Painting techniques

Brushes and rollers.

Brushes paint to a sharp edge but give less coverage per stroke than rollers. They can be awkward for ceilings as the paint tends to run back down the handle. They are best for corners and work in cramped areas. Rollers cover large areas more quickly than brushes and are better for textured surfaces if you choose the correct head. Ideally, use a combination of brush and roller.

On flat surfaces use the following brush sequence:

1. Work the brush up and down.

2. Pass the brush across from left to right.

3. Finish with light vertical feather strokes in one direction only. Painting the ceiling. If you are using a brush, start near a window and work in 24 in. (61 cm) strips parallel to it. Try not to overlap the strips.

Where the wall and ceiling meet, use the edge of the brush. A metal guard can be useful here if your hand is unsteady. Before using a roller, first touch in the corners with a small 1 in. brush. Use diagonal roller strokes to cover the ceiling, alternating the strokes in each direction. Finish off with straight roller strokes towards the light. Your roller tray should have a sloping bottom and you should fill it with paint only to about one half of the way up the slope.

Cleaning brushes.

If the brushes have been applying oil-based paints, remove with newspaper or rag as much surplus paint as possible from the brushes. Pour a little white spirit into a jar and work this thoroughly into the bristles of the brush. Then remove the spirit from the brush and repeat the process. Next rinse the brush in running water, finally washing it in hot soapy water, taking care to rinse off all lather. Dry the brush thoroughly and store it flat, wrapped in newspaper, to preserve the quality and shape of the bristles. Always clean brushes immediately after use. In the case of water-borne paints, periodically wash the brush in cold water during the course of the work so as to prevent emulsion setting in the brush. But then dry the brush: otherwise water left in it will temporarily thin your paint.

At the end of the painting session wash the brush initially in cold water to remove as much paint as possible, then in warm soapy water, finally rinsing it in cold running water and drying it thoroughly. Large brushes should be hung up to dry.

Cleaning rollers. After using oil-based paints, roll out the roller on board or newspaper to remove as much paint as possible. Remove, too, as much paint as possible from the paint tray. Pour a little white spirit into the tray and roll the roller in it. Repeat this process. Now remove the head from the roller, rinse it in running water, then wash it in hot soapy water. After a final rinse to remove any soap, reassemble the roller and hang it up to dry. After using water-borne paints, roll off surplus paint on to board or newspaper. The follow the procedure described above for cleaning brushes.

Special effects

When painting your walls you can achieve highly individual and attractive decorative effects.

Colour ranges.

Paint manufacturers now offer fashion colours in both oil-based and water-borne paints. Many retailers stock “tint and mix” machines that can mix you virtually any colour on the spot. Remember that colours always look darker on the wall than they did on the card. Remember also that warm reds make a wall or ceiling seem closer, while cool blues make it appear to recede.

Special paints.

  • For a silvery effect you can use aluminium paint. Matt black paint will enable you to adapt a wall in the children’s room, or part of it, as a blackboard. This is best painted on to a panel of plywood or blockboard.
  • Colour slides can be projected on to the wall to give the outlines for a mural painting. Work in short bursts to avoid overheating of the projector spoiling your slide. Silhouette outlines can be drawn on the wall with soft pencil or chalk around the children or other members of the family. Positioned between a strong light and the wall. By filling in your outlines with a dark colour you will achieve a surprisingly effective result.
  • Stencils for wall patterns can be cut with a craft knife from thin card such as cereal packets. Good shapes are heart shapes. Stars, flower shapes. Use masking tape to fix stencils to the wall. Paper can be cut and folded in various ways to make repeat designs of a traditional folk nature. But coat the paper with varnish to protect the stencil during repeated use.


A broad stripe of paint running around a room can serve to link such features as a chimney breast and alcoves. Integrate the stripe with the room, curving it up and around the door or across a cupboard. If you have a steady hand, you can use a special brush called a lining fitch. Otherwise you should use a high sheen base coat (a gloss or eggshell oil-based paint or silk vinyl emulsion) plus masking tape. To achieve vertical lines use a plumb and chalked string. For horizontals use a spirit level.


Paradoxically, you may find a curved pattern easier to apply than stripes. In old houses with irregular architectural details, stripes emphasise the irregularities; curves are more appropriate. You can paint large curved areas free hand, first trying out your shapes on newspaper. For regular curves (a rainbow effect, for example), use a pencil on the end of a piece of string as a large-scale compass. Graded shades of one colour can be most effective. Work from light shade to darker shades.

Pictorial murals.

These are more ambitious than curved or striped effects but they need not daunt you. You can use chalk or a very soft pencil to draw an outline direct on the wall and then paint to the outline with a fine artist’s brush, using thinned emulsion paint. Or you may prefer to apply to the wall an enlargement of a paper sketch you once drew or an illustration that you fancy in a magazine For such an enlargement, work out a convenient grid system for your wall — 6 in. (15 cm) squares for example.

Count the number of squares along the bottom of the wall that you want to cover. Then measure the base of the picture area you want to copy. Divide the second figure by the first. This will give you the square size for a small-scale grid which you draw over your picture reference. Now you can start copy-painting your picture on to the wall, one square at a time. To simplify this, start by marking the points where outlines of the picture cross the lines of the grid and join up these points.

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