When you color wash, you essentially stand with a brush in your hand and scribble the paint onto the wall in frenetic, wild sweeps. But the colors you choose are as important as the technique. So to be sure you actually like your hues, your first step should be to make a test board to hold against your wall. (See Product Gallery for color guidance.)

Color washing works best when all the colors show through—the base and the brushed layers. To create that effect, your brushwork has to be as random as possible—bare patches and bristle marks should clearly show. The more haphazard your brushing, the more successful the effect will be.

Today's paints have fewer solvents in them than they used to, however, which means they smell better but dry faster. So you’ll need to open up the paint’s working time by thinning it out with glaze. Glaze comes with a slight sheen that has the added benefit of imparting some depth to the finish. For the base coat, which you should roll on to speed the process, use a semigloss paint for its slickness and reflective properties.

Balance between the two top brushed layers is the sign of a good color wash. Many first-time decorative painters worry too much about coverage and end up with an over-blended surface. Start out as rough as possible; you’ll be able to soften things up by using a soft, dry polyester brush to feather out any harsh markings while the top layer is still wet. Then, if you’re still not satisfied, you can always go back over discreet spots with more glaze until the effect is exactly the way you like it.
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    More in Painting & Finishes

    Tools List

    • tarp
      Canvas and tarps
    • putty knife
      Putty knife
    • paintroller
      Roller frame
    • paint pan
      Paint tray
    • bucket
      Paint bucket
    • paintbrush
      1 1/2-inch angled sash brush
    • synthetic brush
      Two 2 1/2-inch polyester-nylon paintbrushes, and a 4-inch polyester paintbrush to dry-brush the finish

    Shopping List

    1. Latex Paint: You need to choose three colors: a base coat in semigloss and two layer colors in eggshell or matte. The layer colors get mixed with glaze, so get about half as much of these two shades as you would need to paint the whole room.

    2. Latex Glaze to smooth the effect and create a translucent top coat. One gallon is enough for a 10-by-10-foot room. 3. Spackling Compound to repair the walls before painting.

    4. 150-Grit Sandpaper

    5. Primer to spot-prime any spackled areas.

    6. Tray Liners and Bucket Liners

    7. 3/8-inch Nap Roller Cover