Tuscan Plaster with Countryside Mural

The whole room transports you to another place by combining the wall finish with the appropriate artwork.

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This was actually the first large mural that I painted, and it happened to be in my own home. I had just read “Under the Tuscan Sun”, and was really feeling the full weight of my Italian heritage. It was definitely time to redecorate my dining room, and I knew I wanted a feeling that was all about comfort, relaxation, and family. The warmth and hospitality of an Italian courtyard seemed to fit the bill, as I envisioned leisurely Sunday lunches with family and friends, the table laden with wine, cheese, olives and pasta. I happened to see a small print in an AC Moore art supply store, and I thought it would fit perfectly into the dining experience I wanted to create.

The dining room is large, so I quickly realized the print of the Tuscan countryside would be lost on the wall, no matter how grandly I framed it. Suddenly it occurred to me that this small design could be the feature the room decor revolved around, but it would have to be bigger- much bigger. I have always painted, decorated, and been generally ”artsy,” but never found time to paint on canvas as much as I would have liked. I decided to just jump in and start painting right on the wall, and that was it for me. I had a new love-painting BIG! Changing the design to make it my own was fun, and using my hands as well as brushes was a revelation. The best way to create cypress trees was with my thumb, while shadows and highlights were made by scrubbing small amounts of paint onto the wall with my fingers. I experimented with the paints I already had, and found that water–based acrylics worked great and dried very fast, so I could quickly build the layers of the design. Clean-up was simple and painless as well. At the end of the day I was well on the way to having an original focal point for my room; exhausted, elated, and pretty much covered in paint!

Wall color was the next concern, but I soon decided on a plaster-style faux finish. I had helped friends research and try various faux techniques in their homes, so I was ready. I wanted an actual textured, Venetian plaster finish, but my husband was concerned about having to sand down the whole room if we ever decided to change it (it IS a big room). We compromised on a finish that looked three dimensional but was actually a four-color flat finish. tuscan palster faux finishThe existing paint on the walls was a flat, neutral paint, what I like to call ”Builder Beige” –most new houses start out with this inexpensive paint on the walls. It’s not very exciting, but it does make a great primer-type coating, so I just needed to clean it and paint on my base color. This goes very fast, as it doesn’t really matter if there are some missed spots or streaks, it will never show. Whenever possible, I use a paintstick to do base coats, and that makes it incredibly quick and easy. First, tape off the woodwork and ceiling with blue painter’s tape. The taping is a really important step, and is the first place where professional work looks different from do-it-yourself. Believe me, I know the temptation to just begin painting is huge, but you MUST do the taping. It will save you so much work in the end, and give you much nicer results. Do not start taping until your hands are very clean- you will just rub smudges into your ceiling, and they will never wash out. Also make sure the tape is really stuck securely all over, so no paint can seep under it and spoil your hard work. I used a dark terracotta orange, in a water-based, low luster eggshell finish, rolled on the wall with a cheap short-nap roller. A cheap one works fine for this, and you can just throw it away instead of wasting gallons of water to clean it. This undercoat has to dry for at least eight hours.

I chose three more colors for the top finish, a light gold, a medium gold, and an off-white, also in the eggshell finish. Note that none of these paints needs to be a superior quality, since high-end paints are intended to give a smooth and perfect finish, while this finish will be purposely flawed and uneven. Use a medium grade paint and save your money for furniture and accessories. Each of these colors was applied to the wall in random X patterns, varying the amounts, and using the medium gold most heavily. Again, use fairly cheap brushes for this step, as the smooth finish is not necessary. Just make sure the bristles don’t come out on your wall! Work in an area about 3-4 feet square. While the paint is still very wet, use a slightly damp rag to scrub the colors together, covering most of the terracotta undercoat, and blending the top colors so that there are no sharp edges to any brush spot. Overlap your sections by a few inches, and make them irregular in shape. Deliberately leave a few spots here and there without the top colors. I like to leave more of these spots lower on the wall, to create the illusion that the top paint has been worn away by years of people leaning and brushing against it. Be prepared to practice a bit, remembering that you can cover anything you don’t like with the undercoat color, and start it over again. Paint is so friendly and flexible that way… When this faux finish is complete, it will not require a protective coating, as the low-luster eggshell paints should be washable.

tuscan mural stone close-up

My favorite part of this mural is the stone window surround, which I designed to create the transition between the faux plaster finish and the painted scene. I liked the 3-dimensional quality it provided, making it my first use of trompe l’oeil (trump loy), an artistic technique that means “fool the eye.” Someday I will paint something to sit on that stone ledge- maybe a vase of sunflowers, or a bird, or maybe a cat…