Artists & Gilders Decorative Studio
Ross O'Neal Inc.

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Decorative Possibilities of Glazing, Graining and Marbling

Little is known concerning the true origin of these crafts, but there is sufficient evidence to support the belief that these specialized branches of painting were developed in England during the eighteenth century. Early examples were often crude until the 1850's, when that genius Thomas Kershaw near Bolton, and his contemporary John Taylor of Birmingham,achieved a degree of perfection which to this day is seldom equaled but, by a hand full of practicing artisans. Their fame spread to the Continent, where at a Paris exhibition, it required a practical demonstration to convince skeptical critics that the works shown were painted representations and not panels of the real wood and marble.

Graining, in common with gilding, veneering, the use of fibrous plaster, tile and other effects in wall paper, relief decorations, manufactured marbles and other materials and processes, has long been accepted and appreciated as a traditional form of decoration. They do not attempt to deceive the observer, but rather to convey to the mind, by suggestion, the abstract idea expressed. Their utilitarian advantages are fully recognized, but their aesthetic value depends entirely on the exercise of good taste in selecting the most fitting material, pattern, or finish for a specific surface.
Graining and marbling offer wide possibilities, as yet only partly explored. They need not as in the past, be limited to realistic or impressionistic painting, but be taken a stage farther to the point of extreme simplification. Rag rolling, stippling and glazing are examples of this idea which originated from marbling and frequently offer a more colorful means of completing a harmonious scheme.

I thought I start this series, with a description of the tools used in graining and marbling.

In no other area of painting are tools such an important part of the craft. Without the proper tools, the grainer is simply finger painting. The craft almost lost now, we find the tools most difficult to find. Once found we must alter many to fit our needs. Often we must make ourselves to suit our situation. Most of the brushes produced today come from Europe, mainly England, France, Germany and Italy. Graining is still very popular over there and we owe most of what we have learned in the way of proper procedure to our European brothers. They make a few graining tools in the US some rubber rollers, metal and rubber combs along with the Gumbacher and Symphony brush line, which we carry.
It is amazing to see how many uses a person can get out of one tool. I can't recollect how often, simple by accident, I have found a new use for a tool. Usually through boredom we decide to try a new procedure and, low and behold, we like the result. So don't be afraid to try to experiment with your tools. Below are a few of the most common ones:

Probably the most useful tool we use. They make this tool from.... you guessed it .... pure badger hair, just like the old shaving brushes. It can cost well more than $200 because it takes entire badger pelt to make it. Only the longest hairs under the arms are used for the blender. It is used for blending and softening of all types, both in water and oil colors.

It is also used to harden the lines or bring them to a sharper natural look in graining and marbling. It is totally remarkable tool depending on how it is used. Nothing will work as well. I guess if there were, grainers long ago would have found it rather than have to take it from one of the meanest creatures alive. Its soft delicate tops help create the most beautiful effects in water colors, especially in creating fine and blended lines in such woods as burl walnut, burred elm, feathered mahogany and rosewood.

Also, an expensive brush. It consists of either horse hair or long bristle. The bristles are sometimes eight inches long. It is used to produce a stippled effect to imitate the small pores in walnut, maple, rosewood, cypress and mahogany woods. It can be used held flat to produce long lines or almost straight up to produce a textured look as a background for burl effect. It is also one of the best tools for picking up gathers along edges when glazing.

The wavy mottler is used to produce or darken highlights that would be seen in birch, cherry, maple, walnut and some other woods. Some call the mottles "crossfire" because they usually run across the direction of the grain.

Used as the mottlers above, but they do not have the waves. The wavy mottler is a newer invention in the old days the craftsman pushed their fingers into the mottler to produce the effect that the wavy mottler makes. Short bristle mottler is best used in oil color glazes on top of water color grained finishes to show extra highlights. A long bristle mottler can be used in oils and water color and its principal use is for reproducing the mottle in such woods as birds eye maple, sycamore, satinwood and some walnut and mahogany.

These are used to give a silky ripple to the grain, also make it a little easier to achieve nice cathedrals.

These give a firm stroke when graining great for laying off before laying grain.

These rubber rollers are made in the US The one tractor grain is supposed to simulate quarter grain, but it really doesn't do a good job. The large, more open pattern roller, is for heart grain and does work all right. The best one is the medium size roller. It works very well for oak the best results are obtained by putting a piece of backer rod in the tube to help stabilize it.

This tool work very much like the rubber rollers in principal, but is used when you either have only one hand to use or you have a narrow spot you want to put heart grain in. By carefully cutting out every other rib with an exacto knife the pattern seems to be more open and looks better.

These are indispensable tools in oak graining. They are varied in size and shape to imitate all types of oak grain and accommodates all different surfaces whether round, flat, concave or convex. The triangular comb works best on flat surfaces. The square rubber come accommodated rounded surfaces well. Notice the tooth size varies from very large (next to the heart grain) to very small (on the outermost part of the tree).

This is a domestically made comb is useful to merely break down the grain.

These combs come in varied widths and tooth size. They are best suited for breaking the grain down after being put in with rubber combs. They also are excellent to draw grain in extremely hard to get areas such as dentils or small curvatures. They also are use to draw in grain when covered with a rag or chamois.

This is also an expensive tool. It simulates the pores in open grain woods such as oak. By applying the graining liquid on a mottler to the slotted discs it transfers the pores to the grained surface.

These are used to put in darken grain and other fine detail on a dry, previously grained surface and to brush on color, rather than drag it off, giving the precise fine lines of wood grain. These are general used in conjunction with the comb.

Flat Thin - Bristle,Pencil - Bristle,Fan Fitch - Bristle,Fantail - Badger,Fantail - Bristle
All these brushes have one specific purpose and that is to put in the shaped heart grain of nearly all hard woods such as Walnut, Mahogany, Rosewood, Teak and Cedar. This is done by working on a flogged surface as described above, in water or poster color, then using one or other of the Overgrainers depending on size and type of grain, dip into a darkened mixture of water color, and draw out the design of the particular wood and soften backwards with a badger softener or even a fine bristle softener.

Used to separate their bristles of overgrainers to draw in grain. Combs used to be made of bone at one time, they also had graining combs made of bone they are said to be best.

Just like overgrainers but the teeth are already separated. Some are fixed others are adjustable.

Regular sea sponge the best are the sea wool the grass sponge is not as useful in decorative painting. Cannot be synthetic. Has many uses in wood graining, marbling and glazing.

Used to draw in grain in tight places and to draw in heart grain.

A useful tool in both water and oil graining and marbling.

Finest Squirrel Hair set in card for the gentle application of Gold Leaf.

Used with a soft cotton rag around them. They make an excellent tool for wiping out quarter sawn flakes. About 1/2 inch wide with angled ends make the best. The use of rubber blocks or erasers without covering causes fat edges which does not look good.

Used in doing burl woods. The best are European round brushes they are flat on the bottom. The domed one also works well.

Used to clean all your combs, use for spattering and fly speckling. Special spattering brushes are available.

I was taught the uses was for blending of marbles the more locks the softer the effect. Some use them to apply bronze powders. Also used positively to apply veins and pebbles in marbles. When wet locks form points.

For certain types of wood, crayons or crayon pencils are of some assistance. These are not the waxy crayola type. These are the artist type made by Grumbacher. They are more like chalk or charcoal and work pretty well when used in conjunction with water color or oil graining.

Brush Hairs
Red Sable
This hair comes from the Weasel and Kolinsky tails and is the finest natural hair available for making top quality brushes. For supreme quality the Kolinsky, a native of Northern Russia, as its name "Sibirica" suggest is used. Owing to the shortage of these pelts, Northern China is now the main source. It should be noted that the tail only is used and even here, the long end-hairs at the tip of the tail are discarded as too thin and weak. The hair grows stronger as it broadens in the middle and then tapers away to a long fine point.

Polyester is now the acceptable substitute, being a great improvement on the early "Nylon" brushes. It is extremely durable with many of the characteristics of Sable, i.e. each filament having a natural tapered point and by using different diameters a flexible brush is produced with the color holding facility of natural hair. It also has remarkable spring and resilience.

Ox Hair
The hair is obtained from ear of the ox. It is very strong and can withstand strenuous use,the finest grade is taken from oxen of the Swiss Alps and several other mountain regions of the world. The color of the hair ranges from light to dark brown with the darkest hair varying in quality.

Squirrel Hair
Mainly of the wild Asian variety. It is soft with little spring and is often assisted by the addition of Goat Hair or Pony Hair.

Goat Hair
This has greater strength and paint holding capability. Other hair used in brush making includes Skunk, Civet, Badger and Pony.

Hog Bristle
This is strictly not "Hair" the finest quality coming from the Chunking area of China. Bristle and Hair are not similar, hair having a single natural point, while the bristle has multiple tips (Flag). The diameter of bristle increases towards the root whilst hair has a belly - the mid portion being the thickest.

Brushes should be cleaned thoroughly IMMEDIATELY after use Either: Wash in the recommended thinner or methylated spirit or whatever cleaning solution is suitable for the medium which has been used, from the ferrule or in the case of mops the wire to the point.

Rinse the brush thoroughly in clean soapy water and leave to dry - not near heat and never standing on it's hair.

If a brush has not been cleaned after use and the hair has gone hard, there is usually little that can be done to retrieve it. Leaving it to soak in thinners or similar solutions only leads to possible loosening the hair from the socket. It is also useless to knock the brush to loosen the hair, this can only lead to the brush falling apart. (Not to mention premature balding)

In the case of mops, if for any reason in normal use a wire should come loose, it can easily be tightened up by following the original twist. If this is done right away the wire will not come off. It if does, although there are another three wires and a back-up of staples, further disaster can be prevented by replacing the wire. If the wires are not tightened and/or replaced, the tuft of hair will eventually come out, so prevention is better than cure.

In view of the extreme scarcity of pure squirrel hair for such brushes and their high cost,we cannot emphasize the necessity of cleaning as above more than with these brushes. This hair, if poorly treated, will become brittle and break, as opposed to loose hairs which are removed as far as possible before the brushes leave our manufacturer.

We hope that your brush will give you long service, like all faithful servants, it responds to good treatment. Think of it as if it were your own hair. Would you stand upside down with your head in a bucket of thinners for a week! Use as little T.L.C. We strongly recommend that customers follow our suggested cleaning procedures. These will definitely be the best basis for the longevity of your brushes.

E-mail: Ross O'Neal

Copyright 1985-2000 by Ross O'Neal. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the copyright owner Ross O'Neal