Faux Wood Paint Art: How extreme can YOU make it?

Mother of invention

Trompe L'Oeil Case in oak faux wood art by Yannick Guegan
This piece by Yannick Guegan is featured in his great book The Handbook of Painted Decoration (book collaboration with Roger Le Puil). Imagine the time this took. Extreme indeed. Please visit Institut Guégan for more info about this great artist and educator.

The vast majority of faux wood grain is created to cover large areas like doors, cabinets and flooring.  In order for such work to be economical, techniques need to be somewhat quick and efficient.

As professional decorators face the age-old struggle of quality vs. time, wood grain painting techniques have evolved largely to accommodate this need for efficiency.

In my opinion, this market driven struggle has resulted in the near disappearance of faux wood art and high quality applied art.

Faux Wood Paint Art: Defining Extreme

Covering 2,000 square feet of wall space or 4 large garage doors with faux wood grain could also be considered “extreme”.

For the purposes of this post (and mostly for fun) I’m defining extreme as ultra-realistic, high-focus and straight up phenomenally gorgeous painted faux wood art.

Yes, acres of quickly applied faux wood is impressive, but I’m more excited about technical mastery than bulk. While I’ve seen massive wood grain installations that are very realistic, it’s pretty rare, for reasons mentioned in section one above.

I get it: You’re a decorator who needs to bust out some serious finishes and time simply doesn’t allow for this kind of work. Please keep reading. This post is for you, too.

All that glitters…

Original Gustav Stickley inlay inspires faux wood art
Clean, beautiful inlay by Gustav Stickley applied in mixed metals in oak rocking chair slats.

I also love great design simplicity. For example the great American Craftsman movement designer Gustav Stickly built a career on simplicity. His time didn’t go into complicated detail. Instead, he used clean, minimal lines that effortlessly lead the viewer to a place of tranquility. No simple task.

Fortunately, wood grain is a great tool for simplicity in design. The line of a piece of furniture or other object can be very minimal and clean, contrasted by the activity inherent in the grain movement and colors of wood.

Trompe l'Oeil with faux wood art by Henry Fuseli
Early Trompe L’Oeil artists relied on painted wood grain to add foundation, depth and realism to their works. I wonder how long Henri Fuseli spent looking at real wood before he created this panel.

Why on earth

Many artists are not interested in coming home from long, hard days of busting out faux finishes or painting cars only to pick up the brushes again to work on fine art. I’ve been there and I’ll be there again.

Since many of you are running businesses where profit is king, here’s one very powerful reason for adding fine faux wood art to your quiver of skills: You’ll be able to offer a wider range of finishes, with pricing to match. Many clients, when given a choice between basic or advanced finishes, will choose the more realistic one, even at (and sometimes because of) much greater cost. 

Why did you start painting in the first place? Probably because you were excited about making stuff look amazing. So now you’re a whiz-bang painter who can crank out projects, and that’s awesome.

It might be time to branch out. What better way to do that than by building a skill set that improves all the other skills you’ve developed?

Why add fine art to your practice?

  • Fine art takes practice, planning and patience. These things lead to expertise and that expertise will improve your other work.
  • Your brush skills will grow exponentially. Again, improving your other work. Not to mention the satisfaction you’ll experience from your new accomplishments.
  • Easel time is relaxing and meditative, in contrast to production work that’s often fast paced and sometimes even frantic.
  • As your skills improve, you’ll be able to make money from your art panels.
  • Whether you’re a wood worker, faux finisher or auto painter, make sure your prospects and customers see your fine faux wood art work. Even if they don’t buy it, they’ll be more likely to hire you for the other work you do.

Easy does it

Some tips to reduce friction to building a fine art painting practice.

  • Set up a comfortable, efficient, clean work space that’s all your own and dedicated to painting. Can be just a corner with an easel (or bench if you’re painting boxes or other accessories), a small table and a stool. Good light is a must even if it’s artificial.
  • Eliminate all interruptions. No internet or phone.
  • Tell the spouse and kids that this time is all yours and you need to be left alone. They may test you. Gentle reminders will be necessary.
  • Play your favorite music as long as it’s calm.
  • Two, 45 minute blocks with a 5 minute break in between is how I do it. I often find the time flies by and I have to force myself to start. 90 minutes to two hours is plenty of time.
  • Be consistent: Decide on 4 or 5 days a week and stick to it. If you find yourself loving it, add more days/time if you can.
  • Get good training. The right knowledge, a good coach… can eliminate a lot of frustration and make all the difference in how much you enjoy painting of any kind. 

 

Marquetry faux wood art technique by Yannick Guegan
More extremely brilliant work from Yannick Guegan. His work was my inspiration to focus on faux wood grain. Unfortunately, his book is poorly translated (in English, at least) and lacks detail. Still, it’s a must have reference tool for any serious faux painter.
Dogwood floral on silver leaf with Trompe L'Oeil faux wood paint art frame
A piece I painted with Trompe L’Oeil faux oak frame. Practicing detail work improves all aspects of my work and the patience I develop transfers to all areas of my life.

 

 

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