Faux painting or faux finishing are terms used to describe decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone. The term comes from the French word faux, meaning false, as these techniques started as a form of replicating materials such as marble and wood with paint, but has subsequently come to encompass many other decorative finishes for walls and furniture including simulating recognisable textures and surfaces.
Faux finishing has been used for millennia, from cave painting to the tombs of ancient Egypt, but what we generally think of as faux finishing in the decorative arts began with plaster and stucco finishes in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago.
Faux painting became popular in classical times in the forms of faux marble, faux wood, and trompe-l'œil murals. Artists would apprentice for 10 years or more with a master faux painter before working on their own. Great recognition was awarded to artists who could actually trick viewers into believing their work was the real thing.
The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, in discussing the work of house and decorative painters, describes a number of faux-finishes including marbleizing and graining. Faux painting has continued to be popular throughout the ages, but experienced major resurgences in the neoclassical revival of the nineteenth century and the Art Deco styles of the 1920s. During the recent history of decorative painting, faux finishing has been mainly used in commercial and public spaces.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, faux finishing saw another revival, as wallpaper began to fall out of fashion. At this point, faux painting became popular in home environments, with high-end homes leading the trend. While it can be quite expensive to hire a professional faux finisher ($80.00/hr.), many faux painting methods are thought to be simple enough for a beginning home owner to create with a little instruction. Some professionally applied finishes in the high-end, Bay-Area homes of northern California, for example, were as simple as oil glaze, oil-based paint or penetrol or as complicated as applications with peacock feathers and 4 different colors applied using 4 different techniques.
In modern-day faux finishing, there are two major processes used. Glaze work involves using a translucent mixture of paint and glaze applied with a brush, roller, rag, or sponge, and often mimics textures, but it is always smooth to the touch. Plaster work can be done with tinted plasters, or washed over with earth pigments, and is generally applied with a trowel or spatula. The finished result can be either flat to the touch or textured.