glossary
What follows is an admittedly parochial and unabashedly opinionated but, one hopes, nonetheless useful glossary of terms.
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additive tool a tool used to apply paint or glaze to the substrate while executing a decorative finish (see also subtractive tool).

amorphous finish a decorative finish that lacks any discernable pattern or movement in its varying values and hues.

Anaglypta® [n.] an unfinished wallpaper embossed with a design that can be painted or can be improved with a number of decorative finishes (see also Lincrusta®).

Approved Sample decorative painting's equivalent of the CYA memo. The prudent decorative painter always insists that the Approved Sample (AS) be formally blessed by the designer and/or client before a project begins. Once approved, the AS serves as a reference while work is in progress, but may also be used to validate the acceptability of completed work should differing opinions on the matter subsequently arise.

artwork [n.] for purposes of this glossary... a category of decorative painting that includes hand painting, murals, and trompe l'oeil, but not decorative finishes, gilding, graining and the like.

basecoat as it relates to decorative painting... a layer of solid paint applied to a surface as the ground for a decorative finish. The hue, value and sheen of a basecoat can affect the appearance of the final effect.

Bertha [n.] our name for the portable tool box that we've anthropomorphized, Bertha contains all the small items a decorative painter might need when working on location.

broken color finish one or more layers of glaze applied and manipulated to create pleasing variations in the value and hue of the finish and the illusion of depth . A broken color finish may be either amorphous or have movement.

clearcoat a transparent layer applied on top of completed artwork, stain-grade wood or a decorative finish to adjust the sheen and/or provide protection.

color palette the group of colors used to create a specific artwork or decorative finish

color shift the term used to describe a finish that appears to change color at different times of the day or night as a result of changes in the color temperature of the light it reflects. Also, a color shift can describe the apparent, sometimes undesirable, shifts in hue or value across a single surface caused by differences in the intensity and color temperature of multiple light sources illuminating the surface.

color wash a thin layer of glaze or diluted paint applied as the last coat of a finish to adjust the color and/or create a more subtle final effect by narrowing the range of hues and values in the finish.

combing [n.] a technique that employs a decorative painting tool called a paint comb. The comb is pulled through glaze that has been applied to a surface and allowed to reach snap time.

composition gold (also known as Dutch metal) extremely thin sheets of a brass alloy used as a lower cost substitute for genuine gold leaf. Composition gold can be convincing, especially when it can only be viewed from a distance. Unfortunately, composition gold requires a protective clear coat to prevent it from tarnishing which changes its reflective quality. Composition gold can be distinguished from genuine gold leaf by the size of each leaf (5?" square versus genuine gold's 3?" square leaves).

contrast ratio the range between the lightest and the darkest values in a color palette.

Cross-hatched stria (also called a double stria) a multi-process finish that begins with a traditional vertical stria which is applied lightly, allowed to dry, and then covered with a second stria executed horizontally. The final effect resembles stretched fabric and can range from the appearance of tightly-woven raw silk to loosely -woven grass cloth, depending upon how the finish is executed.

decorative finish [n.] for purposes of this glossary, a category of decorative painting that includes glazing, gilding, graining and the like. but not hand painting, murals, or trompe l'oeil. Decorative finishes may or may not resemble a natural material (such as wood, stone, or marble) but always have variations in their values and/or hues that give them their decorative quality.

depth [n.] (also sometimes called visual texture) a quality ascribed to decorative finishes that create the illusion of texture on a smooth surface. The illusion is caused by variations in the value and, to a lesser degree, the hue of the finish. Depth is a characteristic of some decorative finishes that can is comparable to the three-dimensional characteristic of some artwork known as trompe l'oeil.

distemper [n.] a rarely-used name for water-based paint.

dragging (see stria)

drift [n.] (see also movement) a focal point in a scumbled finish, usually of a slightly darker value than the rest of the surface, that "drifts" across the painted surface.

double process [adj.] a double process finish is executed with two separate applications over the basecoat. The first application is usually allowed to dry before the second process is executed.

double process [v.] a verb, double process is most-often used to describe the act of creating undesirable lap marks while executing a finish.

double stria (see cross-hatched stria)

Dutch metal (see composition gold)

ebonize [v.] the application of a finish that darkens stain grade wood or the use of graining to create a surface that resembles ebony.

encaustic [n.] a decorative finish created by mixing pigment with hot wax to form a paste. The paste is then applied to a surface and heated. The wax melts as the paste warms, and both the wax and the pigments is holds impregnate the substrate.

execute [v.] a paradox as it applies to decorative painting, since work that's been well executed comes alive, while work that has not been executed properly is generally DOA.

faux bois (also known as wood graining) a decorative finish that resembles wood on a surface that may or may not actually be wood. For example, a decorative finish can be applied to paint-grade wood to lend it the appearance of stain-grade wood

faux finish a category of decorative finishes employing the use of paint to endow the painted surface with "false" qualities such as the appearance of texture on a smooth surface or the appearance of stone, marble, wood, etc.

final effect a term used to distinguish the appearance of a completed decorative finish from its appearance(s) at the interim stages of its application

finesse [v.] to soften or tone down the drama or contrast ratio while executing a finish.

fresco finish a "true" fresco finish is created using pigments that have been mixed with water and applied to a thin layer of lime plaster while it is still wet. A faux fresco finish is executed with glazes on a dry painted substrate. The final effect of a faux fresco finish resembles a "true" fresco finish but, as you might expect, a faux fresco finish is easier and quicker to execute and, therefore, less expensive. There is a tradeoff, of course, faux fresco finishes are less durable, typically lasting for several decades but not several centuries as is typical for a "true" fresco or fresco finish.

fresco [n.] (see also fresco finish) an artwork created with pigments that have been mixed with water and applied to a thin layer of plaster while it is still wet.

genuine gold leaf extremely thin sheets of a gold alloy. The gold content of genuine gold leaf is measured in karats and is available in different colors including white gold, several yellows, so-called "red" gold (actually gold with a pinkish cast), and "moon" gold. Genuine gold leaf with a karat count of 22 or higher does not tarnish and, therefore, does not require a protective clear coat which would change its sheen which gives genuine gold it's characteristic luster. Far more expensive than composition gold, genuine gold leaf is hammered to one-tenth the thickness of composition gold and can be can be easily distinguished from composition gold by the size of each leaf (3" square leaves versus composition gold's 5" square leaves).

"ghostly bold" the directions once given to us by a designer in response to the question: "Compared to the sample, do you want it to look more subtle or more bold?"

gilding [v.] the application of metal leaf, or a metallic powder that has been suspended in a liquid or wax, to a surface for decorative purposes

"gilding the lily" the application of additional artwork or decorative finish(s) to a surface that is already decorated often resulting in a look that is over the top.

glaze [n.] a translucent material applied in a liquid state, then manipulated and allowed to dry as all or part of creating a decorative finish.

glaze [v.] the application and manipulation of one or more glazes on a surface to create a specific decorative effect.

grain [v.] (also graining) the execution of a decorative finish that resembles stained or unpainted wood using a specialized glaze called graining liquid. (see also wood graining and faux bois)

graining liquid a specialized glaze used to create faux bois. Special brushes, combs, and other graining tools are used to manipulate the graining liquid after it reaches snap time resulting in a finish that closely resembles a specific type of finished or unfinished wood.

grande effect the visual impression achieved by artwork and/or decorative finishes when a room is viewed as a whole after all work is completed.

grebel [n.] (pronounced GREE-bull) a small piece or clot of a foreign substance that finds its way into glazes or clear coats before, during, or after their application. As a rule, grebels are relatively easy to remove from a finish without affecting its appearance, but only after the finish is completely dry.

grisaille artwork that has been executed using multiple values of a single hue or a very narrow range of hues so it is or appears to be monochromatic.

hand painted decorative painting, especially artwork, that has been painted freehand (i.e. without the use of stencils templates, or other tools to replicate a prototype.

hand rubbed a decorative effect achieved by applying glaze either to a textured surface or to the relief on an architectural element, then wiping all or part of the glaze off the high points. A hand-rubbed finish can emphasize the relief and/or add a patina that creates an aged appearance.

hit [v.] in decorative painting… painter's slang for the application of paint to a surface, as in "I'm going to hit the walls with a second coat of the new color."

hue [n.] (see also value) in one word: color (such as turquoise or robin's egg blue). In technical terms: the single or dominant electromagnetic wavelength of a specific color.

"It's a look" a polite response when asked for a critique of a client's sample choice or a colleague's completed work that you don't particularly care for.

"It's only paint" an expression we frequently use to reassure a client who has selected a finish sample but is afraid he/she might regret the choice when they see the finished product.

ladder legs the aches and soreness that often follow a long day of standing on the narrow rungs of a ladder, especially if you haven't spent much time on a ladder recently. (see also pet ladder)

lap mark an unsightly dark area in a decorative finish containing overlapping layers of a translucent glaze. lap marks occur when the edge of an area where the glaze has been applied drys before glaze has been applied to the adjacent area and manipulated to achieve the desired final effect.

leaf gild [v.] the application of metal leaf (composition gold or genuine gold leaf) to a surface for decorative purposes.

leaf gilding [n.] a term used to distinguish a metallic finish executed with metal leaf from metallic finishes executed with powders, liquids, or wax.

Lincrusta® an unfinished wallpaper embossed with a design that can be painted or can be improved with a number of decorative finishes (see also Anaglypta®)

"looks great, keep going" an expression we frequently use to encourage a tired or discouraged colleague or team of artists while in the midst of executing a finish.

"make it disappear" a decorative painter's solution for dealing with unsightly but immovable objects. Architects and interior designers frequently ask us to camouflage motion detectors, switch plates, and any other object(s) they deem aesthetically offensive, so as to make them disappear.

marbleize [v.] the application of a faux finish that resembles marble to a non-marble surface.

marbleizing [n.] a decorative finish that resembles marble on a non-marble surface.

movement [n.] (see also drift) a term used to describe a decorative finish containing a subtle pattern which appears to "move" in a discernable direction. The characteristic of movement distinguishes the finish from an amorphous.

multi-process [adj.] a multi-process finish is executed in two or more separate applications over the basecoat. Each application is usually allowed to dry before the next process is executed (see also double process).

mural [n.] a term used to distinguish artwork that is executed on, or permanently attached to, a wall, ceiling, floor or other surface, from works on stretched canvas, vellum, or other "portable" substrates whose primary purpose is to serve as the vehicle of the artwork.

museum quality – a marketing savvy decorative painter's term for high quality work that will stand up to extremely close inspection. A marbleized surface that qualifies as museum quality, for example, would have a polished marble sheen achieved with the application of 7 to 10 clearcoats, each having been wet sanded before the next is applied.

over the top in decorative painting… the use of artwork or decorative finish(s) to such excess that they detract from, rather than enhance the desired grande effect .

overglaze [n.] a thin layer of dilute glaze applied as the last coat of a finish to seal it, adjust its sheen, tweak its hue, and/or create a more subtle final effect by narrowing the range of hues and values in the finish. A single overglaze can be used to achieve the above results individually or in any combination.

overglaze [n.] the act of applying an overglaze to a decorative finish.

paint-grade wood a grade of wood used in construction which lacks eye appeal in its unfinished state and, as a result, must be covered with paint or a decorative finish to disguise its appearance. The term is generally used to distinguish paint-grade wood from more costly stain-grade wood

parchment finish a relatively soft decorative finish, usually a scumble, executed using a narrow palette so as to achieve a final effect that resembles parchment paper

pet ladder a decorative painter's favorite ladder. Often a ladder with a special wide platform at working height which can help to prevent or reduce the severity of ladder legs.

polished Venetian plaster a Venetian plaster finish that has been waxed and burnished after completion to achieve a high-gloss sheen. If desired, skillfully executed polished Venetian plaster can both look and feel like polished marble.

pounce brush a special purpose brush that covers a relatively large surface area when held perpendicular to the surface to be pounced.

pounce [v.] the use of either a pounce brush or a stipple brush to manipulate glaze by holding the brush perpendicular to the work area (like one would hold a dagger) while pounding it repeatedly against the surface containing the wet glaze to soften the appearance of the finish. Pouncing disperses the glaze more evenly on the surface.

punch up [v.] the act of adjusting artwork or a decorative finish to make it look brighter or (more often) less subtle. This is usually accomplished by increasing the contrast ratio of the color palette used.

rag [v.] (also called ragging) the execution of a decorative finish using a rag, often a piece of cheesecloth, as the primary tool to manipulate the wet glaze.

resident masseuse what every decorative painter wishes they could afford.

Rottenstone [n.] a fine gray powder with two uses in decorative painting: 1. as an extremely fine polishing agent sometimes used in the final stages of polishing a clearcoat on a museum quality finish. 2. A substitute for dust sometimes applied to the recesses of carved surfaces or plaster relief to enhance the illusion of an aged surface.

"savin' it" in decorative painting, the use of extraordinary methods, usually requiring quick thinking and on-the-spot improvisation, to correct a decorative finish that does not even remotely resemble the approved sample before the wet glaze drys. Some consider the ability to save it a decorative painter's most valuable skill because it seems to be needed more frequently than any other.

scagliola a decorative finish imitating marble created from plaster containing marble chips that is allowed to harden and is then polished to a high sheen.

Scumble [n.] (see broken color finish ).

scumble [v.] the execution of a broken color finish .

"snakin' on danger" a warning issued to (also a term used to describe) a decorative painter who is cutting corners while executing a finish. "Snakin' on danger" usually produces a finish that requires "savin' it"

snap time When executing combed finishes or faux bois, a glaze or graining liquid must be allowed to stand and set up after it has been applied. The point in time when the glaze has dried just enough to hold its shape (doesn't sag or run) when manipulated with a comb or graining tool is called snap time.

"spackler from hell" a construction worker who manages to find and repair minor, hard-to-detect imperfections in drywall only after a decorative treatment has been applied. No matter how small the "repair," the decorative finish it covers cannot be touched up without creating lap marks. Therefore, the entire wall must be re-finished from corner to corner (hence the affectionate nature of the term used to describe the perpetrator). Unfortunately for decorative painters, at least one "spackler from hell" seems to be ever-present at most construction sites.

sponging a decorative painting technique popularized in the late 1980's that no self-respecting decorative painter would admit to ever having done

stain-grade wood a grade of wood used in construction that has been selected for its attractive and consistent appearance and, as a result, can be finished with translucent stains and/or a clear coat. The term is generally used to distinguish stain-grade wood from less expensive paint-grade wood

stipple brush a special purpose brush that covers a relatively large surface area when held perpendicular to the surface to be stippled.

stipple [n.] a decorative finish with minute variations of value and little or no variation of hue. A stipple is an amorphous finish that looks like a solid (opaque) color unless it is viewed at close range.

stipple [v.] the use of a stipple brush to manipulate glaze by pounding the tips of the bristles repeatedly against a surface containing wet glaze to disperse the glaze evenly on the surface.

stria [n.] (also called dragging) a decorative finish created by pulling or dragging a brush, rag, or other tool straight through wet glaze to create parallel stripes. A number of the stria's characteristics can vary as a result of the type of tool used and the way it is used. A stria can be tight (precise and graphic) or loose (less precise and more subtle). Also, its stripes can vary in width and/or intensity. Because a stria is executed by hand its movement is characteristically less than perfectly straight and/or parallel. (See also cross-hatched stria)

stucco [n.] a fine cement or plaster applied to walls, trim and other architectural elements to create a distinctive surface known as a stucco finish. Although not as common as drywall, stucco can and often is used as the substrate for decorative finishes.

substrate [n.] in decorative painting… the substrate is the layer of material that serves as the base onto which all layers of primer, sealer, paint, glaze, plaster, and/or other decorative materials is applied.

subtractive tool a tool used to remove paint or glaze from the substrate while executing a decorative finish (see also additive tool).

tersch [v.] as it relates to decorative painting, the process of manipulating and thereby blending two or more colors of glaze that have been applied separately to a surface while still wet to achieve multiple tertiary colors in the process of executing a decorative finish

tertiary color a color created by mixing either all three primary colors or one primary and one secondary color together

theatrical [adj.] in decorative painting… a term used to describe decorative work that is bold or graphic. Theatrical can also be used as a pejorative term to describe work that is somewhat less than precise and, therefore, best admired from a considerable distance.

tool [n.] in decorative painting… a brush, rag, comb, sponge or any other material or device that is used to apply, manipulate, or remove paint or glaze as a part of executing a decorative finish or artwork

trompe l'oeil French for "fool the eye," trompe l'oeil artwork makes a flat surface appear to be three dimensional. Trompe l'oeil can be very convincing when viewed at the proper angle which is usually straight on. No matter how skillful the artist, however, the illusion is always undone when the work is viewed obliquely.

Venetian plaster a decorative finish created by troweling or blading multiple layers of pigmented plaster onto painted substrate then, after allowing all layers to dry, burnishing the surface with a trowel or blade to achieve the desired sheen.

visual texture (see also depth) the appearance of a non-smooth surface created by the application of a decorative finish to a smooth surface.

wall glaze [n.] a decorative finish created by applying a translucent glaze to a wall, manipulating it while still wet to create the desired final effect.

wet sanding the use of a very fine grit sand paper (usually at least 400 and up to 1500 grit) to smooth and polish a museum quality finish. A lubricant, usually water, is applied to the surface which is then sanded wet. The residue is removed with a soft cloth leaving a mirror perfect shine.

wood graining (also known as faux bois ) a decorative finish that resembles wood on a surface that may or may not be wood. Wood graining is often used to make paint-grade wood look like more-costly stain-grade wood.

Zolatone® Originally used to finish the interior surfaces of Airstream trailers, Zolatone is a commercial product that must be applied with a spray gun. Zolatone creates a final effect sometimes called a "spatter (or splatter) finish." which is comprised of numerous tiny paint droplets in multiple colors that have been randomly applied. While Zolatone qualifies as a decorative finish as defined in this glossary, it is usually applied by commercial paint contractors and rarely, if ever, used by decorative painters. I've included it because it's the only decorative painting word or term beginning with a "z" that comes to mind.


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