Saturday, November 24, 2018

Homespun Things....DIY Faux Tortoishell painted finish Step One...Materials and Base...

Feast your eyes upon the magnificence that is my desk makeover, Friends!
Is it not wondrous and beautiful beyond compare?

I know. Genius, right?
This is what is looked like need of some TLC...

...and....not to labour the point, but look! Fab, right?

Close up like? I know I like.

How to do it?
I know that's the question burning a hole in your hip pocket. Or something. I love a good mixed metaphor...
I have to warn you. This is NOT an overnight or single day project.
It's time consuming. And a little repetitive. But oh-so-rewarding, so don't let that stop you! My desk took me 3 hours morning and 3 hours afternoon for 4 days straight. And it was worth every minute.
I looked at every tutorial and YouTube video known to man on the subject of DIY faux tortoiseshell finishes, and let me tell you, I tried them all. Not one of them gave me the effect I was after.
I wanted sort of an 'aged' tortoiseshell finish. Like this...

...or this...

...and I just wasn't feeling the love for my experiments a la the tutorials.
Here are just a few of my early attempts...

So, as one does in these situations, I threw caution to the wind, and came up with my own method, which was a sort of hybrid of a few. Many thanks to the generous folk who spend a great deal of time, effort and energy putting those tutorials together.
Note...this is a very long post ;-O
The Technique
Firstly, ALL of the tutorials I viewed, dictated either bright yellow or metallic gold as the base colour. I didn't feel that either of those gave me the depth and 'aged' look I was after. So I elected to use a bright orange acrylic (just kids paint from a discount store) as the base, with a wash of metallic gold brushed on after for a bit of shimmer. After all, real tortoiseshell definitely has an inviting sheen to it.
I then added very liquid splotches of  Raw Sienna mixed with metallic gold, some in Burnt Sienna, lots in Burnt Umber, touches of Cadmium Yellow mixed with metallic gold and finally Black and Burnt Umber dots and flicks.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This finish is brilliant not just on desks, like mine, but on photo frames, trinket boxes, jewellery boxes, furniture like chairs, tables, sideboards and so on, trays, pencil holders and lamp bases. You name it, you can probably tortoiseshell it.
Tortoiseshell in it's real form has of course been banned for a very long time. Thank goodness for the poor turtles, who were once a prized commodity and heavily hunted for that reason.
This method gives a lovely aged faux effect, which is timeless, classic and elegant, and I know you'll love it once you get the hang of it like I did.
If you'd like to give my Faux Tortoishell DIY finish a try yourself, here's what you'll need:
The Paints:
Bright Orange
Cadmium Yellow
Raw Sienna
Burnt Sienna
Burnt Umber
Metallic Gold
Inexpensive ones are fine. For the orange and the metallic gold, you want a thin sort of Childrens paint, not a thick acrylic. These are usually marked Craft paint or Playgroup paint or similar. My bottle looks like this...

It's not new. I've actually had it for about five years. I used it for this project and it's still two thirds full. So like I say, you're setting yourself up for quite a bit of 'tortoiseshell-ing'.
You'll also want a clear spray gloss to seal your finished project.
I took the extra step of having a piece of glass cut to size to cover mine for extra Wow Factor and protection. You may want to consider this for furniture surfaces as well. You don't want all your hard work to be damaged in wear and tear.
The Brushes
Now, I cannot stress how vital the right brushes are.
I struggled with the effect for quite some time, before investing in just two really good brushes, and then I was flying.
You'll want these:

I'm not an art expert, so I can only tell you the little I know of these brushes. I had no point of reference for them, so I really just went on instinct. I knew what effect I needed, and just sort of eyeballed brushes and felt the bristles to get an idea of what to buy.
The five on the right are all from an inexpensive bulk pack of Artists brushes from a discount store. They all sell them for under $10 for at least a dozen different brushes. I used some for the base coats, and some just for dabbing or finishing. To be honest, I didn't always take photos, but I did when it was important!
The two far right, are a different matter and you REALLY need these or you're not going to get the effect you're after. I can tell you this from bitter experience.
The larger blue one is a 1" (2.5cm) Oval Mop brush. Mine is Princeton brand. This is a soft, thick, sable or sable-like brush, perfect for perfect 'splotches'. Yes in this context, there really is such a thing.
See one here.
The smaller one furthest right is a Round Gold Taklon R-9250 size 10. The brand is Crafters Choice. Its a soft but substantial brush with a really good pointed tip.
See it here.
I found both of mine at Spotlight, a haberdashery and art supplies store in Australia, but you can find them easily online.
I paid about $30 for the Oval Mop and around $18 for the other one.
Small bowls to mix and thin paint
Cups of water for rinsing brushes and thinning paint
2-3 small squares of soft flannelette scraps for blotting...about ladies handkerchief size
A hairdryer for drying your splotches
I guess you're starting to see that this is not a budget project. Except that it is really. These supplies will yield several desks, dozens of photo frames or lamp bases or hundreds of small projects. So don't be scared.
This finish done professionally would costs you hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending upon the size of the project, so again, it's a skill worth mastering.
Speaking of mastering this skill, did I mention that it took me no less than 18 tries to get this technique right? If you've followed me for any length of time, you'll know my 'try it 27 times' rule of thumb. And boy, did that stand me in good stead this time! It was an exercise in patience and perseverance, let me tell you!

 Finally you'll need some pieces of ply, craftwood or even project cardboard to practice on. I'd like to say this is an easy one, and really, it is. But I cannot stress enough the importance of practising. So please do yourself a favour and practise a LOT before attempting your desired project.
That said, the worst that can happen is that you fudge it, and have to let it dry, recoat in a couple of layers of your base colour, and paint over it. So I guess, in that respect, no biggie, right?
To Start:'s the easy part...
Get your project. Clean it well, and let it dry. Sand it lightly if you like.
My desk originally had an insert of faux leather, so had a very tiny indent area. Husband purchased me a piece of very thin ply, almost like Balsa Wood, cut it to size, and I actually painted over that. This was then glued into place for my finished project. It worked well.
If your surface is already painted, and you don't want to glue a piece of ply or balsa wood over it, you will need to strip it back to bare wood for longevity. You do not want to spend countless hours on this finish, only to have it peel off due to improper preparation. Best to either paint on a surface like my ply, a bare wood (properly stripped of paint, sanded and allowed to dry), or those ready made craft wood items like trinket boxes, trays and photo frames.
If your project is a piece of furniture like mine, or one where you just want a feature section of tortoiseshell, now is the time to get the rest of it painted. I painted my desk with a good quality black satin finish.
Now to the base for the tortoiseshell finish.
Step 1: Coat the entire surface you want to 'tortoiseshell', in the thin orange acrylic. Use one of the wide flat brushes...the inexpensive ones. It should be a quick task.
 What can I say. It's orange. It's bright. It's in-your-face. But it won't stay that way. This colour will give your finished tortoiseshell a beautiful depth and aged character.
Let it dry. This should only take an hour at the most in warm weather. Longer perhaps in a cold climate or damp conditions.
Step 2: Water down some of your Metallic Gold paint. You want it about the consistency of milk. Pourable but with a bit of substance. Cover the entire orange area with a thin coat of this, brushed on lightly, to allow the orange to show through. It will separate a bit, and that's good. You want it to.
Again. Allow this to dry. I actually used a hair dryer to hasten the drying process, especially once I started painting my tortoiseshell finish.
Now the part that you need to practice.
NUMBER 1: The key to this finish is really watery paint, applied in seemingly random (but not that random really) watery blobs. You want them so watery, that they dry as really freeform splotches, without you having to do anything to them.
NUMBER 2: Apart from the base of orange and metallic gold, and the first layer of watery Raw Sienna, you'll want to work in small sections, layering each colour, drying with the hairdryer between layers, and completing that section entirely, before moving on to the next.
The first reason I suggest this, is that it's a fairly tedious process as it is, and having to coat a large surface like a desk or tabletop in one colour is boring to say the least.
The second reason is that you want variation in the pattern. True tortoiseshell is a naturally occurring pattern through growth of the tortoise, and varies enormously from one to another. You don't want it all matchy-matchy and the same.
Working in small sections gives your project a feeling of authenticity. As much as a faux finish can be 'authentic' at all!
Step 3: The First Layer :
You're going to take some Raw Sienna acrylic in a small bowl, and thin it 50/50 with water. You want it REALLY watery. Trust me.
Take the Mop brush, wet it, wipe it dry on the edge of the cup of water, and dip into your watery paint mix.
Now this entire design, is painted on the diagonal, so working diagonally, in small sections, dab blobs of watery paint in random wiggly patterns like this. If I can describe it this way, you're actually forming open spaces of orange and gold, with dashes and blobs around their edges. You want watery pools of paint, not substantial solid coloured blobs.
Finish painting your final first layer all over your surface. Keep stepping back to ensure you're continuing on a diagonal. I actually ended up laying a tape measure on a diagonal to guide me. It's very easy to end up going straight up and down which will not give the desired effect. Take no notice of that top corner. That was just me ensuring I had the layering correct :)
As you run out of the Raw Sienna, try mixing other colours in to give a more realistic spread of colour. Try Cadmium Yellow with Metallic Gold and a drop of Raw Umber, or a mixture of Raw Umber and yellow alone. See here below where I have a nice irregularity of colour happening across the entire surface.
Note also, that I have PLENTY of the orange and metallic gold base showing through.


And that is your base, ready to go. Allow it to dry completely, then you're ready for the artistic bit!
Please see this post continued in Step Two, here.
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