Yours Artfully.!

Being a “blogger”(artstheanswer) and an artist, I am constantly needing sources for art related topics or precise pictures to accompany my articles or present an idea to a client. Through endless hit and miss searches on line, I have collected many e-files for future blog posts and upcoming projects . Artisphere will make this easier for you through this column and help you to amass an amazing collection of blogs and other sources for technical information and photo files!

Linda Brown is not new to the world of crafting. For sixteen years she has been the owner of L.B. Crafts, a rubber stamp store in the U.K. Now, keep an open mind! You can learn a lot from the world of scrap booking and paper crafts. Many ideas can be applied to the world of decorative painting.

Garage Mahal Susan Granskie

Two years ago, artist Susan Granskie started a large-scale mural project with stunning proportions. As editor, one of the things I love is being able to share a work like this with others who can appreciate the enormous amount of effort, dedication, talent, and passion that goes into such an incredible project. Susan shares details of her experiences in this interview now that the project has been completed with such amazing results.

1. How did this project come about?

My husband is a builder and collects and restores old cars, mostly muscle cars & hot rods. He built an addition on the first garage to store his collection. He asked me to paint a mural and he wanted an old town with his cars. So, being a lover of the west coast, I was researching Arizona and came across John Pughs mural Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona. Then realized the Eagles had a song called Take it Easy, and there it was. How cool is that? I thought. So I kinda made the town up by referencing some buildings. I decided to make it summer, early afternoon, and partly cloudy. I started referencing people online and found it almost impossible . One day one of my husbands friends was over and I asked him to pose. Thats when it clicked! Before you know it all his friends would be a part of the mural. However, it was a struggle because the pics were taken at different times & places so it was all in the wrong light & shadow. For the gas station, I wanted to ask my mentors & fellow artists to pose, which was all possible to do because of Pat & the Faux Forum. How cool was it to send my sketch and ask them to be a part of my project? I was thrilled that they participated: Pascal Amblard, Ron Francis, Pierre Finkelstein, Patrick Ganino, and Sean Crosby.

2. Did you ever feel like this project was never going to end, or was the feeling always one of continued excitement?

Well, the buildings were tough because of climbing up & down the scaffolding and all the striping I did on the straight lines. Once I got on the ground it was more controllable. Some positions you have to be in were very difficult and painful, but the more I got done the more exciting it was.

3. How long did this process take and what paints did you use?

My guess is a bit over 2 years to paint. Just the references alone took about 4 months and I have a stack to prove it. I didnt give myself a deadline. I was experimenting and practicing many different things I have learnef from art school and classes I have taken from my mentors. Plus, it was very cold in the winter and my paints were being affected. It was like painting with glue! Then the summer was so hot. I used a fan to blow the air conditioning from the main building but my paints were drying out so I constantly had to adjust them with additives. For the paints I used acrylics. I had a lot of Faux Effects Faux Creme Color so I started out with them. However, I prefer a full body paint so I switched up to Nova Color and I also used some Golden Fluid Colors , which is also a good paint .

4. Now that this project is over, whats next?

Well, first Im cleaning up the mess from the mural. Then I will be doing paintings of the American Indian for a gallery in NYC. Then, one of the guys in the mural, his wife is an interior decorator and is interested in my work . So thats the direction Im going. For fun I will paint the 3 exterior garage doors, but Im not sure when I will squeeze them in.

5. This is one of those projects that is so very special for so many reasons. Do you realize what you have done yet?

I will say I cant believe I did it!!! You know when I look at the pics I actually tear up a bit. It was the hardest thing I ever did. What thrills me the most is that it is making a lot of people happy and is a positive project for my fellow artist to be inspired to achieve their goals.

The Class Connection: Christopher Winslow

According to one of my esteemed teachers, good trompe loeil has a sense of humor. Baltimore artist Christopher Winslows work makes me smile every time I see it always followed by a good head shake wondering how he came up with that. He has this uncanny ability to integrate the real space into his trompe loeil murals. From refined portraits to dining rooms with hidden doors to gymnasion walls, Winslows work is beautifully designed and impeccably painted.

Who taught you?

My father is a professor of geography, and wanted to explore the world with the family in-tow. I spent my teenage years growing up in the wilds of Papua New Guinea, then my father landed a visiting professorship at Trinity College in Dublin. So off the family went to Ireland. I had to finish high school by correspondence due to the fact that (in 1976) 40% of ones graduating grade was based upon ones Galic language skills. I applied and was accepted to the Dun Laoghaire College of Art (which was the best and most dynamic art college in Ireland at the time). My family returned to the USA and I ended-up finishing college in Dun Laoghaire, and living in Ireland for about 5 years.

My college was based on the Bauhause tradition which in the foundation year covered everything from etching to stone carving, animation to weaving, and all the basics such as color theory, composition, art history, etc. Each consecutive year we had to narrow our interests until the final year where we had a major and secondary discipline. I majored in print making (mainly serigraph, which has been invaluable to the stencil work I do now) and photography as a backup. I really wanted to major in painting but all the painting teachers in the school were only interested in teaching abstract so I decided to major in print, which was much more technical, and I was free to pursue representational work.

After art college I returned to the USA to conquer the art world, but reality gave me a good slap in the face. I worked for a year as a photo assistant in NYC getting great lessons on how to work hard and professionally, and how to be organized (two things not taught in art college). I left the commercial photo business realizing that it was a world I really did not want to be in.

I moved to Maryland to help a friend renovate an old farm house and picked up a book from his library that changed my life: “The Art of the Painted Finish for Furniture & Decoration” by Isabel O’Neil. That was in 1985 and the next year I had a commission to paint a huge hallway in an old mansion in Mobile, Alabama, including 30 cupids and trompe l’oeil drapery. I have never looked back.

Who inspires you?

Early on I was inspired by Vermeer, David Casper, Friedrich, George Tooker, Gustav Klimt, and all of the Hudson River School artists. And then I bought “The Painted House” by Graham Rust, which has been a wonderful inspiration and an eye-opener as to the endless possibilities that a blank wall can hold.

Renzo Mongiardino is a genius and great inspiration too, with his book “Roomscapes.

How did you get into this business?

In the mid-80’s there was little awareness of murals and nobody had heard of faux finishing. So in the beginning I got work through family friends. I decided to move into Baltimore city, so I took some photos of my work and hand-made about 40 folding cards. I took out the Yellow Pages and mailed the cards to every interior designer in the region, and then made some follow-up calls. Most of the designers had never heard of faux finishing. I got a couple of small jobs and then some more, and now it is 25 years later.

What was your lucky break?

I don’t think I had just one. It has been a slow growth of the right people seeing the walls and rooms I have done. I try and make every job a challenge, to see if I can do better, as there is nothing more deadly to creativity and the quality of one’s work than monotony. Your work is an advertisement of your abilities, so it should always cast you in your best light.

What is your “signature” project?

I guess the one room on my website that I seem to get a lot of response to is a recessed ceiling I did (a la Graham Rust) in which I used the architecture to enhance the trompe l’oeil effect of beams covered in grape vines. (Pictured at beginning of article.)

Which was your favorite project?

About three years ago I was commissioned to paint a historically accurate version of Washington crossing the Delaware River. I say accurate, because the original painting that is so famous, hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the German artist Emmanuel Leutze, has quite a few creative interpretations in it, such as: the flag is wrong for the time of the crossing, the boat used is incorrect, the ice flows are the type that form on the Rhine, not the Delaware River etc…..

This project was so much fun to do because I had to research the clothing, the type of boats used in the crossing, the correct ice flows, type of arms they would have had etc. I remember one morning in December, where I got up at 3 am and drove 3 hours up to where Washington made the crossing and photographed the scene at dawn, as the ice flows slowly drifted down the river. It was a moment I won’t forget soon, because I realized I was standing on hallow ground, made so real to me by all the accounts I read about the event. It came alive in my mind. Then it was about getting friends and models together to pose in costume. The challenge was to take all of these pieces of information and bring them together in a cohesive way to make the scene I painted believable. The whole project took me a year.

Ironically I made up postcards of the completed painting and sold a number of them to the museum store that is located in the park where Washington made the crossing. What fun!

Who do you work for?

About a third of my work I get through interior designers, which can be an enjoyable experience, when the designer respects you and directs you, but doesn’t bully you to show you who is boss (esp. in front of the client). I have done a few commercial jobs, and these can be a lot of fun because of their scale and in some instances the leeway one is given creatively. Commercial work is more about making a statement and not about if the mural matches the couch or drapes.

What are the types of work you do?

In the very early days I did murals, but I also did a lot of the usual faux finishes (sponging, ragging and plastic bagging) as well as stenciling.

I never understood why this was called faux, as faux was originally used to describe the replication of natural materials, such as marble, wood etc. As the world of faux has waned, the type of faux I am doing now has been around since Roman times, faux marble, faux boise, etc. There still seems to be a call for Venetian plaster .

How have your projects changed in the last 5 years?

I think they have become much more diverse. I’ve done everything from 10,000 square feet of murals for a school, to a commissioned painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware, to doing a dining room in faux bois. It’s great to not be typecast, as I thrive on diversity and a good challenge.

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry?

Murals have been around since the caveman and faux finishing since Roman times, so I don’t think they will disappear any time soon, but I do think that unless we start seeing flush times soon, the market for product-based faux finishes may decline. I say this because when I started in this business I had to make everything from scratch, there was no product out there.

Then as faux finishing caught on and the market for it wasn’t just the upper level income bracket,

companies started to produce glazes, metallic finishes, etc., because there was a growing market base. Now that market base has shrunk an awful lot, as well as no design magazines are featuring or even showing anything in the decorative arts, everything is back to neutral walls and simple lines.

There will always be a market for us, I just think it is changing and shrinking and we all have to adapt to survive.

The Class Connection: Graham Rust

Graham Rusts iconic book The Painted House gave trompe loeil to my generation of decorative painters. There are very few of us who have not been inspired, influenced, or just plain copied his work. After many years of requests, Graham finally started teaching classes this year at his lovely English countryside studio. He selects his students and limits class size to 6. Here he tells us in his own words the winding path Graham Rust took to become Graham Rust.

Who taught you?

I attended art schools in London and New York studying fine art and graphic design. I had several good tutors notably Miss Flora Ogilvy for flower painting. However, I was not taught mural painting. It was something that I studied and worked on by observation in England and Italy.

Having latterly studied graphic design at The Central School of Arts & Crafts in London I interrupted my course – after a year to spend some time in New York. This idea was prompted at the suggestion of a young American (we were both staying with mutual school friends in Germany the previous summer). Douglas suggested that I join him to share an apartment on the upper east side belonging to his elderly aunt who was away in Vermont. My father opposed this plan and put pressure on me to finish my course at The Central however I was determined to see the New World and duly set sail for New York aboard the SS. Aurelia in 1961. After spending three months traveling north, to canoe in the Canadian lakes and then through the southern states to Florida I finally ran out of money and had to get a job.

I had various letters of introduction and ended up working in the art dept. of a small advertising company on Fifth Avenue belonging to the uncle of school friend. Andy Warhol used to drop by with line drawings for various ads. – before he was famous I wish now that I had held on to one or two! This job lasted for six weeks – then I got another job in a studio in the garment district designing dress fabrics and through this was introduced to a greetings card company that proved to be quite lucrative.- however again after several illuminating weeks it came to an end and I was not sorry to leave this Dickensian outfit.

Then through a friend of a friend of my father I was offered the job of assistant to the art director of Architectural Forum – one of the magazines belonging to Time Inc. I spent a very happy couple of years there on the 19th floor of the Time Life Building watching the ships coming and going from the docks in lower Manhattan. Eventually wanderlust got the better of me and due to a personal tragedy I decided to pick up sticks and head for South America. After three months in Central America international events indicated that it was time to return. Firstly President Kennedy was assassinated while I was in Havana – and then the revolution broke out when I was in Panama City the day that I had the opening party for an exhibition of my drawings and water colours not the most auspicious start to my painting career.

I returned to New York for a while to study painting at The National Academy – before finally setting sail for England. On my return I lived in London in Chelsea and set about trying to get commissions. I decided to concentrate on painting country houses as architecture has always been a great interest combined with a few portraits and the odd flower study. Work was slow to come in but I survived and a few months later I moved to a new studio in South Kensington. In order to drum up some commissions I decided to give a drinks party. Lamenting to a friend that I had few paintings to hang on the bare walls she suggested that I paint one of the walls. It was about 20 x 9’, – I finished it in two days – the quickest mural that I have ever painted! However, two things emerged one was that I found that I liked painting on a large scale the other was that it resulted in my first mural commission ie. to paint the entrance hall of their London house -for two of my guests the late Earl and Countess of Clanwilliam.

Other commissions followed and eventually by chance I was offered the post of Artist in Residence at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. Once again I set sail for the United States – this time on the final voyage of the RMS Queen Mary and spent a very happy year at Woodberry giving a lecture once a week on the history of art and working on a mural, with the boys help, in the schools new arts centre.

It was during this time that a friend the late Marquess of Hertford came out to Washington for a few days on business for the British Tourist Authority. At the weekend he came down to Orange County to see what I was up to. This visit resulted in Hugh and his wife Louise asking me to paint the north staircase hall at Ragley Hall, their magnificent Palladian house near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. It was Louise who eventually persuaded Hugh that I should paint the identical south staircase hall – as she said you cant condemn the poor boy to five years in the north hall for which I was eternally grateful as it ended up taking fourteen years. I started work at Ragley in 1968 – and completed the painting in 1983. In between I worked on other mural commissions as well as holding exhibitions of paintings done on my travels to foreign parts. On average I spent one week a month at Ragley. It became a second home to me.

It is always interesting, with hindsight, to plot how things came about however I have always felt chance and luck play a great part.

Who inspires you?

I was inspired by the old masters ie.Rubens, Michaelangelo,Tiepolo Bernini as well as Georg Ehret, William Blake, Turner – to mention but a few. The greatest inspiration is nature and the human spirit manifest also in music and writing. As they say travel broadens the mind. I am lucky to have travelled a fair bit over the years and have always found that new ideas develop from things that I have seen or experienced.

What do you get out of teaching ?

I enjoy meeting new people – exchanging ideas and sharing my experience. It is also rewarding to be able to help others along the way.

What is your favorite project or technique?

Variety is what spurs me on. I enjoy working on large mural projects from time to time (I have four ceiling paintings on the go at the moment) but I also like working on easel paintings book illustrations,painting plants and flowers as well as writing designing and gardening.

How have your projects/products changed in the last 5 years?

My projects are always changing/different – I find it boring to keep repeating myself.

Please describe your classes/schools including the practical applications to what you are teaching.

Apart from the before mentioned stint at Woodberry I have more recently given workshops in Italy (at Lodi near Milan) as part of the International Festival of Trompe LOeil but decided to hold my own workshops here in Suffolk several years ago after receiving so many enquiries as to whether I ever gave lessons. Unfortunately they have taken rather a long time to materialize. I felt that if I did not bite the bullet now I never would. Please see the description in the workshop brochure on my website

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

I think that it is most important to make people think and use their imagination – but also to be measured in their approach and able to communicate their ideas clearly both verbally and visually. Too few seem able to produce a scaled design both to show a client and to work to with the result that they waste an awful lot of time rectifying mistakes.

Did the process of writing a book change you as a artist and teacher?

Writing a book certainly concentrates the mind.

Indirectly I suppose the books have brought commissions my way – and I hope that they have been useful to inspire ideas in other people nothing is new in this world only a new approach. I am sure that many people as have I find the germ of an idea in the work of others and are able to develop it from there.

The Class Connection: Gary Lord

Gary Lord, Prismatic Painting Studio, is a working finisher, muralist, teacher, author and occasional TV guest yet he somehow remains very down to earth about it all. In the business for 35 years, he still takes classes from other finishers. He invents finishes and plays with materials with the enthusiasm of a newbie. Gary has adjusted to the economy by developing simpler, more profitable painting techniques. Talent, grace and enthusiasm what a combo!

Who taught you?

Wow, this list goes back a long time. I went to college for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in sculpting and a minor in painting. I started my decorative painting business in 1975 and for years just made up things to paint on my own. My really first introduction into painted finishes was a book called Paint Magic by Jocasta Innes which came out in 1981. That book changed my life and gave me a direction for my fledgling art business.

From this book I learned about another book that had a big influence on me called The Art of the Painted Finish for Furniture and Decoration by Isabel ONeil. From this book I learned about two decorative painting schools which were run by former students of Isabel Ina Marx and JoAnne Day. My first actual decorative painting class was a two-week marble and precious stones workshop held in Manhattan by JoAnne Day. A few years later I took a class at her school in San Francisco on woodgraining. I also took a marble and woodgrain class in the early 80s in Columbus Ohio from a traveling school called Rocky Mountain Painting. In this class was also a student by the name of Mike MacNeil whom I also later took a marble and woodgrain class from when he was co teaching with Bill Holgate. Around this time I also took my first Faux Effects class taught by Raymond Sandor. It was this class that allowed me to move away from the oil based paints I had been using for years. At this point the list for teachers that have taught me becomes much longer and it includes but is not limited to the following names: Melanie Royals, Donna Phelps, Barb Skivington, Sheri Zeman, Jacek Prowinski, Kathy Carroll, Margaret OReilly, Andre Ritin, Deb Drager, William Cochran, Cynthia Davis, Jeannine Dostal, Alison Woolley, David Rarick, Joe Greco, David Schmidt, Rodney Ray, Susan Bickford just to name a few.

As you can see I love to take classes my own-self. I also have over 100 art and instructional books. I have dozens of videos on these topics by many teachers I have not taken a personal class from but enjoyed learning from them. Last but certainly not least is the fact that I learn from many of the students I teach.

Who inspires you?

Anyone that has joy,passion and commitment for their vocation. Someone that has good morals and values and shares those with people they come into contact with. I am inspired by people that seek to go outside the box and are able to find a way to be successful at it. My daughter has a quote on her wall that says To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

What do you get out of teaching?

I am a big believer in learning and the sharing of knowledge. By doing this myself I often times get as much out of a class as the students do. Also by teaching it helps myself stay focused on the creative side, use new products, improve techniques, and always seek the unknown.

What is your favorite project or technique?

Well, that answer seems to be the newest thing I am interested in. Times change, interests change, products change, so as a result so does my art. The changed economy forced my craft to to develop techniques that look beautiful but are able to be executed in a minimal amount of steps with not an exorbitant amount of product cost.

Also, as my body ages I am not so interested in doing multi layered finishes that require tons of burnishing etc, so I look to create finishes that are easier on my body than some of the things I did in the past. I am seeking to do work in my studio such as cabinet finishes, countertops, canvas work etc, so I do not have to work on scaffold 24 feet up in the air, or balance myself on an unstable walk board above to two story stairwell. Even though I am only 29 years of age in my mind I do realize my body does not always feel that way:(

How has your business changed in the last 5 years?

Work harder to earn less pretty much sums up the last 5 years. I have to market and advertise more now than I did in the roaring early 2000s. I work very hard to nurture all of my professional contacts and keep in contact as frequently as I can with them. I have had to cut a lot of expenses and benefits that in the past were affordable to do but no longer are. I have gone back more to my style of business when I first started out and watched every penny closer and I use, re-use products and tools until nothing is left.

Please describe your classes including the practical applications to what you are teaching.

My classes now try to focus on working harder and smarter, using less labor and product to earn a higher margin. I teach with a lot of the new Faux Effects products that do give you beautiful looks quickly with a minimal amount of labor and product. Some of these products are the new Luna line, the RS Series, Rock-Kote, Stone Decor, Sharkskin etc. I am also using the multi-colored foils for a faster application of foils.

Did the process of writing a book change you as a artist and teacher?

I have written 5 books about decorative and mural painting. My writing experience started when I was a contributing home decor editor for Decorative Artist Workbook. For seven years I wrote over forty articles which focused on step-by-step techniques for a specific paint treatment. I was also involved with The National Society for Decorative Painters and they had me write how to articles for their bi-monthly magazine for two years. At the same time time, I started doing work on national television programs about decorative painting.

All of these avenues of exposure led me to the largest national publisher on how-to books in the country. In 1998 they published my first book, Great Paint Finishes for a Gorgeous Home. In the small niche market of decorative painting this book became what they called a best seller, which meant it sold more than 25,000 copies but less than 50,000 (which very few did). In 2001 I wrote Marvelous Murals You Can Paint which again sold well over the 25,000 mark but under the 50,000 once again. The third book Its Faux Easy was released in 2004 and sold very close to the 50,000 mark. The next book was back to mural painting and this time I came up with the idea of having 22 artists collaborate on the book reflecting the work and business wisdom of the top mural talent in America. Mural Painting Secrets for Success was released in 2008. The collective talents in this book inspired me to write Simply Creative Faux Finishes using 23 different artists plus myself for a total of 30 techniques. This book includes a DVD that showcases 20 additional artists in its gallery plus 5 additional techniques by 4 different artists. The last two books have done okay in sales but the entire decorative painting how-to book industry has been hit hard in the last 5 years, so much so that my publishing house has closed down that part of their business model for now.

So what did I learn from all of this? Writing a book takes a lot of time. I was given 1 year to write each book. Then the publisher would have it for a year and I would periodically have to review what they were doing. On the average a book would take between 250 and 350 total hours of my time to actual write and edit it with the publisher, and the first book is even longer because of the learning curve. This does not count the hours where I would be organizing my thoughts while driving or in bed not being able to sleep. I had to find this time in between my already busy schedule.

My first books I had to pay for the photography in the entire book by myself with no help from the publisher, which could cost as much as $10,000, as years went on that changed. I was told from the beginning that I would never make any money by selling only one book, but the only way you could make any money was to have multiple successful books. The publishing house gives you a very small percent of the book sales they make and unfortunately is is based on the price they sell it for not the full retail price. Because they sell it to wholesalers for at least 60% off or book club for more than 50 to 75% off your margins are even smaller. The one good thing is that they will allow you to purchase books at the authors price which is not even as good as the distributors price, but at least you can try and resell these for a better profit.

I also learned the pros and cons of trying to do a self published book, which I have never done, or using a publisher. For me I liked the aspect of going with a publisher because I did not have an existing distributor network that could sell my book to book sellers, distributers, on line retailers, e-books, etc. The time and skills required to do all of that effectively I do not posses. So going in I decided I was fine with a smaller piece of the publishing pie but having far greater national and international sales because of the distribution chain of this large publishing house. What that did for me was to enhance my already national reputation even more so which in turn sold more books, which sold more classes, which sold more product, which drove people to my on line education site like As in all business aspects it is seldom one idea or product will make you successful but instead it is many small components that lead to a much larger result.

That said for those of you that feel the burning desire to write a book I suggest you do some research before you start. Is there even a market for your idea? If so will you self publish, and if yes what do you anticipate the return on you time and invest will be? Do you try and pitch your idea to a publishing house? If so are they even currently publishing the type of concept for a book that you want to do? What are their terms for you as the author and how established and reliable are they to actual meet those terms? It is easy to write a book if you want to pay for the entire thing yourself and not worry if you get any return on your time and investments, but to make it financially worth while for yourself is a much more complex endeavor.

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

Some of my greatest personal experiences in this line of work comes from my international teaching workshops abroad. You get to really know the people on the trip, share your love and passion for what we do, learn new ideas, study old masters work and be inspired by all the history and beauty around you. This year in September I am doing a trip to Greece and Santorini.

The Class Connection: Dean Sickler

Dean Sickler was a finisher before there was faux. After studying decorative painting in the early 80s with some of Americas greats, he went back to college at age 36 to get a degree in art and art history. A working finisher, author and teacher, his technique and aesthetic are solidly based in tradition. This is a guy who plain likes to push paint and plasters around. His Dundean Studios offers 1-3 day classes on a variety of techniques and materials for both pros and novices.

Who taught you?

When I was trying to find some instruction in the early eighties there wasn’t much available. JoAnne Day in San Francisco had the Day Studio and that is where I originally learned glazing, simple wood graining and marbling. I worked with Grace Darby of the New York Isabel O’Neil Studio for two years in Dallas, Texas and she helped me interpret the incredibly dense book “The Art of the Painted Finish” by O’Neil. She taught me museum quality work. I then worked for several years under the guidance of a master conservator, Emilio Cianfoni at the Vizcaya Museum in Miami, restoring, repairing and refinishing furniture and architecture.

After a few years I realized there was a big hole in my life where art was concerned. I knew how to do traditional techniques like encaustic, oil painting, secco fresco and others but I just didn’t know why. I managed to get into the University of Toronto (at 36 years old) when we lived in Canada and got a degree in art and art history. As a mature student with prior experience, I was asked to teach a few classes in Materials and Methods, and a summer workshop on faux finishes and got paid for it.

In 2001, I was invited to the International Salon in Paris and was exposed to some really incredible work…, leagues beyond what I had ever seen in the States, in both design and traditional techniques. Since then I have been studying with Patrick LaHeyne, the late Pierre Lafumat, Bill Holgate, Yannick Guegan and others. Just being around masters such as Michel Nadai, Gert Jan-Nisse, Simon Pasini, Pascal Amblard, Sean Crosby, Pierre Finkelstein and others keeps me on my toes always reaching beyond what I am capable of doing.

Who inspires you?

Everybody and everything. I look at a tree or an old door knob and get inspired. It can make walking with me a trial. In terms of intelligent design; Jean Dunand: His Life and Works, the artist Andy Goldsworthy, anything Japanese, modern French and Italian. John Fowler and contemporary designers such as Bunny Williams and Rose Tarlow always charge my battery. Melanie Royals is always a step ahead of everybody else with her designs and so is Kathy Carrol with her techniques. Working in New York inspires me to look at the present and future of design but my feet are pretty much planted in the traditional past.

What do you get out of teaching?

A wise man once said; “the thought process is never complete without articulation”. If you cannot articulate clearly what you understand, you do not really understand it or maybe it is flat wrong. I believe teaching helps me to understand what I am doing and forces me to become a better artisan.

What is your favorite project or technique?

I just like to push paint, glazes and plaster around. Creating something out of nothing is the essence of decorative finishing and it satisfies my obsession to beautify objects and architecture. I would still do this if nobody paid me but fortunately that is not the case so far. I enjoy doing the plasters because of the aerobic effect during application and there is something about the physical effort in creating visual movement is appealing to me right now. Wood graining and marbling are always favorites.

How have your projects/products changed in the last 5 years?

I have always taught and believed in subtlety when it comes to wall finishes but the last 10 years have seen finishes get very dramatic and overpowering. It’s all you see when you walk into a room. It has become so clichéd that I have seen designers cringe at the word “faux”. People are looking for natural or “Earth Friendly” finishes. Subtle marmorinos and lightly polished venetian plasters have become very popular as well as textures with an off white to gray pearl luster. Once in a while I get lucky and can do a color but it is becoming rare. Soft pearl metallics, patterns and ornamental designs are also big right now. Products have not changed very much in the last five years but we have lost quite a few manufacturers.

Please describe your classes/schools including the practical applications to what you are teaching.

I think our model of one, two and three day classes will remain because it seems that is what people can afford right now. I am actually shrinking some classes from three days to two days to make them more affordable. We can do this because I just installed two large drying cabinets so we can apply two or three coats of texture in a day. In our basic Faux Design and Stenciling courses, we work on large wall and corner mock ups to give the feel of working in a real-life situation. Once you understand the basics of material control, it is easier to switch to different materials.
Did the process of writing a book change you
as a artist and teacher?

It took me five years to write and finish The Keys To Color. I have always been obsessed with the mechanics and presentation of color on material objects and have been carrying around a kit of pigments to every job site since 1975. It wasnt until I started to organize my notes and articles that I realized just how much I had been using intuitive knowledge rather than concrete information in mixing and matching colors. I was and am still amazed at how often a popular theory does not work in practical application. I had to keep revising my notes again and again until I was satisfied that the results were dependable.
For example, everyone knows that green and red make brown…but what kind of brown? It takes a particular red and a particular green to make a specific brown and then that color could go completely off if you view it under a different light. That is why I start off the book with a chapter on light and how to work with it. An artist can work with just three pigments to create what they want, but a decorative artist needs at least eight and preferably twelve to quickly and reliably duplicate neutral or de-saturated colors over a large surface. This a fairly complicated subject but something I think is necessary for everyone in the interior decorating business. Writing a book about the subject helped me to understand a system of practical color theory that actually works rather than just intuitive hit or miss.

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about it.

I would like to see some educational standards and basic knowledge courses recognized by our industry. I have been offering courses in practical color theory, basic painting knowledge, essential business and others for years but these courses almost always go begging. Everybody knows they need this knowledge to be professional but how can these courses compete against someone else offering a beautiful mural vignette or fantastic glass beads and glitter in a class. Creative people always reach for the shiniest thing in the room! If practical courses based on written standards are recognized as part of a certification program or follow guidelines set by trade organizations such as IDAL, I think it will go a long way to increasing professionalism in the field of decorative finishing.

The Class Connection: Mats Carlsson

Mats Carlsson started as a Swedish house painter in the 1970s. A 1991 chance encounter with a master painter changed his life forever. He later studied at Institut Yannick Guegan and became the first Scandinavian graduate. Mats and his colleague Lotta Olsson have successfully run a two-year decorative painting program at their Palm Fine Arts educational centre since 1996. Palm Fine Arts offers Summer Master Classes taught in English. Mats does commissions about 4 months per year and shares with us his uniquely sensible roof pricing system.

Who taught you?

I had the fortune to be taught by Swedish Master Painter Stellan Palm which happened thanks to a coincidence. (If I had been half a minute later to that shop I would have missed it Destiny??) I was in a paint shop asking for advice about wood graining (this was in the beginning of the 1990’s). The man in the shop said “you just missed one of the greatest wood grainers who has ever been. He just went out when you entered.” So I rushed out in the parking lot to an old man (I had no idea who he was, and it was raining heavy) stopped him, and said “I’ve been told you are a great grainer and I really want to learn – have you got any tips?” He looked at me and said “well, it’s raining quite a lot so why don’t you come to my studio Wednesday evening and we can have a talk”.

So I did, and after that first talk I was allowed to watch him paint every Wednesday evening between 5 – 8pm for 2 months not painting only observing. After 2 months he took me to his office and said, “well, now I know that you are serious and really want learn this craft, as you has been patiently here every Wednesday for 2 months only watching so today I will give you a brush and you will actually learn by painting.” That was a great feeling.

A year later, my colleague of today, Lotta Olsson also joined his training. That training kept on for 8 years. He did not accept any payment for his time brushes, pigments, paint etc. He said, “Seeing your progress is worth more, and now I know that I have transferred my knowledge to next generation, which probably you will do in the future as well.” He was so right.

After some years I found out it was possible to take longer classes abroad. I did a couple of trips to France looking at different schools and decided that somehow I should take one of the French educations. In 1996 I went to Yannick Guegan’s school in France for 5 months.

Together with Stellan I had prepared to open a 1 year education directly after France – and so we did. I did run that school until I, together with Lotta Olsson in 2000, started Palm Fine Arts. At that time we changed the school to be a 2 year education, including 1st year with old techniques and 2nd year with contemporary color, form and design.

Beside the long education we do other classes, for example our summer master classes. Those classes have given us students from together 19 countries through the years. Pascal Amblard has been guest teacher for one week class/year at our school, now for 13 years.

Participating in Salon have given us a lot of connections over the years and also introduced us to the American market.

Who inspires you?

I get inspired from most people in the craft. I have also have the fortune to be at the Salon since 1996 and get inspired from that event every year.

Not to mention FauxForum where you see so much wonderful works by very talented people.

What do you get out of teaching?

To teach is really a pleasure To follow the students growing the more they learn is priceless. In the same time you as a teacher learn a lot from students – so it works two ways. To teach in our field means that the students you get are really interested and eager to learn, and that makes the teaching easy and fun.

Mats specialty is wood graining (here he has matched the floor).

I like most of the jobs but when I make decoration in the style of late 1700’s, I must say I enjoy a bit more. The same with some (not many) clients who want that little extra touch and are not too concerned about the pricing. These days most jobs have to be produced in a very short amount of time which is both good and bad. Good because you must develop techniques to save time but keep quality, and the bad is that you know that you could have done the thing better if you just were allowed to spend some more time. I have specialized in wood graining and illusion so I do a lot of faux wood and tromps. It’s a pleasure when you can add some faux mouldings or ornaments.

How has your business changed in the last 5 years?

We have a quite stable base for our business, and it has increased over the years. We also now work on contract for the Swedish School Ministry. That means that the School Ministry pays us as a school to run the education. It also means that the students only have to pay a small amount themselves to take our 2-year education. (Otherwise it would have been really hard for us to find students for our 2 year program.) The Swedish School Ministry classifies our school as important to the nation because it secures old traditions as well as develop the craft to the needs of today.

We think that our education has increased the level of work in Sweden. In the 70s and 80s the work in Sweden was really bad and it made clients not choose faux finishing. One of the reasons we started the school was to try to raise the standard of work, and today it is actually quite good quality overall. The school takes a lot of our time so we only do 4 month commissions each year and we have enough clients to fill that quota.

Please describe your classes including the practical applications to what you are teaching.

Well, we teach most techniques. Because the market now demands low prices, or maybe I should say fast techniques, it forces us all to do what we do in minimum time. All techniques we do in classes are based on reality work, simplified but still good customer quality. I think it’s important to teach that way – exhibition quality is rare to do as job.

We have a special week class for house painter school teachers, which is important so they introduce the house painter students to decorative painting.

Our master classes are always taught in English because of international students.

This year our master class program has 3 different week classes: Marbling with Lotta Olsson on August 8 12, Mural with Pascal Amblard on August 15 – 19, and Wood/trompe l’oeil with Mats Carlsson on August 22 – 26. Have a look at

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

Pricing job is always up as question – at least from our students and colleagues. One of the hardest thing is the pricing the jobs. Of course, it get easier the longer you have been in business because you know your own capacity. Most of our clients (probably 99 %) demand a fixed price. We always bid the projects down to “molecules” and set the working time on each part. That’s a safe way, but still, for a bigger project it can be really costly if you miscalculate so there we often set a “roof” price. In that system we have to count all used hours. If we reach the roof price the clients only pay 50% of everything above it . The other way, if we don’t reach the roof price the client still have to pay 50% of the difference up to the roof price. This is quite safe for both parts when it’s hard estimate the cost.

For Example:

Roof Price $40,000 real time $50,000 – client pays $45,000

Roof Price $40,000 real time $30,000 – client pays $35,000

At the moment I’m preparing for my classes at IDAL. One tromp/wood graining class, and one demo/lecture for fast techniques wood graining. This year the IDAL dates made it possible for me to go. It will be so much fun coming over for a couple of classes.

The Class Connection: Melanie Royals

Melanie Royals literally put the big pattern on the wall in our industry. Both her innovative stencils and, more recently, her Modellos are sophisticated and innovative. Her Modellos are responsible for the resurgence (from the 1800s) of ornate ceilings. She has brought decorative mirror finishing into our industry. And, none of this would be possible without the exemplary service her team provides. Melanie shares her forward thinking about virtual workshops and her adventures in troweling.

Who taught you?

Well, I wish I could say that I studied at some prestigious European atelier, but I am pretty much just a “school of life” graduate! When I began doing this there were no such things as teaching studios. Actually, I think that JoAnne Day was teaching at the time, but I sure didn’t know about her because there wasn’t even an internet to speak of!! Totally dark ages….LOL. I taught myself how to stencil back in 1983 from the amazing and inspiring book, The Art of Decorative Stenciling, by Adele Bishop and Cile Lord. I actually did a blog post about it recently! My stencil “career” plodded along in obscurity for about 10 years until I finally took the plunge to release my own stencil line in 1994.

A few years later I took a class in the “New” Faux Effects line from Bob Marx of The Finishing School, and immediately began experiment with different ways to incorporate my stencil patterns into the finishes. Everything sort of took off from there, and I started teaching my “Extraordinary Stenciled Effects” program regularly throughout that whole network.

Who inspires you?

Wow! There are so many decorative artists to be inspired by and the great thing now is that we have 24/7 access to juicy examples of amazing artwork from all over the world. It seems that with the economic shakedown, the people that are left working in our industry are pretty much the cream of the crop: creative, technically proficient, business savvy….it’s like our whole industry has been elevated by the caliber and dedication of the people practicing their art in it. I find it very inspiring how willing people are these days, also, to share their knowledge and sources of inspiration. I particularly enjoy the work and writings of Alan Carroll of Surface Fragments.

I am also super inspired by the work of architect Julia Morgan, as I am working quite a bit from her architectural drawings to create stencil and Modello patterns for The Hearst Castle Collection. I’ve written about her/Hearst here already, and hope to have more to share on that soon!

What do you get out of teaching?

For me, the fact that I am primarily a teacher/inspirer as opposed to a contractor helps to keep me focused on creating and recreating. It’s what keeps me focused on coming up with new ideas for how to incorporate my stencils and Modello patterns. Like most artists, I am constantly absorbing visual information and processing it, but the FOCUS of feeling the need to create something unique and useful for people is what really helps to draw that out.

I also enjoy the whole process of creating artistic and educational material: from brainstorming, to writing to photography-and now to creating videos!

What is your favorite project or technique?

My favorite project or technique is generally the last thing I’ve just come up with! Seriously, I LOVE that I have the luxury of experimenting with any product or technique I desire to come up with a look or finish that pleases me, and that I think will appeal to other people.

I began my career with a stencil brush in hand, but I have to say I most enjoy using a trowel to create a finish with texture and depth-both in the background and in the pattern itself. This is what I have always loved about using Modello masking patterns, in particular. They make it so easy to trowel on a design quickly and interestingly.

How has your business changed in the last 5 years?

It’s interesting to me that I feel like my business has come full circle. I guess if you stick around long enough the trend that you started on will come around again! My business began with a focus on mylar stencils. When I started Modello Designs (Decorative Masking Patterns) 8 years ago, it was a natural extension of the development of the industry, and the need for working professional artisans to have an additional way of working with patterns into their finishes. We are still humming along with that, but the economy has also regenerated renewed interest (and demand!) for more reusable stencil patterns. Stencils are now the new/old “hot” ticket and have caught on suddenly with the DIY crowd thanks in large part to the proliferation of design and craft blogs. SO, most recently I have been focusing a lot more on my stencil company, Royal Design Studio, though we have some really exciting changes and additions coming for Modello Designs. It’s nice to have both!

Please describe your classes including the practical applications of what you are teaching.

Well after teaching hands on classes 17 years (including every year for the past 17 years at IDAL), I saw the opportunity a couple of years ago to offer a different kind of class for a different market and economic environment. Technology has really broken down a lot of barriers and opened up new and effective ways to reach and communicate with people.

As I said above, the economy and shrinking market for working decorative artisans has really narrowed our industry down to mostly skilled and trained professionals. With less newbies coming into the business in the last few years, it has gotten harder to fill introductory type studio classes. Couple that with the fact that working artists seem to have less of a budget for travel/teaching experiences, and of course time is precious too! I thought the time was really right to offer a good alternative for working professionals who had a good amount of basic training and technical skills, yet still wanted to explore new techniques or mediums-so, Virtual Workshops were born!

Virtual Workshops are web-based, decorative arts training that combines recorded video lessons, a detailed printed manual (an illustrated book really!), review webinar, and ongoing Q&A.

Visual/Non-Verbal: This is covered in the detailed video lessons, which show the techniques done repeatedly and are available for viewing/reviewing on an ongoing basis. I really take my time to show the whole process from start to finish in a way that is not necessarily as “rushed” as might be done in a studio situation.

Visual/Verbal: The manual details out the process for each technique, with words and photos, and provides additional information. This is much more developed and detailed that the printed notes that generally accompany a hands-on class!

Auditory/Verbal: This relates to hearing the information explained, and is covered in the review webinar where I go through and highlight the key information and provide additional insights wherever possible.

Tactile/Kinesthetic: This is the hands-on learning by doing that the student will do on their own time in their studio. Many students have told me that they go through and recreate each sample, but of course they have the option here to only practice the techniques or finishes that most interest them. They also have the opportunity to translate the finishes into different colorways, use different mediums, etc.

The disadvantage is that the I am not physically there to monitor the process and make suggestions or give positive reinforcement. Students also don’t get the advantage of the camaraderie and exchanges of information with other students that naturally happen during a class-although Facebook seems be taking care of that for many in our industry these days.

Some advantages beyond the lack of need to travel and juggle work schedules are that students don’t have the distractions that can happen during a hands-on class. They have the opportunity to just focus on their own work as their time and needs permit. Also, most of the tools and materials that are used are things that they might already have present in their studio. Where we are introducing a new product, they have the opportunity to purchase “sample” sizes, and everything else used in the workshop at a discounted price.

There are tradeoffs both ways, and the Virtual Workshops aren’t necessarily designed to replace hands-on classes. They DO offer a great alternative, though, particularly for people who want to expand their portfolios and knowledge yet have limitations we all seem to face these days: lack of time and money!

For me, the Virtual Workshops give me the opportunity to reach more students and to keep teaching and adding new ideas and information to the industry. They require a TON of investment in time and money up front (the Patterned Mirror and Glass workshop took almost a year to prepare) but once done, I feel that these are “classic” techniques and skills that people can use for years to come in their businesses. The feedback and response from students so far has been super positive and I feel like I am really providing something of value that is appreciated, which is very gratifying!

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

I’ve created 3 Virtual Workshops so far: Foilin Around, Stencil Impressions, andPatterned Mirror and Glass. I am now working on a fourth workshop with Katrina Johnson of SkimStone. This workshop will focus on using our Modello patterns with SkimStone for resurfacing countertops and concrete-even canvas work! This one is exciting because, in addition to the studio work and sample techniques, we are able to take the students step-by-step through the process of a large floor project. We filmed the process of prep, SkimStone, and applying Modello patterns on one of the floors here in our building. Katrina has all the technical information down, and I show how to pretty it up with pattern, so I think it will be super valuable for people who are wanting to expand into the area of concrete resurfacing!

And, let us not forget she writes her must read blogs Design Amour and The Art of Living. Her stencil designs are frequently seen in magazines and blogs worldwide due, in part, to the excellent styling of her marketing photographs. Her books are inspiring. Melanies seemingly endless energy and talent are gift to our industry.