Faux Finishing: Notes on Painting in Grisaille

Color Therapy

My final project of the outdoor painting season was this — a trompe-l'oeil balustrade in grisaille. The client wanted something to dress up this small deck on a post-war building and indeed it makes it seem like an additional room when you look at it from inside.

Whereas painting in grisaille technically means painting in shades of gray, you don't really want to use only black and white paint or your project will look mechanical and lifeless. Think along the lines of a traditional palette like burnt umber or raw ochre.

In this case, I matched the existing wall with a basecoat of Putnam Ivory HC-39, which was also my highlight color. I used only three different grays, including Copley Gray, Rockport Gray and Sandy Hook Gray. We decided to keep the painting soft and limit the contrast so I didn't use anything darker. I find, too, that in keeping the palette simple you're allowing the innate color relationships to emerge and breathe life into your painting, and this balustrade seems to change "colors" throughout the day.

I'll close with a photo of something we did years ago, an egg-and-dart pattern of faux granite, which opens up onto a cloud ceiling. I no longer have my notes on exactly what colors were used, but I do recommend Palladian Blue as a good, soft, mysterious blue on which to paint cloud ceilings.

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Colors used: Benjamin Moore: Putnam Ivory HC-39, Copley Gray HC-104, Rockport Gray HC-105, Sandy Hook Gray HC-108, Palladian Blue HC-144

Images: Mark Chamberlain

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