IDAL Presents The Decorative Painter’s Guide to Plastering with Paint

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Creating finishes with decorative plasters is a specialty unto itself. Even if you haven’t ventured into plasters before, you can achieve stunning, plaster-like finishes with just paint.

Tools and Materials

  • Basecoat paint 

  • Contrasting color

  • Plastering trowel

  • Small palette or putty knife

  • Chip brushes

Choosing the Colors

With this technique, you can create a straightforward two-tone finish or add multiple colors. I wouldn’t use more than three accent colors, as the finish would start to look too busy.

One of the easiest methods for picking colors in a monochromatic look is by simply picking a dark and a light shade from the same card on a color deck. Make sure there is enough visual contrast between the two colors. After you create a sample board, walk to the other side of the room and make sure your eye can see the difference between the base color and accent color.

Creating the Finish

  1. Prep the walls and basecoat as you normally would. Usually, the basecoat should be the lighter of the two colors.
  2. Let the basecoat cure for a minimum of 1 to 2 days. If you trowel paint on too soon, the trowel might scrape the basecoat paint off.
  3. With a chip brush, dab the accent color onto your trowel in an organic and uneven pattern. Do not cover the entire surface of the trowel. For a more intricate finish, apply two colors to the trowel and allow them to mix naturally as you apply them.
  4. Starting in a top corner, skip-trowel the paint onto the wall. Drag the trowel over the surface in a downward and slightly diagonal direction, letting the trowel skip lightly over the surface. Keep the leading edge of the trowel slightly raised so it doesn’t gouge the wall—think buttering your toast. After the first pass with your trowel, most of the paint should have been pulled off the surface.
  5. With the clean-ish trowel (do not add more paint), go back over the paint you just applied to the wall. First pull horizontally, then vertically. This ensures that there are no blobs on the wall and the motion thins the edges of the paint so they look blended.
  6. Reapply paint to the trowel and continue working. Be sure to vary your strokes so you don’t create a repeating, mechanical pattern. I try to work from top to bottom at a diagonal angle. There are only so many ways you can move your arm, so working on a diagonal fools the eye in the event that any repetition does occur. The areas with the accent color should vary in size, height relative to each other and angle of application. Smaller, skipped areas of paint are useful for connecting the larger accents.
  7. Periodically clean any dried paint off your trowel. Small palette knives or a putty knife are useful for working adjoining walls or other areas where it’s difficult to use a large trowel.

As always, practice on sample boards first. After you get the hang of the motion with the trowel, application goes fairly quickly.

Want more tips? Find the full guide in the April 2018 APC Magazine.

This how-to is provided by the International Decorative Artisans League, Author Katie Fitzgerald owns A Fine Finish & works in the San Francisco/Monterey Bay areas. Find Katie’s blog at Find Katie’s work at

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plaster, plastering with paint, IDAL,

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