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Decorative Painting Tips

Leaves and nothing but the leaves

One of the best ways to perfect a new technique is to paint it over and over again. And the best way to practise is on a proper basecoated surface – not scraps of paper.

I always have several basecoated rectangular and round MDF pieces (which will make great placemats, by the way!) lying around. I use a couple of them as practise boards – whatever I was learning, I would practise painting them on these boards. When I run out of space, I would basecoat them again and start over.

I keep the other pieces as “emergency” project surfaces – you know when you have that itch to paint something and your creative juices are flowing and you have no time to basecoat one..

Sometimes the practise pieces actually turn out quite nice! Like this one when I was learning some new leaves. I thought why not, just freehand them on a round basecoated placemat I had lying around.

Leaves, leaves, leaves on a Placemat

I liked it so much I never basecoated over it again. I never thought that leaves on their own could make such a nice subject for a decorative painting project….

Leaves, leaves, leaves on a Placemat

Are you a messy painter?

It’s always a good idea to start your painting session with your tools and supplies properly laid out in front of you. And yes, there is a RIGHT way to place everything so that you can paint in a relaxed manner.

If you don’t set up your painting area properly, you won’t be able to reach your tools…. you might also spill paint all over your work, or worse, get paint on your sleeves.

The most effective way to organize your painting area is to place everything around you according to how you move your hands when you are painting. Everything else you don’t need, especially when you attend a class or workshop where table space is limited, should be put away out of sight!

This is how you should lay out your painting area whenever you sit down to paint – your project is always directly in front of you:

Right handed painters

Layout for right-handed painters

You pick out your brush from the brush basin where it is resting, move to the right to swish it in the bottle of water, pick up your paper towel with your left hand and dab the brush to remove water, refer to your instructions which are on the left, load the brush in your palette on your right, then paint.

Left handed painters

Layout for left-handed painters

You pick out your brush from the brush basin with your left hand, move to the left to swish it in the bottle of water, pick up your paper towel with your right hand, refer to your instructions which are on the right, load the brush in your palette on your left, then paint.

So now you see the logic of laying out your painting area this way: whatever you need to do, you should never ever have to reach out across your project.

That’s all there is to it – if you make it a habit to place everything where they should be as suggested here, you will find that painting is so much more enjoyable!

Painting Ostrich Eggs

One of the most unique surfaces you can paint on are ostrich eggs. Yes, ostrich eggs!

Of course, first you need to prepare the egg – make a hole at the bottom end of the egg where there is a “soft spot”, empty the contents, clean the insides, dry, then seal the opening. You guessed it – not easy and certainly, not everyone will be successful in this endeavour or even wants to go through the trouble of doing all this!

Me? I’ve never done it although I was tempted once when I saw fresh ostrich eggs in a supermarket here. Its easier to buy ostrich eggs which have already been emptied and cleaned, sometimes even the hole has been sealed. This is what most people who want to paint ostrich eggs do. If you have access to fresh ostrich eggs and want to have a go at emptying one, I found a site here.

The first time I ever painted an ostrich egg was at a workshop with Vicki Nicholson in Kuala Lumpur almost 10 years ago. We painted her signature pastel roses.

It was quite an experience painting on the egg (and learning her roses of course!) I went on to paint a few more eggs with roses for a Christmas Bazaar here and they were grabbed in an instant!

I usually varnish ostrich eggs using a high gloss varnish because it looks like a high quality porcelain egg when finished.


Its a great conversation piece once its sitting on an ornate egg stand in your living room.

034-04 Roses on White Ostrich Egg 01 024-04 Roses on crackled ostrich egg 2

If you already have an ostrich egg ready for painting, you only need to basecoat the egg and you should do this at least a week ahead so that the  paint is properly cured.

I use a shortcut to basecoat ostrich eggs by mixing Jo Sonja’s All Purpose Sealer with my paint in equal parts. I do three coats, no sanding required. You need to paint one side of the egg at a time, set it down to dry, then paint the other side.

So take your time and try and enjoy it because its worth the effort.

Note: If you are using the hairdryer to fast-dry your basecoat, DO NOT use the hot air selection. Make sure you use the “cool” selection.

Do you always have to paint roses on ostrich eggs? Of course not. We paint all sorts of things on ostrich eggs at my Studio. Today I had a class where we started painting a landscape on an ostrich egg and I think the finished product will be quite pretty.

Have you been practicing your roses?

Everything you put in to learn a new painting technique is an investment – your time, the fees you pay, the brushes and paint you are collecting etc.

To make sure your investment is worthwhile, you have to practice the techniques you learn by painting on your own or with another fellow painter when you are not attending classes.

This is especially true of stroke flowers, whether its roses, or daisies. The more you paint them, the better your flowers will look.

Pink roses on a  small black box

My first daisies were awful and my son and husband said my first roses looked like ice-cream! The only way you will improve your skills – even remember what you’ve learnt – is to practice, practice, practice!

However, it can be difficult to get started painting on your own and also to paint regularly.

Try the following:

  1. Make a painting appointment with yourself e.g. every Tuesday afternoon for 2 hours, or every other day for an hour. Commit to this appointment and do it!
  2. Find a permanent space in your home to paint – a table, a corner in your kitchen or claim a part of your husband’s study :-D  If you always have to take your painting stuff out to paint and put it away when you finish, you’ll find it harder to paint regularly.
  3. Keep a journal, like a diary, of the skills you are learning. Get a notebook or do it on your computer. Make a note of skills you need to improve and paint projects that help you develop those skills. Update it every time you find you have improved those skills.
  4. If you don’t have magazines or books to paint from, use the tracings provided to you when you attend a workshop with me and copy parts of the design to create your own design on whatever surface you are painting.

Tools for perfection

I’m not a perfectionist (who am I kidding? Of course I am!) but everyone makes mistakes when they paint. Some you’re happy to live with and others you feel you need to correct.

Although some painters use cotton buds to clean mistakes, I just don’t like doing so.

Cotton buds

I prefer to use a flat or angle brush in a reasonably good condition to clean my mistakes. The chisel edge of the flat or angle brush is a great help in straightening lines, for example.

If your “spare” flat or angle brush is now a little "bushy" and won’t give you a reasonably good chisel edge when you’re painting, keep it for stippling trees, bushes, little flowers or for removing whole leaves or flowers from your painting. If your “cleaning” brush is in really bad shape, its not a bad idea to buy a very cheap flat brush (get a #8 or #10). Keep it specially for correcting your mistakes.

Sometimes we need to wipe out a whole area because we don’t like the look of what we’ve painted, or we accidentally dropped paint or smudged our work – for this, a small piece of sponge does the trick. If your wet palette sponge has got holes in it, don’t throw it away. Wash it well and dry it. Then cut it up into smaller pieces like 5cm x 5cm. Every time you sit down to paint, wet one of these sponges and keep it beside you. You’re ready to wipe away any mistakes you might make.

Make your own Brush Holder

One of the things you find you need, if you haven’t already got one, is a brush holder which will hold all your brushes and keep them in shape when you come to class or when you travel (yes, some of us take our painting kit with us when we go away! )

Brush holder

You can buy brush holders made of fabric or other material but I haven’t seen them here. You can also make your own. I’ve made my own in the past out of fabric and if you sew, you too can make this very simple brush holder.

Instructions for making this brush holder are at this Website. I don’t know how long these instructions will be available at this site but if you don’t plan on making it now, copy the page and save it for next time when you’re in the mood for some sewing.

You don’t sew?? Well, I guess you can pass on the instructions to a friend who sews and maybe she can organise it.

Basecoating the back or bottom of your project

Don’t you get frustrated when the back of a plaque or the bottom of a box you have basecoated so nicely gets stained with paint while you are painting? I’m sure we are all careful, but “accidents” can and do happen. It’s difficult to clean and sometimes you’re tempted to scrub it but what happens instead? The basecoat colour comes off too. I know, it’s happened to me too.

Here’s something you can do so that any paint stains are easily removed: When basecoating the back or bottom of your project, paint the first layer of basecoat normally, dry then sand. For the second and third coat add an equal amount of varnish (yes, VARNISH!) to your basecoat colour. Mix well then basecoat as you do normally. Best to use your roller sponge. You can still sand the second coat but as usual, you don’t need to sand the last coat.

Even if you never get paint stains on your project, this is an excellent shortcut. You can use this technique also for the insides of a box, legs of a table etc as long as you don’t intend to decorate those areas. When you finish your project you don’t need to varnish these areas anymore, just concentrate on the areas you have painted the design.

Get organised for classes!

If you’re tired of hunting around for a new paperbag to put in all the stuff you need to take with you every time you go to classes or workshops or if you keep forgetting things to bring, here are some tips for getting organised:

Buy yourself one of those toolboxes made of durable plastic – you would usually find it in a do-it-yourself centre, craft shop or sometimes in the home section of a department store or hypermarket.



Make sure that the width of the base is at least 19.5 cm and the length at least 24.5 cm. It doesn’t matter what the height is. You should be able to put your Masterson Sta-wet handy pallette flat in the toolbox with these measurements. Make sure also that the toolbox comes with a removable tray with compartments which you can use to keep all your small tools.

Keep all your supplies in the toolbox after you finish painting at home so that you’re always ready to take it to class:

° brush basin

° transfer paper (keep this is in a ziploc bag)

° pallette knife, ruler, kneadable eraser, stylus, graphite pencil, pen, etc in your removable tray

° brushes in a brush roll – not in the tray

° tracing and instructions that have been provided to you

° a little brush cleaner in a small jar with cover

When you finish classes of course, don’t forget to put everything back in your toolbox.

Obviously, you can personalise your toolbox by painting roses, daisies or whatever strikes your fancy on it.

Just can’t seem to start again……..

So….how long haven’t you painted? Yes, tell me about it, after a long break from painting, its difficult to get started again. It’s the same with many other activities though, isn’t it? Well, don’t let those brushes gather any more cobwebs. Here are some tips to kick start your painting:

• Start with your unfinished projects—take them out of their hiding places. Fish out the instructions and read them to recap what you have to do.

• Look around for pieces already basecoated begging to be painted. Can’t even remember what you wanted to paint on them? Paint whatever comes to mind first. Who knows—it might just turn out to be your best piece!

• Browse through your painting magazines and books, or watch one of your painting videos or CDs. That should get you in the mood.

• Once you get into the mood, don’t wait, just get those brushes out (everything else can wait) and get started. Pretty soon you’ll be back in step.

• Call one of your painting buddies and get together for a coffee. Talk about painting and nothing else. That should jolt your memory!

• Call your teacher and tell her you just want to visit . Once you’re in the familiar studio surroundings, it’ll all come back and you’ll just want to start painting again!

Antiquing…first you paint it, then you age it!

Sometimes newly painted projects look, well, too new. One of the ways in which we make them look like heirlooms is to age them and there many different ways of doing this – "antiquing" being an example.  Antiqued Fruits Placemat

Antiquing also adds depth and warmth to a design.

There are many ways to antique a project and most of you have learnt one of them – oil-based antiquing, where we used oil paint and lean medium.

You can also antique a project using a water-based technique. Here is how you can do it quite easily.

BEFORE YOU START – dry your painted project completely and apply a coat of Jo Sonja’s Clear Glaze Medium to protect your painting. Leave your project to sure for at least three days before doing any water-based antiquing.

° Use any acrylic colour – raw umber if you want a sepia look, a darkish green if you want to add a green glow to your project, burgundy if your project is painted in pinks and purples – “play” and discover what appeals to you. If you liked what you did in oil-based antiquing, stick to burnt umber.

° Using a ¾” or 1” flat brush, mix a little of the paint with Jo Sonja’s Retarder and Antiquing Medium. Apply a thin, even coat to your painted project. You must be able to see the design through the colour. If you can’t see your design, you’ve probably put too much paint. Add retarder to the surface and smooth it out.

° Wet a sponge, squeeze all the water out and start removing some of the colour starting at the centre of the design, moving outwards. Leave the edges dark. Use a dabbing movement – the sponge will pick up the paint. Dab the sponge on a piece of paper towel to remove the paint you pick up. Continue until you’re satisfied with the distribution of colour.

° Using a mop brush, smooth the surface using a light touch.

° The retarder will keep the paint wet for some time, so if you don’t like the results, use a clean sponge, wipe it all off and start again. If you like it, use a hairdryer to fast dry the surface and leave it for at least a week before varnishing.

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