How to Paint Interior Walls With a Sponge or Feather

Benna Crawford

Simple household items become an artisan's tools when you commandeer them to create faux finishes on your walls.

Faux painting transforms ordinary walls into theater -- a marble proscenium in ancient Rome, a hand-stuccoed villa in Tuscany. Sponges and feathers are among the tools inventive painters use to create fantasies in nurseries, hallways, bathrooms and the great room -- large or small -- that serves as the living room.

Sponge Techniques

Grab a natural sponge and dab away to create textured walls with multilayered color. Paint the wall with flat or satin finish acrylic, and let it dry for at least a day after the second coat.

A light color is the best background for sponging on or sponging off glaze -- darker base coats will look very mottled and shadowy, which may suit your taste or the space you're painting.

To sponge on, dampen and wring out the sea sponge until it is barely moist. Brush your first glaze color on the sponge with a paintbrush so you control the amount of glaze. Blot the sponge very lightly all over the painted wall -- keep turning the sponge so the glaze marks are not uniform, and don't press. Too much pressure will just cover the wall solidly in the new color. Allow the glaze to dry for about four hours, and then sponge on the second color. Let some base color, first sponged color and final glaze coat show through.

For sponging off, you use the sea sponge to remove some glaze you have applied to the base-coated wall with a roller. Work in small areas to roll on glaze and then sponge off enough to achieve your desired effect. Overlap work areas so the glaze won't dry and create lines on the wall. Let the first glaze dry overnight before applying a second color, if you want two colors. The sponge-off technique leaves a denser, softer overall color on the wall, so you may not want a second color.

Thick as a Brick Wall

The one time a standard cellulose sponge is better than a sea sponge is when you are faking a brick wall or border. Synthetic sponges have uniform holes and rectangular shapes just the right size for faux bricks. Pain the wall a cream or gray shade. This will show around the edges of the "bricks" and represent mortar. After the base color is dry, pour two related shades of brick color glaze on coated paper plates. A brick red and a terra-cotta will mimic the multitoned texture of real brick. Brush the dampened sponge with the deeper color, and then add some random dabs of the lighter color here and there to the glazed sponge. Gently press the sponge against the wall -- no pressure -- and pick it up carefully, without smudging the brick shape. Cover the wall with staggered bricks in the same alternating pattern as a real brick wall.

Feathering the Powder Room

Marble veining is random delicate tracery formed by millennia of compression of cooling magma far beneath the earth's surface. You can mimic this web of lines on a powder room wall to convey the look of marble cladding -- classic elegance on a shoestring. Turkey or goose feathers work best for this technique, because they are large and stiff with a strong edge, and you can drag them over long trails across the walls and they won't collapse.

Faux marble is an art that is learned over time and trial, so start with a small area -- the side wall next to the sink or the visible wall around a large mirror. Paint the wall a light base color. Sea-sponge on a very pale wash of the vein color -- gray, brown, blue, green. Once that dries, sponge on another wash of a slightly deeper shade of the same color -- remember to leave a lot of wall unsponged so the base "marble" shows through. Finally, use the feather edge to trace marble "veins" lightly on the wall in barely diluted vein color, varying the pressure to create natural-looking formations in the stone. Use a picture of real marble as a guide. Protect your work with clear coat of non-yellowing finish.

New Uses for Feather Dusters

Feathering with a feather duster creates a distinct mottled finish on the wall, which looks Old World and elegant. Choose three colors from the same paint strip of related shades. Paint the wall with the middle color from the three flat-finish hues chosen.

Trim the flexible feathers from two cheap chicken-feather dusters -- a discount or big box store purchase -- so the dusters resemble pouncing brushes with stiff rounded tops. Dip one feather duster straight down into the surface of the darkest color -- the duster should be perpendicular to the paint and you want the merest covering of paint on the edges of the feathers. Keep the duster perpendicular to the wall and press the feathers into the wall with enough pressure so the feathers spread out, then pull the duster straight back off the wall. Cover the wall in the darker paint, and let it dry. Then repeat the process with the lightest color and a new, trimmed feather duster. This coat is where you fiddle with the balance of colors to get the coverage right so the wall is evenly textured to the degree of lightness you prefer. Toss the dusters after you're through -- that's why you bought cheap ones.