The Faux School

Artist Ron Layman, founder of The Faux School in Frderick, offers faux painting classes for designers and homeowners. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / March 2, 2012)

With some paint and glazes, a few tools and a little time, a plain, functional front door can become a home's welcoming statement, with the rich colors and grains of oak or mahogany. A concrete column can look like marble, a ceiling can become a cloud-dappled sky and old cabinets can get new life.

To get those looks and more, all homeowners have to do is go to school. The Faux School, founded in Frederick by artist Ron Layman, 41, offers classes on decorative painting techniques to amateurs and professionals alike.

Layman, who started a decorative painting business in 1996 and began teaching the techniques three years later, is known for his ability to fool the naked eye. His brushwork can be seen on the faux marble doors of the Kennedy Center, backdrops for Smithsonian exhibits and color matching on columns at the National Gallery of Art.

Layman said he had less than two weeks to complete the work at the Kennedy Center.

"After all those years, they decided to stop painting the doors white and paint them to match the marble on the exterior of the building," he said.

But you don't have to live in a museum to make use of decorative painting. Homeowners are finding they can add texture and interest to their rooms through faux painting, either by hiring somebody to do it, or giving it a try themselves. The look is considerably less expensive than installing real marble or wood, and can be changed easily with a few swipes of paint.

Layman said interest in faux painting appears to be on the rise, partly because of home improvement shows on cable television channels and partly because big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowe's provide materials and information.

"I think people are doing more," he said, adding that decorative painting is a good alternative to wallpaper and relatively inexpensive in comparison. "If you want to do something, you just need a couple of gallons of paint."

Plus, he said, "you can kind of change things on the fly, whereas wallpaper or paint, it is what it is, there's not much variation."

But some faux painting techniques are more challenging than others and that's where Layman's school comes in.

In a chilly warehouse with paint-spattered grey carpet in Frederick, two students from Baltimore have come to learn the techniques, but not to paint their own houses.

Aaron D'Antoni, 30, of Towson, is a professional painter who wants to add faux painting to the services he offers customers.

Alan Zemla, 45, of Windsor Mill, is a set designer at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theater in Baltimore, and wants to be able to create realistic-looking sets on a budget. "I've always been sort of interested in this," Zemla said. "Now I have an excuse to learn it."

As they work, both think of spaces in their own homes that would benefit from faux painting. "I have paneling in my basement that is whiteboard and this would look great," said D'Antoni as Layman demonstrated how to create a look of wood grain.

"So this is going to turn into mahogany," said Zemla, looking at the orange-painted rectangle on his easel. "At least that's what Ron tells us."

At the end of a five-day workshop, his students have already learned nearly 20 techniques, including how to create the looks of leather, granite, bricks, marble, rust and Venetian plaster. Some techniques are easy enough for beginners, and give fairly impressive results. Layman said perhaps the easiest technique is to paint a surface, then coat it in a glaze. Lightly spatter rubbing alcohol on the surface. That's it.

Creating the look of leather is also relatively easy, he said. Start by painting a surface in satin-finish paint, then brush on a glaze in a darker, but similar color. Buy a piece of cheap plastic, push it into the glaze and pull it off. Let it dry, and admire the result.

But for his students, it's now time for what Layman considers the most challenging texture to create with paint: wood grain.

"What makes the woods and marbles more complicated is that you're trying to imitate something that people are familiar with," he said. "Walls are easier if you're just making the wall pretty and avoiding certain mistakes."