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Confessions of a Faux Painting Snob

Confessions of a Faux Painting Snob

2 Oaks Panel with Trompe L'Oeil Frame 2 Oaks Panel with Trompe L'Oeil Frame

Looking back on when I first became determined to learn to paint faux wood (before the internet), I studied every book I could get my hands on. At that time, there were virtually no resources for learning realistic wood graining.

I would look at the pictures in the books and think to myself “That looks kind of like wood, but how can I make it look EXACTLY like real wood?”

I was all about the art of Trompe L'Oeil (French: “to fool the eye”), so “approximation” just didn't cut it for me. I wanted magic. It’s been an obsession ever since.

Confessions from a Faux Painting Snob

The fact is that most faux wood grain products are not very attractive or convincing. I know that sounds harsh, but it's true. I admit it; I'm a snob.

I stumbled onto via their Twitter account. The product designers at get it right. Their realistic and convincing products were a breath of fresh air.

Cherry Grain Doors, Casing, Crown, Base Cherry Grain Doors, Casing, Crown, Base

Harmonizing with Beams

When done right, faux wood can be the perfect tool for your interior design project.

Let's say you've got your gorgeous faux beams in place, now it's time for the trim. Chances are you'll be updating, restoring or installing wood accents such as casing, baseboard, cove, crown, wainscoting...

At this stage there are 2 hurdles: The cost of materials, and getting everything to match and look good together.

Cost Stain-grade wood is very expensive to buy and have professionally finished and installed. Trim carpenters, being some of the most skilled and specialized tradesmen of all, need to bill accordingly.

That is why you often see trim packages painted in a solid color. Nine times out of ten, the original desire was to use natural wood but due to the cost factor, the project had to be done in MDF (particle board) and painted to accent the walls.

Bookmatched Cherry Cabinet Top Bookmatched Cherry Cabinet Top

Matching Your trim elements need to harmonize. This is why has a diverse selection of wood types and colors. That’s also why they offer samples; so you can find the best match for your trim.

Painted wood grain: A solution rich in color and history

Faux wood has been used for centuries to decorate and accent interior spaces. The craft has evolved and is applied today using materials that are durable and quick-drying.

Even if faux finishes aren't your thing, you should consider painted wood grain to be the exception. When done well, it fits perfectly and stands out, not as a painted effect, but as beautiful wood. Add to that the fun factor when you get to tell your guests how it was done!

As a working artist who's applied dozens of finishes including faux marble and masonry, Venetian plaster, tile, semiprecious stone.... I find painted wood grain to be the most color-rich, beautiful and versatile of all the finishes. Time and again it gets the greatest response from customers and friends.

Faux Walnut Panel Faux Walnut Panel

Finding an expert for your project

Become a snob LOOK carefully at what you need matched and compare that to the samples your faux finisher provides. Ask them to paint samples specifically for your project and make sure they're dead-on

Whether you’re paying someone to bring your creative vision to life or doing it yourself, it can only work in your favor to be aware of what looks good or bad.

Poor match? Don't panic Not all decorative painters will have the skill to match your project accurately. Many finishers only learn how to paint a few varieties of wood; one or two types/colors of oak, of pine... No big deal.

Every professional faces new challenges. Point him or her to for an inexpensive guide to accurately matching any wood grain. It's an innovative, groundbreaking method for learning painted wood grain that will earn them far more than it costs.

If your painter insists that their sample is good enough, looks fine... get a second opinion on their sample. Maybe it's a great match and a second set of eyes might help you see that.

But, if it simply doesn't match and they won't or can't fix it, interview some more painters. It's a good idea to get 2 to 4 bids anyway. Find someone who'll collaborate with you in creating a remarkable project.

Faux Oak and Lapis Jewelry Box Faux Oak and Lapis Jewelry Box

Paint your own wood grain

If you have a creative eye and you love do-it-yourself projects, this may be the best way to go. The ability to paint convincing wood grain is one of the most rewarding crafts you can imagine.

However, there are some very specific skills and techniques to getting it right. When I was starting out I wasted hundreds of hours trying to figure things out on my own and I don't recommend it. It's best to find a system that will get you started quickly.

There are many sources to learn faux wood grain. Some are very good. Others, not so much. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a method.

Faux faux is bad The method needs to show pictures of actual wood and teach you how to match it. It should not teach you how to match faux wood. This is crucial since using a painting as your model will give you far less authentic, less believable results. Portrait artists don't ask their subjects to provide paintings of themselves for study: They rely on live sittings or photographs.

More than one approach No faux finishing book, DVD or workshop should require you to use special materials available from only from them. If it does, its authors may be more interested in selling you overpriced product than teaching a versatile skill set.

Any method should teach you how to find reasonably priced, readily available materials on-line and in your area. The same goes for tools: You don't have to spend a fortune on magic widgets as there are alternatives to high-end “expert” brushes and other tools.

Beams preprimed for painting Regal beams pre-primed for painting

Everything you need for your project

With the amazing assortment of color and texture and The Perfect Wood Grain Mastery course, you've found everything necessary to complete a picture-perfect interior project. If you desire a bit more control over the finished look of your beams, use your new wood graining skill to perfectly match the Regal Beams to the rest of your trim package.

Thanks to advancements in painting techniques and materials, and great suppliers like, it's now possible to be in for a penny, in for a pound where faux wood is concerned. Your projects will be amazing and no one will be the wiser. But please, after they're sufficiently impressed, let them in on the secret. has many styles of beams that are unfinished or pre-primed for painting. Click here to view the complete list.
About the author: As a decorative painting professional, Norman Petersen has been making things look like other things since 1994. Today he's on a mission to teach wood grain super powers to homeowners, faux finishers, craftspeople, fine artists and custom car painters. Learn more about (you guessed it!) faux wood grain at his blog,