Do-it-yourselfers, cast your paintbrushes aside. Sponges, combs and rags are proof that there's more than one way to paint a wall. That'swhy more and more broken-color techniques -- using one or more colors in relief over a background -- are appearing on walls and furniturein model homes, decorator show houses and interior design magazines.

Peggy Cox Staller, a Columbia interior designer who does private consulting and who works for Model Home Interiors in Beltsville, lists several "faux finishing" techniques -- marbling, color-washing, combing, stippling, sponging, rag-rolling, spattering and graining -- that can be done, with a little bit of practice, by amateur decorators.

Before choosing, however, she recommends looking through various interior design books to get an idea of the differences between techniques. Staller says many of the Old-World styles are done in oil paints, but that do-it-yourselfers "can do an effective job using latex paints that are easier to clean up."

Whatever technique is selected, Staller recommends checking out the existing finish on the object or wall before applying that first coat of paint.

For example, she says that a new home may have latex paint on its walls that will bondto additional coats of latex. "But if a person is living in an olderhome, there will most likely be oil paint on the walls," Staller said. "You can't apply latex paint over oil paint."

Before applying new paint, walls or furniture should always be prepared according to the directions of the paint manufacturer.

If you are living in a new home, Staller says the walls -- which are porous -- should be givenan additional coat of paint to prevent the color from fading.

Considering all the options available, Staller believes that sponging isa good choice -- a quick and easy method for beginners. You will need a paint brush or roller to apply a base coat.

A random design iscreated from a natural sponge that has been dipped into paint and applied over the base coat in a blotting motion. Different effects are created by using one, two or three colors. Light colors can create a watercolor effect; darker tones can create drama. Paints can be either flat, pearl or semi-gloss. You also can apply one type of latex paint over another and create a totally different effect. Gloss paints are more resilient in high traffic areas.

Peggy Staller displayed arectangular sample on which she had practiced the technique, using all flat paints. She had applied a light blue base coat that was sponged over with a darker blue; a medium blue was applied over the darkercolor with a sponge.

"You can reverse the procedure and get a totally different effect which is more intense," she said.

Mary Beth Pawling, an art director for an advertising agency in Cockeysville, recently sponge-painted a powder room in her Columbia home. The technique pulled together the color schemes of her home, as she used leftover paints from a rose bedroom and a peach living room-dining area that she applied over a gloss base.

"Our drywall was bad; sponge painting camouflages everything," Pawling said. Pleased with the results,which produce "a shimmering effect when the light hits certain areas," she believes "anybody can do sponge painting."

Pawling does offer a few pointers. "The hardest part is doing the corners," she said.Pawling cut a small portion of her sponge into a triangle and dabbedthe paint into the small niches. An artist's brush is also helpful in doing hard-to-reach areas.

She reminds beginners that "whatever color you put on last will be the most dominant." Experiment first onnewspapers or several blank pieces of paper, she says. It's also a good way to practice the dabbing motions of the sponge, which should be applied with a light, twisting motion of the wrist.

Staller recommends that do-it-yourselfers apply the paint sparingly -- especiallyon walls where paint can drip. You may want to spruce up a thrift shop chair or table. Or, sponging may provide just the zip needed for atired old powder room.

And don't worry, be adventurous. If you make a mistake, such as putting too much paint on the brush, you can always sponge over the area. Sponge painting can be creative, cheaper and a lot more fun than wallpapering.


Tools needed

* 1-roller or paint brush for applying base coat;

* An artist's brush;

* Paint-trays or aluminum pie pans;

* One roll of paper towels;

* Natural sponges (sponges should fit securely in hand; larger sponges can be torn into the appropriate sizes. Incidentally, natural sponges aren't that easy to find. I finallyfound the real thing at Bruning Paint store in Chatham Mall in Ellicott City for around $6. It was packaged as a "painting" sponge with directions on the back. Crabtree and Evelyn, located in Columbia Mall,sells various sizes of sponges, costing from $7 to $30.)


1. Apply base coat of paint to wall or object; allow to dry thoroughly.

2. Immerse sponge in clean water to expand it fully; squeeze out excess moisture;

3. If using a paint tray, pour a small portion of the paint to be used for sponging into the deeper portion ofthe paint tray; tip in order to leave a thin coat over the surface of the shallow end.

4. Dip sponge into the paint -- at the shallow end of the tray -- loading it sparingly. Blot excess onto paper towels.

5. Test prints on paper towels, newspapers or blank paper for desired effect.

6. Apply sponge randomly; avoid making orderly, wallpaper-like patterns. If using the one-color sponge technique, slightly overlap prints; for two or three colors, space the first sponge prints at a wider distance, allowing more of the background color to show. Make sure the paint is dry before applying the second and third layers of sponging.

7. As you proceed, remember to turn the sponge in order to vary the designs.

8. Wash out the sponge from time to time to avoid fuzzy prints. Incidentally, the coarser the sponge, thebolder the patterns; a fine-textured sponge can create a softer effect.

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