I have been asked many times for the painting secrets that I use
on my many characters and caricatures. The techniques that I have developed over the years
are really quite simple. If you will follow these simple directions you will produce
superior carvings every time.
Cleaning the Carving
If the carving is dirty, it can be cleaned as follows:
- Draw some warm water in a sink and add 2-3 drops of liquid
- Do not submerge the carving! Instead dip an old toothbrush
in the soapy water and scrub the carving.
- When done, turn on the spigot and rinse the carving to
remove all soapy residue.
- Immediately towel off all water and blot the carving. Let
Sealing the Carving
Not all carvings will be sealed, but porous wood types
(pine, fir, and even basswood) will accept paint more evenly if sealed. This is important
if you are striving for a soft even look. If the piece is small and you want it to be
fully colored (i.e., Christmas ornaments) then this step may not be necessary.
- Use a spray with very low percentage of shellac. Zinsser
Bulls-Eye Shellac Sealer & Finish® works very well. Shellac content is
only 12%. I have been able to obtain a supply at Ace Hardware® stores and some
True Value® stores.
- Find a calm area outside of the house. Hold spray can
approximately 12" from the carving and apply one coat to all surfaces. Use a sweeping
motion and do not allow the spray to pool in any one area.
- DO NOT APPLY MORE THAN ONE COAT.
- Allow to dry at least 2 hours (overnight if possible).
Eliminating Raised Grain
Washing and spraying may raise the grain slightly. Use a
steel wool pad to eliminate glossy areas and areas with raised grain (fuzzies). The
carving is now ready to paint.
Painting with Acrylics
Acrylics are water based paints and are sold in either
liquid form or in a tube. A wide variety of colors are available including fleshtones and
Christmas colors. This is helpful and reduces the amount of mixing to obtain the desired
tone. Acrylics are rarely applied directly and should be thinned with water (even liquid
forms). The exact ratio is not important, but a mixture of three parts water to one part
paint is about right. The goal is to create a translucent water based stain that will
enhance your carving, not hide it.
A pre-sealed basswood carving will take approximately two
coats. Additional coats may be added depending on the desired effect.
Occasionally you will want to highlight features (rosy
nose, sunburned cheeks, etc.). This is accomplished through blending, usually during the
- First, apply a normal wet coat of paint to the area (cheek
- Switching to a dry brush (any soft bristle brush), lightly
dip the end bristles into the color to be blended. Immediately dab the brush into a paper
towel to eliminate excess paint which may have been picked up.
- While the surface is still wet, use the blending brush to
apply highlight. The result is a soft blending of one color into another (e.g., cadmium
red can be used on noses).
Dry brushing is a technique that is used to highlight areas
that were previously painted and have not dried. You might use this technique to add gray
streaks to the hair or to paint a stubble beard. On an old hobo with a graying beard, I
would paint the entire face, including the beard, with fleshtone. Later, I would dry brush
white across the stubble area. A black stubble beard could also be done the same way. When
dry brushing, use a stiff, short bristle brush. Load your brush (dab off any excess on a
paper towel) and apply the paint across the raised stubble or hair).
Cleaning brushes immediately after use will allow the same
brush to be used in other areas and for other colors. It also eliminates mistakes. Rinse
the brush thoroughly and shake the water from the tip. This also forces the bristles to
realign themselves in a pointed position. Place the clean brush on a paper towel or in a
When the carving is completed it is also sealed. Applying
an oil based antiquing will not spoil your work. Instead, it will enhance it by softening
the bright colors and providing definition. The dark antiquing will flow into the bright
recesses (e.g., eye lids, edges of the mouth, buttons, belt buckles, etc.). Most of the
antiquing will be removed by brushing or wiping. However, the antiquing in deep areas will
stay and provide much needed contrast. This allows important detail features to be easily
With a dry brush, or a brush dipped in paint thinner, it is
possible to remove nearly all the antiquing that was applied. Since the carving was
already sealed, it will not absorb most of the antiquing. You are in control and can
decide how much to leave. A thin coat rubbed into the carving will have a softening
effect. This is important if you are trying to show aging or wear. If you want the colors
to remain bright, but need the contrast it certain areas, use the finish selectively.
Antiquing (brown or black) can be obtained from most
hardware stores. A quart will last a very long time. Place a small amount of the thick
antique mix in a small cup and thin with boiled linseed oil, available at craft and
hardware stores. The mixture is simply brushed over top the painted surface (requires
total coverage). Larger, stiffer bristle brushes work best to apply the mixture. Keep a
second brush on hand to remove most of the mixture. Use a brush dipped in a paint thinner
to brush out unwanted mix that exists in hard to reach areas.
The oil based mix will give your carving additional
protection and a soft glow. Periodically, you can freshen it up by brushing a light coat
of linseed oil on the entire surface and rubbing it with a soft cloth.
Antiquing is an option that you may not want to use. If you
like bright colors, you may not want to soften them by antiquing. On the other hand, it
may be just what you need to finish carving that Old World Santa.
If I can be of any help I can be reached at (770) 993-3290.
-- Printed in The Southeastern Carver,
N o t e s
- 1. You can paint oil based mediums over acrylics, or water
- 2. DO NOT paint acrylic mediums over oil based mediums. The
oil based mediums bleed through the water based mediums.
- In Fred Key's article in the last issue he referred to an
antiquing stain that could be purchased in local hardware stores. Unfortunately this
material is no longer available. An experienced (senior citizen type) paint salesman at a
local outlet provided me with the following recipe for making your own:
- 1. Mix equal portions of Japan Dryer and linseed oil with
about 4 oz. of turpentine and color with oil based artist color.
- 2. Proceed as per Fred's instructions.
If wish to purchase ready made, Ivan Whillock's Catalog still
offers an antiquing glaze.
-- Printed in The
Southeastern Carver, March 1997.