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It’s fun to post photos of challenging glazing projects like marbling fireplaces and wood graining doors. But almost all complex finishes are at least partially based on a few simple techniques.

A glazing technique is either additive or subtractive. An additive glaze is simply applied to a surface with a particular tool, like a sponge. A subtractive glaze is rolled on with a paint roller, then removed with a tool chosen to create a specific pattern. Most glazes are subtractive, and there is variety within each technique. Glazes can be created in any color, and all projects require that the color be custom-mixed for the client.

Above is parchment, where the glaze is removed with cheesecloth. It’s the simplest and most requested finish. Sometimes this is so subtle that I call it The Invisible Glaze. It’s usually painted in a light neutral color as an unobtrusive backdrop to a room’s art, furniture and textiles.

Here’s an example of soft ragging, where the glaze is removed with bunched up cotton rags. That’s followed by a sample of plastic ragging, where the initial cotton ragging is worked over with bunched up plastic to create a harder edge.

The texture of ragging can be very strong and can incorporate more than one color, which is usually not done in a home because it’s overwhelming and draws too much attention to itself. The sample below is a two-color commercial finish, appropriate for a casual restaurant. Ragged finishes are great at hiding an old wall’s less-than-perfect surface.

Above is a strie (French for striped, pronounced “stree-aye”), where glaze is removed by dragging a brush. This can be soft or more pronounced and requires perfect prep on a wall, since every lump, bump and ding will be emphasized by the pattern. Below is steel wool strie, where steel wool is dragged after the brush. This is often used on woodwork.

Below is a stipple, where glaze is removed with a stippling brush, a rectangular or square brush of densely packed hog hair bristles. This is another subtle finish, since the brush creates a pattern without removing much glaze.

And look, it’s in a strong color! For some reason, deep reds are often used in libraries and dining rooms. I’ve tried to use colorful samples in this post, but usually I’m working in a world decorated in shades of pale cream and yellow.

Below, a brushed finish, which is exactly what it sounds like. Love this technique, it’s quick, graceful and playful.

And now the only additive technique, the famous sponging. Sponging was big in the 80s and is still the look many think of when it comes to painted finishes, although I’ve never done it as an overall wall finish. Today, it’s seen more often as a technique used in marbling or faux limestone, as below.

It’s hard to explain how a glazed finish changes a room. Even with a quiet finish, the room feels more alive, the texture creating a layer of movement on the walls. The room feels larger as well, as your eye slows down to acknowledge the pattern, even if your conscious mind doesn’t realize it’s there.

A rare bird: a room with walls glazed in a strong color. Loved this plum! It took two layers of parchment finish to get the depth we wanted, then we varnished it so it was shiny. It was published in House Beautiful magazine in September 2006. I felt like a proud mother!