Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wallpainting With Feather Dusters

The bathroom of my friends Sandy and Greg

I've painted half a dozen rooms with feather dusters, and I'm pleased to report that the results have all gotten rave reviews. Today, I'll share how it's done.

Let's begin with the feather dusters. Because the project requires using a lot of dusters, the good news is that the type you must use is the cheapest, made from chicken feathers. The more popular dusters are finer and fluffier, and doubtlessly come from more exotic birds. The duster made from chicken feathers is stiff by comparison, which is what you want, because your dusters are going to get a real workout!


As shown above, take the feather duster and cut about a third of the feathers off. (I suggest doing so outdoors or at least in a space where flying feathers won't be a problem.) You'll end up with something that looks more like a feather brush than a feather duster.

The technique (as I do it) requires two sets of colors applied with dusters over one solid color — one duster per color, per wall. A room of four walls would therefore call for eight feather dusters, but I'd have 4-6 extras on hand, just in case.


Now for the colors, which will work best as flat paint. Successful rooms require an optimum three colors, and for best results, they should be three adjoining colors from the same paint chip. Of course you can do something more dramatic, but the rooms featured in this posting were achieved with three tints of the same color. (A), or the middle color, will be the base color, and you'll begin the project by painting the whole room with that middle hue.


In the case of my own bedroom, everything was painted that middle color — walls, trim and ceiling. When the room was finished, I painted the Victorian mirror frame the base color, too.


Here, I'm demonstrating with colors left over from painting my house exterior. First is a flat coat of the middle tone. For the next step, I suggest a practice session with a piece of cardboard. Dip the feather brush into the darkest of the three colors, (B). The best way to do that is to dip the feathers at a perpendicular angle into a paint tray, and lightly enough so that only the tips of the feathers are covered with paint. (Otherwise you'll be applying big globs of paint.) Press the feathers against the wall so that they splay out.

After this first application of feather painting, the wall will probably not look attractive. You might even be moved to say, "Oh my God, what am I doing!!" Don't worry, the second coat of feather painting will be with the lightest color, (C), and it will blend the darker color and the base color very nicely. Applying the lightest color will be the major part of the project because it will require you to even out all the texture by eye.


When you get to the ceiling line or trim edges, simply mask where you're painting with a thin cardboard, like a shirt board.


This technique is not limited to walls; I've also used it for the background of a couple of paintings.

Several things to consider: 1) If you start with a room that has already been painted with the base coat, this will still be a full day's work.  2) While I have never painted over a feathered room, I know that I have added considerable texture to each wall. 3) Having said that, I also know from my own bedroom that the feather-painting technique makes a lot of unevenness in walls disappear. And finally, 4) you will be tempted to add more than three colors. Each application of feathering makes your texture finer, which means that at some point of adding layers, you'll be back to your first step. Three colors really is optimum, and I would use no more than four.

One more look ...


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20 comments:

  1. Your paint job is so professionally and evenly done and so low-key in its special effects that it looks great. However, I know that if I attempted this it would look terrible.

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    1. Hello, Parnassus - You might surprise yourself! You could always experiment on a small area, like a closet or a laundry room. Remember, it's only paint!

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  2. Dear Mark, You did a fabulous job of feathering. It probably takes longer to explain the method than actually doing it. I like your choice of colors. I think that is one of your secrets for a successful finished look. Well done.

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    1. Thank you, Gina. The secret to a nice subtle finish is using the middle color as the base, then going with colors that are darker and lighter by about 40 per cent. Even though the texture is clearly random, one can apply the brush work evenly enough so that viewers might believe that they're looking at a papered room.

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  3. Hello Mark:
    We really like different paint effects but have never been brave enough to try them on any of our own walls. Your feathering technique looks brilliant and we can well see that it would be a marvellous way to even out less than perfect wall surfaces. The final effect looks so much more interesting than just plain, flat paint colour. It adds another dimension and a tactile quality that we really like. Perhaps if you came to stay for a week or so with an industrial quantity of feather dusters......!!!!!!!

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    1. Hello, Jane and Lance:

      I've admired your interiors on Paul Gervais' site, as well as your own, and I can see that they will require a whole crate of feather dusters to be sent ahead. But it would be a great challenge, and you would certainly be provided with days of entertainment!

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  4. Dear Mark - every job you tackle is done to such a high standard. The finished result adds so much more depth to the surface of the walls.
    You make it sound so simple to do, but it looks really good and very professional.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - Thank you for your kind words. My first room was a collaboration with a friend who had already done several himself. I'm a big believer in learning through collaborations, especially with artists or craftsmen of very different areas of expertise. In that way, I'm always happy to be the master's apprentice.

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  5. Perfection, Mark. What patience. What fortitude. My wall painting days are behind me, I'm afraid. But I sure am tempted, my friend. This is wonderful.

    I did do a sponge painting technique (much coarser and I'm sure quicker than the feather duster technique) many years ago in the small kitchen of the place I used to live in.

    I hadn't bargained on chartreuse paint looking so...well, chartreusey. Ha. So I 'softened' it with 2 lesser colors and was quite pleased with the results. I wanted chartreuse because I had black and white checkered floors and liked the combo.

    Those were the days when 'energy' was my middle name. :)

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    1. Hi, Yvette - Thanks for the kind words! Chartreuse seems to be one of those colors that people love or hate. I love it, and in fact had a white and chartreuse kitchen in MY first apartment.

      I have not done sponge techniques, or marble-ing, but am screwing up the courage to do special effects with all my interior doors sometime soon. One of my great regrets is that I was at a flea market many years ago, and passed on a set of 19th century wood graining combs.

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  6. Regret, regret...! Flea markets are dosed with regret. :)

    I wonder if you couldn't make your own combs with ply wood or would it be too soft to hold up?

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    1. The antique graining combs were made of metal, and though it would be costly, I suppose they could be easily replicated from metal with a computerized laser. Come to think of it, I never checked eBay, where everything now resides!

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  7. I just got thru doing this technique. Takes a while but well worth it!!!! Thanks for the hints on how to go about it.

    Darlene Rowe
    Freeport,IL

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    1. Hi, Darlene - I'm so glad this worked out for you!

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  8. Mark,
    Where do you buy the cheap chicken feather dusters?

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    1. They're harder to find because most stores are selling finer feather dusters that are more like boas. In Florida, where I live, Publix grocery stores sell them, but even then, I had to get a manager to special order the quantity I needed. I suggest simply looking online.

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  9. Thanks Mark for your reply. I actually found them at Walmart for 97 cents each! I can't wait to geet started!
    Thanks for your site.

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    1. Good luck on your project. I hope it's so successful that people will have to restrain you from feather-duster painting your whole house!

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  10. Thanks for creating these instructions. I returned from WalMart with my .97 dusters. I sure hope it turns out nicely, like your sample. =) Mrs. H.

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