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Last week, I drew the parameters of a project I was working on in my sketchbook journal. This week, I’ll follow up with the details.

The task: to paint an old marble fireplace to look like limestone, matching stone that was recently installed in the room.

This is the former fireplace. It’s probably a variation of Yellow Sienna marble.

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Sorry about the plastic wrap, these are the only photos I have. Here’s a detail.

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Still, you can see how strong the yellow and brown marble is, and can probably imagine how this sort of fireplace will insistently draw the eye. If the designer decided to keep this fireplace, he’d have to balance its heavy visual weight with the other elements and furniture in the room, and integrate or balance its color palette.

One way to trick the brain into believing that the soon-to-be painted finish is real is to match a stone that’s in the room. In this case, slabs of limestone were installed in the doorways. This is a shot of the stone.

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Since the limestone doorways must be passed through to enter the room, our brains will register their stone, then look at the fireplace and assume it’s real, partly because we’ve just seen the real stone, and partly because we expect a fireplace to be made of stone. Our conscious minds won’t be aware of this process.

Here’s the fireplace, now painted bone white, a blank slate. My two samples are sitting on top, but I’ll work off of the real limestone. My work station is set up off to the right.

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The first step, as usual, is to tape off and protect the adjacent surfaces. The base painters, who sprayed on the base coat, had already protected the walls.

Painting most marbles is a process of building up layers of color, which creates visual depth. Marbles can have enormous depth, so generally, the flatter a painted stone looks, the less convincing it will be. That’s why we start with such a light base color, so it can shine up through the translucent layers of darker glaze, creating depth.

Off we go. You’ll see this process from two angles. First, about six or seven layers of acrylic glaze are applied with a damp sponge. The colors are a mix of white, raw umber and raw sienna, with a little black. Here’s the progress of the right-hand column.

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Now, the side of the right-hand column. The colors gradually build up, but the base coat needs to show through as well.

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Off to a good start. That took a day. Here’s where we stand:

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Next up, the detail work that will pull the patterns together and punch up the depth. Out goes the sponge and in comes a little brush. It’s time to link up the patterns of the sponge to create direction and flow. We’re going from general to specific. This will make the stone come to life and will take the better part of a second day.

The blobs are painted with the darkest color that will be used and softened with a badger brush. Then, using a toothbrush, I spatter on the same dark color and a light cream.

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Then on top of the dark blobs and the spatter comes the lightest color, a fine web of creamy lines gently pounced on with a barely damp sponge, its patterns joined together with a fine brush. With the darkest and lightest colors right on top of one another, here comes the depth I’ve been working toward.

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A coat of matte varnish, and the final result.

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It’s hard to see the details of the painted surface in a photo, but it’s easy to see how the mood of the room has completely changed because the stone has changed. We’ve gone from loud to subtle, from old-fashioned to contemporary (well, as contemporary as you can get with columns), and most importantly, we’ve changed the color palette, integrating the fireplace into the room’s new design. Also, we can see the details of the columns caps more clearly, now that they aren’t dominated by the marble’s pattern.

Magic? Not quite. But almost as much fun!

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