March 26, 2013

Creating Faux Tortoise Shell

Have you seen the English antique tea caddies? The ones sporting antique tortoise shell veneers at antique auction sites. I would love to own one. Of course, I am not getting one any time soon, so I have resolved to paint something similar in the future and give my painted version some age. Although, I haven't found the right box yet, something pretty with curves.

However, my current project is to give a wood framed mirror a tortoise shell painted finish (or I think that is what I would like to do), so I am using the old compass box in the picture on the right hand side as a sample for pending work ahead. 

While doing samples, I thought that you might want to try your hand at creating a faux tortoise shell finish as well. I am sure that there are hundreds of ways to create tortoise shell; however, this is one of the simplest.

You can use either oil or acrylic paint. I painted the compass box with acrylic, but if you are more comfortable with oil, please use it because the steps are the same. You will need to look at samples of tortoise shell. The internet is a good place for that. Notice in the samples of tortoise shell that it has a one-directional or radial design to it and that the predominate colors are yellow ocher, burnt sienna, and burnt umber. You will, also, need a Badger Brush or fan brush for blending.  

First, you will want to paint your project with a base coat color that is fairly close to butter yellow or legal-pad-yellow in a satin or gloss finish. Let the base coat dry.

First Layer, using yellow ocher.
On your work surface, with a large brush, place a thin layer of clear glaze (oil glaze for oil or acrylic glaze for acrylics). Place yellow ocher paint randomly on surface. Using a blending brush, brush in a radial or one-directional fashion. Let dry.
You may want to seal this layer with a clear coat such as Polycrylic by Minwax especially if you are using acrylics. I find that brushing the acrylic glaze over the top layer of acrylics can lift or re-wet the bottom layer if not cured, and then it just becomes a mess. So if you are happy with your work, seal it before you go on.

Second Layer, using burnt sienna.
On your work surface, place a thin layer of clear glaze. Place burnt sienna paint randomly across surface in a one-directional or radial design. Quickly, sweep and blend paint with a blending brush. If you are unhappy with your design, wipe out and try again. Then let dry and seal. 

Third Layer, using burnt umber.
Place a thin layer of clear glaze on your work surface. Place small, irregular shapes of burnt umber on the surface, and before the paint dries, sweep across the section with a blending brush.
Let this layer dry, seal it, and you are done. That's it. Sit back and enjoy your new finish.

I gave the compass box an over-all antiquing glaze. I guess you might say that it would be a fourth layer. But if you are happy with your finish on the third layer, you do not need to.

As you can see, I sectioned off the box with blue painters tape to give the illusion of small pieces of tortoise shell veneer.

I have seen this finish done with multiple layers of clear top coats between layers, which gives the illusion of being three dimensional with the layers of color floating on top of each other, and I might add, it is beautiful. I tried it on this box but gave up. But I can tell you that you need more than seven coats of clear between layers to create this effect.

If you really want a dramatic finish, try using gold metallic paint as a base coat instead of yellow. 

If you have the time, check out Cait Whitson's tortoise shell finish she did here. I can't imagine the room without it.   ~Sandy~

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