How to Venetian Plaster
What Is Venetian Plaster?
Venetian plaster is a faux finish technique for walls. The wall surface is painted with a trowel and a special thick paint. Rather than brushing on the paint it is smeared on in thin coats with the trowel held at an angle. The process is very similar to mudding a wall after putting up the drywall, and the texture of the paint is also similar.
While there is some texture to the finished surface, there is not as much as you might think. The variation in color and the play of light on the pigment gives a vintage plaster look that is surprisingly smooth to the touch.
The Venetian plaster technique is a great way to cover up less than perfect walls.
Choose Your Paint and Get Started
There are many ways to do venetian plaster but I chose to use Behr paints venetian plaster collection. I liked the quality of the paint as well as the fact that it was done in two steps plus a glaze. It seemed straight forward and simple for a first project.
Choosing the color was relatively easy for me. The room is narrow with 10 ft ceilings and faces west. In the afternoon it gets a lot of light from the frosted floor to ceiling window. A warm color (yellow, red, etc) would be too warm in that golden light so I went with a slightly gray toned robin's egg blue called Aegean Sea. If a room faces north, gets north light, or if it gets eastern exposure it is often a good idea to use warmer colors, while a south or west facing room does well with cool colors. That is my own rule of thumb, however ultimately you should get what you like.
Another thing that can help is to pick your wallpaper border, if you are using one, and then match the color to that.
Prime the Walls
Our house is 100 years old and had been abandoned before we moved in. Many of the walls are not in the best condition. The wall in our hall bathroom had been papered without proper priming and it was a mess. For this reason I decided that this would be where I would start my first venetian plaster project. I chose to prime the walls with a primer in a slightly lighter color than my paint because parts of the walls were bare drywall, and other parts had wallpaper backing sticking in clumps. I figured if the technique could make THIS room look good it was nothing short of miraculous!
The first day I carefully primed the walls. I let them dry overnight and went back the next morning, tentatively opening the bucket of venetian plaster. It seemed an odd color, and even while I was putting it on the walls I was worried because it looked gray. Lesson learned. The plaster changes color quite a bit as it dries.
Apply the Paint
Round the corners of the putty knife with100 grit sandpaper to minimize edges as you apply the paint. I like to start in a corner of the room that is least noticeable so if I make mistakes at first they are not as obvious.
Using a putty knife at a 30 degree angle, scrape a thin layer of the paint into the wall in a sweeping motion and spread over the area you are working on. Don't worry too much about all of your base wall being covered, this is only the first coat. The mistake most people make (as I was cautioned by my paint guy at Home Depot) was that they put too thick a layer on the wall. Keep it thin. It takes a while to get the hang of it - just keep practicing. Use random strokes, some long, some short, to cover the wall.
Go fix yourself some coffee and let it dry for at least four hours.
Venetian Plaster Trowel Technique
I waited 24 hours between the coats, however anything after four hours is fine.
Now you will hold the trowel at 60-90 degrees as you use the same random strokes to apply another thin coat of the venetian plaster. This time be careful that the wall surface is completely covered. Smooth edge marks as you go. Allow to dry for a full 24 hours.
How To Finish
Once the second coat of paint has dried for at least 24 hours you will finish your project in one of two ways:
You can use a clear glaze and spread it over the paint with a trowel, just as you did with the venetian plaster. This will be needed for humid areas such as bathrooms or kitchens.
You can use a technique called burnishing to bring out the highlights in the finish.
Because my project was a bathroom, and would be subjected to humidity, water, and lots and lots of traffic I bought the clear satin glaze and spread that over the second coat. Once it had dried and seasoned for a week it was washable and easy to clean.
Other projects can be burnished. This gives the final wall a unique appearance that is very durable in places other than bathrooms or kitchens. To burnish the venetian plaster you will let the second coat dry for 24 hours and then, using a 400 or 600 grit sandpaper rub the wall in a circular motion. You can use a power sander for larger areas.
Never use the glaze if you plan to burnish, and don't burnish if you plan to glaze. These techniques will not work together.