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Category: Finishes & Techniques

22 May

Portrait of an Artist: Causer + Lai

 A few years ago, I read an incredible four-part series on the artistry of Benjamin Lai and it was easily one of the best interviews I’d ever read with a decorative painter. Fast forward a few years and I meet the hugely creative designer Alison Causer by chance on Twitter and find out that she and Mr. Lai are partners in Causer + Lai! Kismet. They are based out of Brooklyn, NY and working as a team of Designer and Master Painter, they create unique and exclusive, decorative finishes for a variety of surfaces within private residences and commercial interiors. I hope you enjoy this feature on their beautiful collaboration and artistic work.

Benjamin Lai finished the highly acclaimed Van Der Kelen in 1995 and was immediately immersed into the high end residential sector after returning to his hometown NYC. He spent the better part of his career continuing to fine tune his skills, learning about the other aspects of decorative painting, job management and also adjusting and creating new techniques. Alison had gone from wanting to be a fine art painter to majoring in Interior Design at The Columbus College of Art and Design. Alison continues, “Soon after graduating I had a successful career in Ohio and even garnered several awards for my interiors work, but working for a large firm was wearing thin and moving to NYC was enticing.” She then worked with a few designers in NYC as well as doing independent work.

Alison shares their fated meeting, “Ben and I crossed paths via NYC Craigslist! He placed an ad to meet creative people, chat and hopefully collaborate on an experimental level.” Of all the intriguing personalities that he met, one person stood out: Alison. After many cups of coffee, Alison and Benjamin knew that there was a unique connection between them. Meaningful design and philanthropic resolutions were the initial subjects that inspired the two, but also the realization that the unique skills and ideas of both could translate into a great combination.

Alison and Benjamin spent more than a year developing samples, concepts and ideas. During this time they were able to collaborate on several jobs together by bringing each other onto their own jobs. This helped them to really establish the logistics for their working relationship and fortify their beliefs in each other. Now Alison is the Creative Director for Causer + Lai and Benjamin, the Technical Manager.


Where do you see decorative painting headed?

Decorative Painting is a very misunderstood field in America. In Europe, decorative painting is a skilled trade and there are very serious schools that teach it. I think the widespread understanding of it is basically whatever sells in Home Depot. It’s amazing how even a lot of interior designers and architects don’t really understand what it is. Most people think that it’s this weekend craftsy thing that can be done by most do-it-yourselfers because of all the ready-made stuff. I think that there will better exposure and understanding in years to come. The trend will incorporate much more complex modern color themes and active layering techniques.

Some of the intricate work that goes into the decorative painting process.


What is your personal artisan philosophy?

Surface Design Collectivism! We love collaboration. Every job is an extension of not just us but the client as well. Art is a form of expression and our roles are pretty well defined when clients hire us, but it is this need to express that a client feels when desiring to redo their home. Our projects and spaces are shaped by this type of social environment. Working together, respecting and understanding each others ideas is our philosophy.

What are your favorite go-to materials?

All of our techniques vary a lot but you would be amazed at what we could create with metallics, some beer and shellac!

A few of the gorgeous finishes created by Causer + Lai.

What is the best professional advice you have received?

We believe strongly in Clean. Clean. Clean.  I first got this advice while studying with Monsieur Van Der Kelen in 1994. Monsieur’s smock was always pristine and white. All the student’s smocks, on the other hand, were filthy from paint. One day he told me that my smock was a reflection of who I am as a professional.

The majority of our work is in private homes. We like to treat their homes with respect like our own homes. We arrive in clean clothes, work neatly, clean up and organize at the end of every work day. Our tidiness is a reflection of who we are as professionals.

What is your ideal job for a month?

We would love to do a boutique restaurant or hotel in a Biedermeier style. Or really any style… We would also really enjoy working on a job that is giving back to the community such as a whole shelter, with murals and texture work.

Professionally, who are some of your inspirations?

Klimt, Picasso, Clyfford Still, Graffiti as a movement, Katsushika Hokusai or anything during Edo Period, Sol LeWitt, Mark Rothko, Imi Knoebel, Pollock, Chuck Close.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at an innovative, forward-thinking studio that still respects the disciplines of artistry.  You can see more of the work of Causer + Lai on their website as well as their Tumblr, Facebook fan page, Twitter account and Pinterest boards.  I thank both Alison and Benjamin immensely for their time and for sharing their projects as well.  Hope you have an inspired day!

01 Apr

Spring Inspiration!

Spring is here! I actually feel like humming the holiday song “It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year….” as soon as I wake up. Trees are growing leaves again, flowers are blooming, bees are visiting our garden, birds are singing and the sky is a sunny blue. (I understand it may not be this way everywhere, but it is the current experience in Florida. I don’t have the pleasure of seeing snow during the Winter and so I guess it all evens out, no?)  I thought I would share a few images with Spring in mind…

We kick off with a colorful and fanciful canvas by New Orleans artist Gretchen Weller Howard.  This particular image was feature in the book Big, Easy Style by Bryan Batt. Her earliest works included graphic design and decorative painting.

This striking mural in polystyrene is in an attic apartment and mimics the exterior foliage.  Just so amazing and I love it in black & white. Do you? It was was featured in Livingetc.

Wall & Deco is one of my favorite wallcovering lines. They have such inspiring and creative works! This one is called Poppy.

The shadow mural of the bird on the branches is just so sweet! I think this dresser is adorable — and perfect for a spring-inspired guest room!  It was finished by the studio of Gypsy Barn. They didn’t do a reverse technique while masking the design. Instead, they chipped the finish off to showcase the mahogany underneath. Very cool.

Aren’t these gorgeous? LOVE them! They gigantic graphic flower mural is the work of Metro Finishes in Orlando’s Suite B Lounge. Below is a closer look.

I spied the picture below a few years ago in House & Garden magazine and have always enjoyed it…

I love how elegant and simple this sgraffito finish is — especially when paired with its inspiration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our welcome to Spring with birds, trees and flowers!  I look forward to sharing more ideas, inspiration, artists and information with you as well.  Have a beautiful day!

19 Dec

Holiday Sponsor Love: Royal Design Studio!

Royal Design Studio has been a long-time supporter of Fauxology — and goodness knows I love their stencils, techniques and products! Their president, Melanie Royals, continues to dream up ever-so-wonderful ways to make decorative painting and finishing easier, not to mention the application of beautiful patterns to a myriad of surfaces.  They have so many good things to share and I thought I’d pay it forward!


Imagine learning amazing finishes and techniques in the comfort of your own home, wearing your favorite pajamas with a nice cup of hot chocolate at your side — all at your own pace, without travel and lodging costs. That’s the beauty of Virtual Workshops.  There are four classes available: SkimStone & Modello® Stencils, Antique Mirror & Glass, Metallic Foils and Stencil Impressions. Each class comes with video lessons and a complete, illustrated manual. If you see each of the class descriptions, they come with informative videos and module lessons.  As the classes are ongoing, you can start a class as soon as you register!

Special Pricing on Virtual Workshops through December 31st!


Stencil Cremes are a fantastic stencil paint with opaque coverage and creamy, dreamy application. Eight new colors were introduced just last week and they have special pricing through the end of the year!  In addition, a few new stencil patterns were added to the Royal Design Studio collection — you can always see the latest additions in the New Stencil Designs area of their website.


For ten days until Christmas Eve, Royal Design Studio will feature one selected stencil per day at 50% off!  They are on Day 6 and have a few stencils to go — will your favorite be among them?  Be sure to use the code given for your half off savings!

The daily selected stencils will be showcase on their Facebook page, Twitter account and Pinterest boards.  Do be sure to follow and “like” them for plenty of inspiration, too!

~ ~ ~

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more the latest and greatest with Royal Design Studio!  They also have the Design Amour and Stencil Ideas blog with creative artists and fab projects showcased regularly — great reads!  A nice, big lush Thank You! goes out to Royal Design for the Fauxology support!

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18 Dec

Holiday Sponsor Love: Faux Design Studio!

We love, love, love our Sponsors and I just want to extend a HUGE thank you to them for helping make Fauxology possible!  I’m always super happy to learn of the of the new things they have going on and share them with you — and Sheri Zeman of Chicago’s Faux Design Studio has PLENTY!  Sheri is one of my fave teachers and I’ve learned some of my favorite — and most popular — finishes from her directly.  She has an incredible knack at producing contemporary finishes that are so in tune with design today.


Looking ahead to 2013, Sheri will continue to teach finishes that look very complex and multi-layered but actually use minimal product and are done in 2-3 layers.  Gotta love that!  Her studio’s goal is that you produce incredible finishes for your clients, whether residential or commercial, all while ensuring your profitability and time.

The above are some of the samples from the Signature Series workshop and below is a peek at her stencil line and studio.  She’ll be adding new designs to the Loft stencil collection soon.  You can check out their full class schedule on their site.


Do note that the studio also sells the formula along with a sample piece and instruction sheet for some of their most popular Signature Series finishes for the low price of $85.

Sheri will also be introducing a fabulous new cabinet finishing product as well as two new glass colors.  Glass is an ideal embellishment for stencils and custom decorative finishes. Below is a sneak peek of new cabinet finishing samples.  Her Chicago studio will also have a few “free” product update classes in the new year for artists to learn more first-hand.

We’ll be sharing more very soon from Faux Design Studio!  In the meantime, do keep up with them on their Facebook fan page where they share their news, fab samples, amazing projects and even a free recipe or two!  Many thanks to Sheri and Faux Design Studio for their support!

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22 Oct

Recipe for Rusted Pumpkins

Who wouldn’t love a recipe for Roasted Rusted Pumpkins?  Sounds delicious, right?  The Modern Masters Metal Effects® product collection is BY FAR my favorite line to create oxidized finishes such as Rust and Verdigris.  I was recently speaking with Monique Rogers of the Modern Masters line and she forwarded some images of her 6-year old son creating a rusted pumpkin for school, playfully called The Pumpkin in the Iron Mask.  Cute right?  I thought I’d share the images with you and give you a bit more info on the Rust finish effect.

It’s a 4-step system with a Metal Effects Primer, Iron Reactive Paint, a Rust Activator and the Permacoat Xtreme Topcoat.  They work together as a system to create the wanted metal patina and oxidized effects. (The other metal effects do not always require a topcoat, but the Rust finish does.)

First, you prime with the Metal Effects Primer and then go over that with the Iron Reactive Paint.  Here, you can see that both small and large faux rivets were embedded into the pumpkin before the painting began. You could use thumbtacks for this effect and it definitely adds a nice layer of realism! Make sure you have great coverage of both products.

 Spraying the pumpkin with the Rust Activator.  Notice the safety goggles and floor drops!

Voila! The Rust Activator will then work its own magic and you can frequently see the process before your eyes.  Love that!  Note that it will activate where you spray and so a nice even coat may be best but it also depends on the look you are going for.  Do note that, in addition to spraying, you can also brush on the Rust Activator or use another applicator.  Some areas may take longer than others — I always wait overnight and then I topcoat.  If you should have any questions on the Metal Effects® line, Modern Masters has a fantastic FAQ area with helpful information.

I do have to say the results are not a “painted” effect — the finish is quite incredible!

Modern Masters has wonderful recipes to create stylish rust finish surfaces for Interior Design.  Here’s two sample images:

On the left is the unique Rusted Finish recipe and on the right is the Rusted Iron recipe.  You can find the even more inspiring images of the oxidized metal effects in action in their Photo Gallery.  You might think these finishes are limited to small accessories and/or pots but it’s truly incredible to see the amount of surfaces this line can work on — from hospitality exteriors to fountains to light fixtures to gates to sculptures and more.  This is in addition to walls and ceilings!

Please do be sure to check out their Facebook page and fun Pinterest account as well.  Of course, you could also see all their incredible products, available globally, on their Modern Masters website.  Do let me know if you’ve used their Metal Effects® line and if you’ve liked the results!

HALLOWEEN DAY UPDATE: Wanted to share a wonderful post and tutorial on Metal Effects pumpkins by Chicago artist Bonnie Lecat.  Beautiful step-by-step action — she rocked it!  Enjoy!

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13 Aug

Portrait of an Artist: Annabel Armstrong

There are certain artists you correspond with that you immediately feel a connection to and one of those, for me, is Annabel Armstrong of Surface.  I enjoy the way she perceives the world and once I saw her artistry, I also knew I had to share it on Fauxology.  She has a beautiful touch with her projects – they are both soft and strong at the same time.  She has strengths in decorative painting for many surfaces, including glass. We travel to Boise, Idaho to meet Annabel and chat about her work.

Artist Annabel Armstrong

Sometimes, our careers choose us. “I didn’t come to the decorative painting profession until my early thirties, after spending more than a decade floating around between various universities and continents,” Annabel explains. “At that point, I made use of a great opportunity to train under a few well-known decorative painters in the San Francisco area for a few years before moving to Boise, Idaho, to start my own studio.”  Annabel Armstrong founded her decorative painting studio, Surface, in 1997.  Even so, collaboration brings her quite a bit of joy. “Even after all these years of running my studio and working for myself,  I find that I always appreciate the chance to work for other decorative painters. There is always something you can learn from another artist, and the collaboration benefits everybody. Hence, I’m looking forward to a mural project in India later this year where I will be working alongside several artists, including Kaveri and TJ Singh of Los Angeles.”

(above) A painted motif with acanthus and oak leaves was designed to emphasize the architectural shape of the groined vault. Annabel shares (below) that all of a room’s finishes, colors, and textures are taken into consideration when creating a decorative painting concept.

Annabel, what are your favorite design and/or finish styles?

For a long time, my passion has been working with paint and gold or silver leaf on the back side of glass, a technique popularly known as verre églomisé. Ever since I naively tried to pick up a fragile leaf of gold over 15 years ago—and watched it crumble and disintegrate into nothing in my fingers—I have been in love with this delicate medium. Getting a crazy-thin leaf of gold to adhere to the slick surface of glass is a magical process that surprises me every time.

Verre églomisé is so-named because an 18th-century Parisian art dealer named Jean-Baptiste Glomy was known for selling prints with gilded and painted decorative borders on the back sides of the glass under which the prints were mounted. The term is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that the process was invented by Glomy, when in fact the technique is much older than the monsieur and not even French.

(above) Square columns in a restaurant were clad with glass for a verre églomisé project. Antiqued silver leaf and mica powders were used to incorporate the restaurant’s logo.  This project was in collaboration with Cathy Conner of Studio C in Seattle.

Verre églomisé, sometimes just called reverse painting and gilding on glass, has precedents in Roman glass, but it wasn’t until the medieval ages that Europe began to see a lot of reverse painted and gilded glass. Italian artisans seem to have been the first to work with this art form (at least in Europe—reverse painting and gilding also has traditions in Turkey, Syria, Persia and India).  Nuremberg and Augsburg in Germany also became real centers for reverse painting and gilding. A lot of glass-work came out of the Murnau area, near where my mother was born and raised in the Bavarian Alps, so I like to think that it’s in my blood. There’s a wonderful little museum called Schlossmuseum Murnau, which has a substantial collection of works on the reverse of glass.

(above) 23-karat and 12-karat gold leaf, aluminum leaf, collage, oil and acrylic paints, polyester plate lithography on the reverse of nine glass panels. To see them individually, please click here.

What are your favorite websites, blogs, and/or message forums on Internet?

The Textile Blog is a great resource and inspiration for decorative painters. The blog provides insight into not only textile design but all forms of design, decoration, and craft. This on-line resource has a massive yet consummately organized library of images with everything from examples of 16th century lace to 1890s wallpaper design. The video library is equally broad-based: if you look under Tile and Mosaic Design, you can view a video about Portuguese azulejos one moment and in the next you’ll be learning about Escher’s mathematical approach to design. “Like” the Textile Blog on Facebook, and you’ll never run out of interesting links.

What I appreciate about the Textile Blog is its broad-based approach to design, something that’s needed by today’s decorative painters. Too many of us are caught up in capturing a painted effect or in perfectly imitating something such as leather, without asking ourselves why we are painting that in the first place. Decorative painting has to interact with a space, and importantly, it also has a profound effect on anyone interacting with that space. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. Decorative painters should be actively studying design and thinking about it in broad terms, not just about our little niche. Our work needs to be an integral part of the design process.

(above, below) Grottesca ceiling project completed on canvas with Nicola Vigini of Vigini Paint & Design. He let me do quite a bit of the design, but more importantly, I had the opportunity to work with a brighter palette than the one I gravitate towards on my own projects.

What are the most inspiring spaces you’ve seen that had decorative painting?

This spring in Germany I visited the Würzburg Residenz palace, famous for the Tiepolo frescoes but also for its Spiegelkabinett. A Spiegelkabinett is essentially a room of mirrors, usually consisting of panels with inset mirrors and carved stucco or wood ornamentation, and can be found in numerous German baroque and rococo palaces. The Würzburg Spiegelkabinett’s floor-to-ceiling mirrors on all four walls incorporate reverse painting and gilding in a Chinoiserie style. The room was built and decorated in the 1740s but was destroyed—along with most of the palace—during an air raid in 1945. Based on a late 19th century watercolor of the room, numerous photographs of the original interior, and just one surviving mirror fragment, the Spiegelkabinett was meticulously restored in the 1980s. The restoration of the gilded stucco ornamentation alone required 2.5 kilos (more than 5 pounds!) of gold leaf!

(above) Handpainted papers created by Annabel Armstrong and (below) is a detail of a powder room mural with the client’s favorite bird, the red-breasted nuthatch, in a tree, followed by a gorgeous crackled plaster finish in ochre.

If you could write a book about any subject, what would it be?

It would be about bacteria, if only for the chance to create the illustrations. Bacteria are such weird little things that come in wacky shapes. And bacteria fascinate me because they represent a vastness that—although literally right under our noses, covering both the insides and outsides of our bodies—goes by mostly unnoticed.

I’ve read that there are typically 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and a million bacterial cells in a milliliter of fresh water; in all, there are approximately five nonillion (what does that even mean? is nonillion a real word? you can’t even wrap your head around this stuff) bacteria on Earth. I love the fact that they form much of the world’s biomass and can be found just about anywhere, including deep underneath the Earth’s crust.  They’ve evolved along with our digestive and immune systems for millions of years, and shaped their environment to create a better bacteria nirvana. That means: not only have bacteria evolved in order to adapt, but we have actually evolved to provide a better home for them. It makes you wonder who’s in charge here.

The mural in the image above was inspired by the frescoes in the Villa Livia in ancient Rome.  It’s the first work I saw of Annabel’s and it still thrills me.  I hope you have enjoyed today’s profile — please be sure to visit her website, Annabel Armstrong Surface, to see more of her artistry.  I thank Annabel so much for her time and for sharing her projects.  I hope they were a beautiful way to start your week!

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07 Aug

Bricks of Art

On my Pinterest account, a space with bricks of blue is one the most popular pinned images I have.  It was created by architect Coleman Coker for a ranch in Vegas.  Here’s another view.

Of course, you can also color the bricks in cool funky colors like the Green Avenue Bench Collection did…

The main thrust of this post, though, is to showcase bricks that have been enhanced with gorgeous typography or a mural — in some cases, both.  Starting with an image from Concept Blanc, here’s the rest of the eye candy!

(above) Cool painted bricks by decorative painter Kristen F. Davis and (below) a guest bath designed by the fab Beth Dotolo for her own home.

Love the restaurant design above!  The sign for “Cardui – A Woman’s Tonic” is original to the space and was kept as an overscale art element by designer by Jones Baker.  The space below is the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

SO beautiful, right?  Traditional brick colors are not the only option and I do hope these examples proved inspiring!  Do you have a favorite?

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