Remember those potato stamps you made in school? Now imagine a less starchy—but no less fun—medium made with a sheet of flexible craft foam and squares of scrap wood. The pattern shown here was applied with two homemade stamps and semigloss paint. "It's a great way to add energy to a small area," says decorative painter Brian Carter, who came up with the pattern as a way to enliven a plain white bath painted with Benjamin Moore's White Dove. "The wainscot provides an orderly block of color so that the handprinted pattern can dance above it." A base coat of Benjamin Moore's Hawthorne Yellow serves as the pattern's backdrop. The look is akin to handmade wallpaper.
Carter likes the contrast of a semigloss pattern on a flat base coat. To keep the look loose, he moved across the wall, stamping squares with diamond cutouts at 4-inch intervals in freehand fashion. Then he went back and added smaller circles in the blank spaces. "Try out your pattern on a piece of colored paper, and if you don't like the way it looks, vary the amount of paint on the stamp or make a new one," he says. And save the paper—it's great for gift wrap. For a step-by-step look, read on.
Create the Stamps
Figure out shapes by drawing a pattern on paper. Here, a 1-inch circle and 4-inch square were cut out of craft foam, then glued to wood blocks. A diamond was drawn on the square and cut out with an X-Acto knife.
Apply the Paint
Pour latex (here, it's Benjamin Moore's White Dove) into a small roller tray or onto a disposable plastic plate. Dip the stamp into the paint to load it or use a small artist's brush to cover the foam surface.
"For a softer look, lower the contrast of the colors and finishes. If you want more energy, crank up the contrast—semigloss yellow on flat navy, for example."
Brian Carter, decorative painter
Practice Stamping on Paper
As you get a feel for it, adjust the amount of paint on the stamp and the pressure you're using. "Don't press so hard that you extract every bit of paint—you want it somewhat uneven," says Carter.
Press the Stamp Flat to the Wall
Move across the wall in horizontal rows. Here, Carter stamped every other 4-inch square. If you're worried about wavy lines, let a chalk line be your guide. Adjust spacing when you near the end of a row so that you end with a full square.
Center Circles in Blank Squares
Gently press with the dot stamp to avoid thick, solid dots—you want a bit of the base coat to show through. Don't worry too much about placement. "It's a small stamp, so if it's off a little bit it'll still look fine," says Carter.
Touch up Thin Spots
Use a small artist's brush to add a little more where the paint seems too meager or a lot of the outline of the pattern is missing. Then all that's left is to stand back and enjoy your handiwork.