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by Ross O'Neal
Article is Courtesy of
O'Neal Coatings Inc. Artists & Gilders Faux Studio.

Ross O'Neal is a Philadelphia painting contractor -- with a crew of up to 75 -- specializing in faux finishing. He is also the director of the OCI School of Decorative Finishing. For more information on faux, or a schedule of classes, contact Ross at 215/679-4064, or visit his website and view his finish of the month,

Editor's note: With this article, PWC begins a new series on faux finishing techniques. Each future issue will provide a walk-through of a particular finish, written by an expert faux finisher. The idea is to achieve a balance between simplicity and difficulty: a technique that's beyond the simplest faux that almost anyone can do, but not so highly specialized as to require specific training and years of practice. With a little work, you'll be able to add a number of faux techniques to your painting bag of tricks.

There are as many ways to paint skies as there are leaves on trees. What we will do here is cover one way of doing them to create a realistic effect. Hopefully, it will improve the way many of you have done them in the past, or provide a new method for those yet to try it.

What you'll need for this technique:

  • Acrylic glaze medium
  • Acrylic colors -- white, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, yellow ocher, and alizarin crimson
  • Water
  • Several sea sponges
  • Two or three three-inch flat wall brushes
  • Badger blender

When painting a large area of sky on the ceiling or wall, it's best to mix a substantial amount of the deeper blue with our acrylic glaze, which we will use on the top of the wall or center of the ceiling -- depending on where we will be painting our sky. We will then mix some of this with white, to make our next gradated color of pale blue. This we will then mix with still more white for a paler blue yet, finally blending into an almost white or "golden sunset" at the bottom.

When doing a ceiling, I blend from deep blue in the center out to a very light blue along the edges (photo 1). When done properly, this will add height to the room. I like the effect of blending to a pale yellow above the windows -- assuming there is a light source, such as windows, in the room.


As we paint out our colors on the surface, we will leave a tidemark between the two shades. This mark is blended by brushing across carefully, using vertical strokes to give it a tight, zigzag pattern (photo 2).






Then blend it with the badger blender horizontally, to smooth the intermediate shade where the two have mixed (photo 3).






Once we're done with this, we then mix our acrylic glaze with white. With our sea sponge, we begin to block in our clouds (photo 4).






At this time, we can also add some additional color to the cloud as we desire. We now blend out our cloud, blending up, then softly horizontally (photo 5).






We then take our sea sponge and mottle the cloud (photo 6). The sponge should be softened in water, but allow it to retain a little water -- not enough that it will run down your arm when pressed into the cloud surface, but just enough to open up the glaze when we blend it. I normally blend in one direction, at one o'clock and five o'clock.




This opens it up very nicely (photo 7). Continue this process across the ceiling at your desired locations.

Theory: Here are a few thoughts on the subject of clouds. The blue in the sky is deepest overhead, and gradually gets paler towards the horizon. In drier climates, on clear days, the change is not very strong. In humid climates, it can change from deep blue overhead to a very pale blue (almost white) down to the horizon. Cerulean blue, widely available in many brands, is derived from the Latin word "caelum," meaning "sky." In my opinion, it's wise to stay away from cerulean blue. I find it has a sort of turquoise harshness to it, even when mixed with white. Ultramarine is a darker, warmer blue. Of course, the color you use largely depends on your own taste.

When we painted murals, my instructor from France used to quote the French artist Boucher, who allegedly said, "The problem with nature is that it is too green and poorly lit!" A lot can be done to avoid this possible imbalance by careful choice of your sky blue. On occasions, I have even added a hint of purple to match a large expanse of sky in an indoor painting with a particular color scheme.

Clouds come in various forms, and contain various degrees of shade. The dreamy and romantic ones are cirrus clouds: They are the high, wispy ones often seen in isolation against a clear sky (photo 8). The shape of such clouds can give rise to all kinds of emotions, and the presence of one or two of them can make all the difference in what might otherwise be a rather empty, monotonous blue sky.

Nimbus clouds are the large, bulbous, solid-looking clouds, usually with white edges and gray undersides (photo 9). They create a strong impression against a blue sky, but you must be careful not to make them look too hard and regular in shape.


Your sky can also be broken up with areas of soft, mottled clouds without hard edges, which will give a vaporish tone to the painting (photo 10). They're the ones I like the best on eight-foot ceilings in bedrooms. I recently finished a ceiling in a six-year-old girl's room. She came home from school and ran up the stairs to check on the progress of her room. She stood there, looking at her ceiling with a sense of astonishment, and said, "Why are you painting a hole in my ceiling?" What is that saying? From the mouths of babes...

When painting clouds in a large area, I normally start by doing a clear sky, and then making an outline of the cloud area -- not in white, but a lighter version of the sky blue base. You should then fill the areas in question with yet a lighter shade, and gradually take it towards white in its densest parts. Shading would be added where required, normally soft, purplish gray to light gray in color. Again, avoid hard edges. (This is what's nice about using a Filbert brush or sea sponge.) Then, you go back and highlight the light source with some creamy yellows.

Ross O'Neal is a Philadelphia painting contractor -- with a crew of up to 75 -- specializing in faux finishing. He is also the director of the OCI School of Decorative Finishing. For more information on faux, or a schedule of classes, contact Ross at 215/679-4064, or visit his website and view his finish of the month,
The OCI School of Decorative Painting Techniques Copyright 1985,1987,1989,1990,1994,1995,1997 by OCI School of Decorative Painting. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the copyright owner Ross O'Neal   Ross O'Neal is President of O'Neal Coatings Inc. He oversees estimating, marketing and in house training operations for painting, wallcovering and decorative faux finishes. The company undertakes complex restoration, gilding and decorative painting projects throughout the United States and abroad as well as industrial and commercial projects. He is an instructor of decorative painted techniques with over 25 years of decorative painting working experience. He is trained in the French, English and German techniques of Trompe L'Oeil effects, Wallglazing, Woodgraining, Marbling and Gilding.   Serves as President and instructor of The OCI School of Decorative Painting and is President of The Artist and Gilders Studio which specializes in the restorations of decorative painting, murals and of gilded objects. Serves as Instructor of Architectural Gilding for Baggot Leaf Co. N.Y. Serves on the Board of Trustees and is the Vice President of the International organization, The Society of Gilders. Serves on the Board of Directors and is the President of The Delaware Valley Painting and Decorating Contractors of America. Serves as alternate board member of the PA Council of PDCA. Serves as monitor for the Decorative Painting forum for the National PDCA's Web site. Serves on the Advisory Committee for the Painting, Wallcovering and Structural Coatings

Decorating Studio, LLC or is not affiliated with the authors nor responsible for the actions or content of the articles, or any 3rd party information within or linked to or from Decorating Studio or Decorating Studio's website.
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