How to Paint a Color Wash
Now you can mimic walls created long before the paint roller came along.
You could spend days with a float and a trowel trying to make your walls look perfect. But where's the fun in that? You'd be much better off if you just embrace that old messy plaster and play up its rough surface and worn-out paint. Or if you're in a new house, infuse your too-pristine drywall with a little old-world character. All it takes is a little paint trickery.
With a few brushes and a series of complementary hues, you can mimic walls created long before the paint roller came along. As This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers shows, brushing on your colors will hide imperfections—or create them with intention on smooth walls. What you'll end up with when you're done is a room that's so delightfully imperfect, it's perfect.
Color Wash Overview
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.