or organic paints and you know they are made to be in contact with people.

This makes them ideal for painting old furniture or other objects that might have heavy use.

I try to keep a little collection of sample pots, including some base paint and all of the primary colors so I can just mix up whatever I like.

Post 1

I love trompe d'oeil decorative painting. It's when you make it look as though the painting is reality. Like Wile E. Coyote used to do to try and fool the Roadrunner.

It's a great way to open up a space a little bit, particularly if you have a room without windows or a small garden area with a wall. If you make a faux decorative painting of what looks like an additional window, or another bit of garden, even if the person looking knows it is fake, it will make the space seem bigger. You can also use a mirror for the same effect.

Just don't make it too real or you might have some bruised noses!

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