Grain Painting Brushes

The right brush and tool will help you create that special finish.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jan 16, 2014 6:34 PM

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Grain Painting


Graining and marbling—though widely practiced in the nineteenth century—have long been out of favor. But in recent years, these faux finishes have been rediscovered.

The chief advantage of these decorative techniques is that, for the price of mere paint sup­plies, you can have the appear­ance of expensive materials such as marble or handsomely grained mahogany, maple, or other woods. Furniture, trim, even floors, doors, and other surfaces can be given a new visual richness.

Related: The Perfect Paintbrush—and How to Choose It

The basic techniques are re­markably simple. A base coat of paint is applied to the sur­face to be finished and allowed to dry. Then a second color is applied, which is then tooled to create the effect of the grains or veins one sees in woods or marbles; in some cases, a third or even more col­ors may also be used. In the case of verde marble, the base coat is black, the second color green, with white veining added. For a mahogany grain, a base color of a crimson red is largely obscured beneath a glaze of brown. Typically, the base coat is an oil- or latex-based paint, the second coat a tinted glaze. For some effects, charcoal, acrylics, or artist’s tube paints may be used.

Graining and marbling are akin to the practices of distress­ing, in which a second coat of paint (of a different shade or tone) is sponged, stippled, or otherwise “distressed” to give the painted surface a vari­egated quality. The key differ­ence is that in graining and marbling the intent is to repli­cate with some degree of accu­racy the appearance of the actual wood or stone. To ac­complish that, a variety of tools are needed. A standard paint­brush is generally used for ap­plying the base coat, but a number of specialty brushes and applicators are handy for later steps. Among them are:

Graining Combs. These rubber or metal tools are used to cre­ate the illusion of wood grain. While a glaze or top coat of paint is still wet, the tool is drawn through the paint.

Dragging Brush. Also called an overgrainer, this one has horse bristles and can add a striated effect as it is drawn or “dragged” through the paint.

Artist’s Paintbrushes. These delicate sable brushes are used for veining and other line in-painting.

Badger Blender. As the name suggests, this brush is made of badger fur. It’s a very soft brush, used for blending color­ing with a delicate touch.

Flogger Brush. In contrast to the blender, this brush has quite stiff, long bristles. It’s for distressing a painted surface.

Feathers, Rags, Paper Towels, and Applicators. Just about anything you can think of can be- used to apply paint – and probably is. Aluminum foil, wood scraps, and sponges are other options. Feel free to experiment.