Faux Finishing Business Success: Part 2 of 4

Part one is here. It’s all about understanding the costs of running a faux finishing business, and getting paid for your efforts. 

A quality portfolio of samples for faux finishing business success

A Faux Finish Sample Panel is a physical, painted example of a decorative finish meant to display your work to potential clients, usually applied to rigid material. 

Your sample panels will be among your most powerful marketing tools.

In fact, they can be the deciding factor in landing the most profitable jobs.

Physical panels, vs digital or printed, are the true face of your business. 

This is not to say that your physical samples won’t end up on your web site, they likely will… but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll write about building a web presence later. 

4 color glaze sample panel for faux finish business success
A four color glaze sample measuring 32″ square. A consistent money maker, my portfolio includes three different color and intensity variations of this finish.

A matter of size

Ever bought a gallon (or five!) of fresh paint based on a small color chip, only to find it too bright (dull, dark, shiny, intense…) after rolling it on the wall?

Why does this happen? Because the human eye needs to see a color over an area of at least 3 square feet before its impact can be felt. Paint company color samples are too small to achieve this.

Any smaller, and you run the risk of your client experiencing a shock upon seeing the finished work. 

To clarify: Images on your website are too small to impart the true feel of any finish or color. Polaroids are too small. Post cards? Too small. Three ring binder with full color images? Still not big enough.

The solution: There’s no substitute for large, old-school faux finish sample boards. 

Quality is everything

As the face of your business, your samples must be professional in nature. Here’s a partial list that will help with that.

Excellence in faux finish samples

Each sample board is an example of a finish that you’ve mastered and can reproduce with consistency. It’s tempting to show imperfect work for the sake of volume. In my experience, it’s far better to show up with five great samples than 20 mediocre ones. 

Variation style and color of faux painted samples

You’ll be surprised at the finishes your clients choose. 

This might sound a bit counter intuitive, but I look at it like this: My clients tastes are none of my business. If textured pink and green stria is their choice, and they’re willing to pay for it, I’m the guy who can apply it. No judgement.

In other words, the finishes that you think are great or “tasteful” might be boring or otherwise of no interest to your customers, so it’s crucial that you have a range of colors and designs to appeal to a wide range of tastes.

I might not bring the really weird stuff in to the meeting, but I’ve got some in the car in case the clients turn out to be really weird. 

Faux stone and trompe l'oeil faux terra cotta
Based on a real Terra Cotta garden tile, I expanded on the concept to practice my Trompe L’Oeil. I kept it in my portfolio and was eventually paid to paint it in a master bath against a faux Travertine wall over a soaking tub. 32″ x 32″

Consistent size and format

All boards should be consistent in width, length and thickness. Years ago a designer friend suggested I cut sample boards to 20 x 16 inches.

This is a manageable size for transport and showing, and for the client to handle if they wish. It’s also an efficient use of a 4′ x 8′ x 1/8″ hardboard panel. 

I apply a dark tinted primer to my 16″ x 20″ boards. Once dry, I tape off a 1/2″ border around the outside edge. Once the faux finish is done, I remove the tape to reveal a dark gray border.

This frames and adds visual consistency to my samples. When this border gets damaged in my travels, the primer frame is easy to touch up, vs having to reconstruct the faux finish. 


I apply at least two coats of clear acrylic floor varnish (Benjamin Moore “Stays Clear” or other hard acrylic) to my sample panels. This ensures maximum durability for transport, handling and cleaning.

For finishes that can’t be clear coated (lime plasters, for example) tape a sheet of craft paper the same size as the panel to the top/back of the board to drape over the finish (also adds an unveiling flourish). 

Clean and fresh

When a sample board starts to look ragged or dirty or has dented corners, if it can’t be cleaned up, either sand it down and repaint it (for smooth finishes), or toss it out and create a new one (for textured samples).

Venetian plaster faux finish business sample board
Authentic Venetian plaster in distressed reds, ocher and gray. The dark gray, 1/2″ border would become the standard look of my sample portfolio.

“Can I keep this?”

I don’t know if other decorative finishers have had this come up, but on several occasions, people have asked to keep my samples, and it’s stretched into the realm of the bizarre. 

One lady threw a fit when I took my sample home at the end of the project, claiming she’d “paid for that”. She hadn’t; I’d arrived at our first meeting with it. Even if I hadn’t, I rarely charge to create a sample for a new finish, so I owned it either way. 

More than once I’ve had sample panels stolen from job sites. Flattering (see “Excellent”, above), but time consuming to replace. Though stolen samples can sell for you later (see “Branding” below). 

“Please keep this”

I might paint one special after a job is done and make a gift of it (like if I love the client). As in; “I never do this. I made an exception for you”. 

On larger commercial jobs where the contractor or decorator in charge is getting several bids, you may need to leave samples. 

Some faux finishers will make photo brochures or cut stacks of smaller physical samples for this purpose.

This is part of the cost of going for bigger jobs (a topic too vast to cover here).

I will say that leaving behind a higher quality, larger sample may be what get’s you the job over others. Just a thought.


Have sticker labels printed to apply to the back of all samples. Include your business name/logo, website and phone number and a blank line to write in the name of the finish. This way samples that get lost/handed out might end up in designer libraries, bringing future work.  

Over time your sample portfolio will grow into an impressive collection.

You’ll rarely need to carry more than a few panels to a client meeting, as most people will communicate their interests before meeting. This is where your website comes in to play (again, a topic for another time). 

Sample panel in faux faux stone
Acanthus leaf panel demonstrating Trompe L’Oeil and faux stone with frame and cracks. I sold the panel for a tidy sum at an art installation. 



  • Websites, brochures and photographs are not enough. Physical samples set you apart from the crowd and land jobs
  • Larger boards (3 square feet minimum) are necessary to communicate the feel and intensity of any finish
  • Physical samples must show your best work. A few great samples are better than a lot of mediocre ones
  • Paint and carry a variety of styles and colors to appeal to a broad range of tastes
  • For professional presentations, panel size should be consistent when possible
  • Clean, undamaged, fresh looking samples are a must; toss out or repaint when they get beat up 
  • Clear coats of hard acrylic will help minimize damage
  • Consider the time and effort that goes into each sample and only leave them on the job if necessary
  • Have sticker labels printed to clearly brand your sample boards 


In part 3 of this series, I go deep into customer service for faux finishing business success. 


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8 Responses

  1. […] This is part 1 of 4 in a series on Faux Finishing Business Success. Part Two is here. […]

  2. […] to do the promotion if they buy food… Could even become an annual event. Be sure to have portfolio samples on display. Take time to talk, one-on-one, with everyone who […]

  3. […] In part two I talked about the importance of building a high quality portfolio of finishes to get the best jobs. […]

  4. […] Like my bench and shelves, I needed my easel to be minimal. I’ve built free-standing 2×4 easels in the past but their footprint needs to be quite broad to hold large practice and sample panels.  […]

  5. Jose
    | Reply

    My portfolio has always been sort of lackluster. I’ve got some work to do! Thanks for the mental reset, Norman!

    • Norman
      | Reply

      Hey thanks, Jose. It’s a lot of work to put a great portfolio together but so worth it. Please let me know it goes. Norman

  6. faux finisher
    | Reply

    Beautiful work, and good advise.

    • Norman
      | Reply

      Thank you, Janie.

      Love your site and your work, by the way.

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