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A Design Guide to Color Washing

Hundreds of years ago there were very few decorating options for home interiors. If the plaster walls began to show age a new layer of plaster was simply added as a fresh coating. This process created interior finishes that were rough and didn't hide the technique's brushstrokes. Today we have many more options for expressing our personal style and designing with color.

Color washing is a popular technique that draws inspiration from these old plaster walls. There are various color washing techniques and they all typically feature more than one color and utilize visible brushstrokes. Our favorite color washing techniques include:

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  • Light over dark Start with the dark color on your wall and then work toward the lighter shade. This adds depth to dark or highly saturated shades and will help create a noticeable brightness.
  • Dark over light Layering a dark color over a lighter color is an effective method of mimicking the way that certain finishes get darker with age. Start by covering the wall in the lighter color and then add in the darker shade focusing on the brushstrokes and your intended design.
  • Crosshatch For the crosshatch technique to be successful you need to drag the brush both vertically and horizontally. These alternating strokes create a texture that feels woven and fabric-like.
  • Vertical strokes Using a single glaze color, you can drag the brush straight down a wall to create vertical texture. This color washing technique adds height to the room and makes the space feel more open.
  • Color families Sticking to a single color family allows you to create a monochromatic color washing effect with a soft finish. Carefully select your base color and then identify the color two shades lighter and the color one shade darker for the individual glazes.

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If you're new to color washing as part of the design services you offer your clients we have some tips that
may come in handy. Designing with color washes isn't difficult if you take your time and understand the process.

  • Use a test board Before you start color washing an entire wall it is important to create a test board to ensure you are happy with the colors. Complete a sample of your wall design and then hold it up against the actual wall. Make sure that the combination of colors and the color washing technique you chose will enhance the overall look of your room.
  • Choose the right brushes In order to execute a proper color wash look you need to ensure you have the right tools. The most important tools for this technique are the brushes. Make sure you choose polyester-nylon brushes in widths that align with your chosen color wash technique.
  • Focus on your brushstrokes Each color washing technique has a unique look and each uses brushstrokes in different ways. Once you choose a technique, you should test your skill on a test board or canvas to ensure you are confident with the specific type of brushstroke.
  • Don't forget the glazes Today's paints contain far fewer solvents than paints used to. This lack of solvents causes the paint to dry quickly and can make your work difficult. Thinning it out with glaze is a great way to extend the working time of the paint. The glaze will also add depth to the finish and help create a finished product that boasts texture and high visual interest.
  • Start out rough Don't worry too much about coverage as you begin. This can result in an over-blended surface that may not appear properly color washed. Instead, start out as rough as possible and then soften out any patches of the pattern while the top layer is still wet. If it still isn't washed enough you can fill in with additional glaze until you've created your intended effect.
  • Be patient It can take time to get the color wash right. Don't rush the process. When designing with color washes it is best to take your time, evaluate the work as you go, and then fill in as needed.

Our team at Dunn-Edwards is committed to keeping up with painting trends and learning more about designing with color each day. Visit us online to learn more about our products, view our innovative painting tutorials, and become inspired.