Introduction to Decorative Arts

Decorative arts is a broad term that describes works of craft or art that are concerned with the design or decoration of objects that are also functional. It can include textile painting, ceramic art, metalwork, jewellery, glass painting, metalwork, furniture, and enamel work, amongst others. The separation of the term ‘decorative arts’ from painting and sculpture is considered a modern distinction. 

Restoration and conservation focus on protecting and restoring both fine art such as paintings and decorative art such as bas-reliefs, mosaics, icons, and heavy wooden panels, as well as frames, antiques, and architecture.

What is silk painting?

Silk painting is both a popular art form as well as a popular applied craft. The traditional art of silk painting predates painting on paper in China and the Far East. The technique involves stretching silk onto a frame and then applying dyes or paint with a paint brush, dropper, mist sprayer, or other tools to achieve particular effects. If left to its own devices, silk paint will produce a soft and diffused watercolour effect on the silk, but with the use of a water-based resist medium known as gutta, outlines can be created to control the colour flow. Transparent gutta can be washed away and coloured and pearlescent guttas are available that remain as an outline after the painting is finished. Colour on fabric that is intended to be washed needs to be 'fixed' to be made permanent, usually by ironing or steaming after the paint is dry.

What do I need to get started in silk painting?

A frame to stretch the silk
Silk paints
Resist (Gutta)
Brushes or tools for application of the paint and resist

Silk is relatively absorbent and silk paint will sink into the fabric, not impairing its flexibility or movement. Silk such as Pongee 5, Habotai 8 and Twill 10 can be bought by the metre, as well as in the pre-made form of cushion covers and silk scarves, ready for painting. Silk is most easily painted on to when stretched on a frame - this keeps the silk flat and provides a springiness akin to a canvas stretched on a frame.

Silk paint such as Pebeo Setasilk, AV Silk and Marabu Silk are water-based, fluid, vivid, and intense. Silk paint can be used on all types of silk : twill, pongee, crêpe de chine, georgette, damask. It is very easy to use and can be fixed by simply ironing. Our silk colours can be used for all silk painting techniques: outlining, salt dusting, watercolour on dry or damp silk, crackling wax or drawing wax batik, mahaju. They keep the silk's flexibility and offer a rich, refined, and very bright palette. 

Gutta is a thicker consistency liquid which prevents silk paint from bleeding. The gutta forms a barrier on the silk so that you can control where your paint spreads to. Water-based Guttas have a thick consistency and are ideal for drawing outlines directly from the nozzle on the tube. They penetrate perfectly through the fibres of the fabric, thus creating a barrier to the Setasilk colours which are applied afterwards. Once they are set with an iron, these Guttas are wash resistant. Gutta is available in tubes or bottles with fine nozzle tips.

Silk brushes and tools

Very soft squirrel hair brushes, with a high fluid retention capacity, are ideal for painting on silk. 
Synthetic sable hair brushes are also ideal for silk painting as they are soft and durable.
Jackson's Squirrel Mops and Goat Hake brushes are excellent for silk painting.
For backgrounds and washes, foam brushes are the most practical. The series BFB foam brush is a popular and inexpensive brush for silk painting that can also be used for a range of art and craft applications. Useful for broad even strokes and for giving a smooth flat finish, these brushes have wooden handles and are available in 4 different - sizes.

What is textile painting?

Textile Painting materials can be used for both fine art and craft applications. Textile paints are washable and can be used for painting on T-Shirts, scarves or ties as well as decorating cushion covers. Textile paints can be used on most fabrics, check on each product if you are unsure as to whether the fabric paint you are interested in is suitable for your textile painting idea. There are a number of textile painting techniques and the paint can be applied in a number of ways, diluted to create subtle hues or spray fabric paint to create interesting effects.

What do I need to get started in textile painting?

Textile colour - paint, markers
Cardboard or absorbent paper to place underneath the fabric whilst painting
Brushes and tools for the application of paint

Before working on any fabric with textile paint, particularly synthetic fibres as they have different properties, it is best to start with paint and wash tests. If the fabric contains starch, it should be washed before painting.

Textile Paint 
AV Vallejo Textile Colour is ideal for painting on cloth made of natural fibres such as cotton or linen, but excellent results can also be achieved on synthetic fabrics. To avoid painted fabric sticking to support, use cardboard or absorbent paper underneath; remove immediately after painting so that it will not stick to the fabric. All shades of AV Vallejo Textile Colour, except Phosphorescent (Glow in the Dark), can be mixed with one another and with Glitter. Adding Textile Medium to the colours reduces viscosity and renders colours more transparent. Layering colours is not recommended, because overloading the fabric may interfere with proper bonding to fabric.

Brushes and tools
Colours can be applied with brush, sponge, roller, spatula (for airbrushing dilute AV Vallejo Textile Colour with Textile Medium). Their creamy consistency is especially suitable for use with stencils, silk-screens and monoprint techniques. 

Silk White Goat Wash brush
Made from pure soft white goat hair with a silver coloured ferrule and short white handle. Ideal for laying down large washes of colour. Also great for watercolour washes.

How easy is it to clean up?
Brushes and other tools are cleaned with water and soap. Dried paint can be removed with alcohol. Stains of textile colour are difficult to remove if not washed immediately before drying; the colour is formulated for permanence even without ironing. AV Vallejo Textile Colour is non-toxic.

What other colour can I use to paint on textiles?

Colourist Heat Transfer Paints
With Colourist Heat Transfer Paints you paint onto paper and then when your painting is dry, using an iron you transfer the painting to fabric or other surfaces. The transfer paints allow you to create multi-coloured designs without specialist equipment. Using just a domestic iron you can print onto fabric, bags, Tshirts, coasters, placemats, bunting, tiles, jigsaws, Christmas decorations and many other items. You can use different painting techniques such as stamping, cut-outs and stencilling.

Marabu Textil (Metallic)
This opaque, water based fabric paint is suitable for creating metallic effects on light and dark coloured fabrics (cotton and blended woven fabrics up to max. 20% synthetic content).

Marabu Textil (Non Metallic)
All-purpose, water-based fabric paint and printing ink for light coloured fabrics. Marabu-Textil is washing machine resistant up to 60 °C; fluorescent shades up to 40 °C. The colours offer good fade-resistance, can be intermixed and diluted with water. The opacity of Marabu-Textil is very good on light coloured fabrics; for dark materials, Marabu-Textil Plus is recommended. Apart from knitted garments, Marabu-Textil is suitable for all non-finished fabrics such as cotton, linen, jute, silk and blended woven fabrics up to max. 20 % synthetic content. Marabu-Textil is easy to apply and has a particularly soft feel.

Marabu Textil Plus
Opaque, water based fabric paint especially for dark but also for light coloured, non-finished fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, jute and blended woven fabrics up to max. 20 % synthetic content. Ideal for painting and stencilling. When fixed, Textil plus is washing machine-resistant up to 40 °C. All the colours can be intermixed. For stiffer and heavier materials it is recommended to apply a thicker layer of paint.

Pentel Fabricfun Pastel Dye Sticks
Fabricfun Pastel Dye Sticks can be used to paint and decorate many kinds of fabric - they can be used to draw on t-shirts, cloth, bags or pillow cases. 

Textile markers
Marker pens that are designed to be drawn on to fabric. They can then be iron-set and then drawn lines are washable. The following marker pens are specifically for use on fabric.

AV Textile Marker Pens
The best results with an AV Textile Marker are obtained on cloth made of natural fibres such as cotton or linen, but excellent results can also be achieved on synthetic fabrics. However, due to the different properties of synthetic fibres, it is best to start with paint and wash tests. If the fabric contains starch, it should be washed before painting.

What is ceramic painting?

Ceramic is a general term that describes any object made of natural clay. The composition of the clays used, additives, firing temperature and duration, determines the type of ceramic. Ceramic, porcelain, fine china, terracotta, earthenware, pottery are examples of various types of clay objects, each with its own unique characteristics.

Ceramic painting is the decoration of ceramic objects such as pottery and figurines. Ceramic paints dry with a high gloss that matches the glazed surface of the ceramic it is designed to be used upon. Once fully dried and set they are washable. They tend to be semi-translucent.

What do I need to get started in ceramic painting?

Ceramic surface
Ceramic paints
Brushes and tools for the application of paint

Ceramic paints such as Pebeo Ceramic Paint will enable you to create decorative effects on terracotta, ceramics or pottery. They can be used on terracotta and earthenware. To maximise the brightness on porous surfaces it is recommended to apply, prior to painting, a filler undercoat. On rounded surfaces, be careful not to overload to avoid runs. Pebeo Ceramic Paint can be thinned with odourless mineral spirit or white spirit.

Ceramic colours can be applied with brush, sponge, screen, or bath. A sufficiently thick layer of colour can be combined with other materials like sand or engraved with a stick. Objects decorated with Ceramic colours are for decorative use only. 

How easy is it to clean up?
Always clean brushes thoroughly with white spirit or odourless mineral spirit, then rinse with soapy water.

What is porcelain painting?

Porcelain is a type of ceramic made with a combination of clay, kaolin, feldspar, silica, and quartz, although other materials may be added. Porcelain painting is very similar to ceramic painting, but the main difference is that porcelain is translucent, and allows light to show through it. The surface is very smooth and ideal for fine detail. 

What do I need to get started?

Porcelain surface
Porcelain paints
Brushes and tools for the application of colour

Pebeo Porcelaine Paints are easy to use and do not require the use of a kiln as they can be baked in a domestic oven. The paints are deep and glossy, and can be used transparent or opaque. They have excellent lightfastness. 

Marabu Porcelain Paints are water-based, odourless and lightfast and do not require the use of an oven to fix them. The paints are fixed when dry.

What is glass painting?

Glass Painting is the art or craft of decorating glass or clear acrylic with paint. Transparent colours can be used to decorate glass and make it look like stained glass windows. Patterns or images can be painted easily using gloss glass paint. There are both water-based glass paints and oil based glass paints available. 

What do I need to get started?

A glass painting kit is a great way to get started with glass painting. You can also get started with the following materials.

Acrylic glass sheet
Lead strips (to replicate the look of stained glass)
Glass paints
Odourless mineral spirit or white spirit

Glass paints

Pebeo Vitrail Glass Paints are solvent based, transparent, and luminous. They can be mixed together and used on surfaces such as glass, polyester, and acetate. As they are solvent based, they can be thinned with odourless mineral spirit or white spirit.

Pebeo’s Vitrail Cernes Relief Outliners allow you to imitate the look of stained glass and can be applied directly front the tube using the nozzle before applying colour.

Marabu GlasArt colours are also solvent based and have a high luminosity and brilliance. They can be applied to glass, porcelain, and acrylic and dry wipe-proof and weatherproof.

Marabu Glas is a water-based paint that allows you to paint on glass, ceramic, porcelain, or acrylic without having to fix in an oven.

Marabu Porcelain & Glas Painter marker pens can also be used without needing to be fixed in an oven. Water-based, odourless, and lightfast, the pens are available in different nib sizes and are suitable for porcelain, glass, metal, mirrors, ceramic, terracotta, and stone.

Glass painting mediums and varnishes

Pebeo Vitrail Matt Medium can be mixed with colours to obtain a matt finish and a frosted effect on glass, metal, or terracotta.

Pebeo Vitrail Sparkling Medium can also be used on glass, metal, or terracotta and can be mixed with colours to obtain bright and sparkling effects.

The universal Marabu Cleaner and Thinner is ideal for cleaning glass, porcelain, and metal. The surface is kept grease and dust-free and prepared for subsequent painting in an optimal way.

What is gilding?

Gilding is the art of applying gold or silver leaf onto a surface.  It is not gold paint but a tissue-thin layer of real metal. Gilding has traditionally been used in the background of many sacred paintings, especially during the Italian Renaissance. This technique involved extremely thin leaves of gold applied to the surface alongside egg tempera, and today it is often used to decorate frame mouldings and furniture, as well as in fine art.

What do I need to get started in gilding?

-  Bole (Ground) or genuine gesso
-  Gilder’s tip (squirrel hair flat brush)
-  Gold size 
-  Gold leaf (transfer or loose leaf)
-  Gilder’s knife
Gilder’s cushion
Soft haired mop brush such as squirrel
Shellac or varnish to seal the surface

Useful tools:

Burnishing tool such as an agate burnisher

Bole or Genuine Gesso
Gold leaf is applied over a special ground known as Bole. This ground is similar to gesso, although softer, and is made of coloured pigment, animal skin glue, and china clay or kaolin. The inclusion of the china clay or kaolin in the mix helps to create the burnished effect when the gold leaf is burnished. The bole is normally an earth colour - such as yellow ochre, raw sienna, or a colour known as soft red earth (red bole). The warm colours give warmth to the gold, although cool colours can also be used to give a ‘cooler’ effect. The ground is applied in thin layers.

Gilder’s tip
Made from a thin row of pure squirrel hair, gilders tips are for picking up and applying ‘loose’ gold leaf.

Gold size
Gold size is the adhesive used to fix the leaf to the surface. Depending on the object you want to gild, it is available as water-based or oil based size. Water-based size is used for gilding indoors, never outdoors. It is really only ideal for working on large scale surfaces such as walls or ceilings. Oil based size has various drying times and open times - it is suitable for smaller projects and higher quality work. Water size is a method that uses gelatin to adhere the leaf, it is often used for gilding glass signage from the back.

Gold leaf
Gold leaf is sold in booklets of 25 leaves, interleaved with greaseproof paper. ‘Loose’ gold leaf sits loosely within the booklet, and will disintegrate if touched with a finger so is usually lifted using a gilder's tip. ‘Transfer’ gold leaf is basically the same as loose leaf except that each leaf has been pressed onto a lightly waxed sheet of tissue paper. This means the leaf is easier to handle and can be picked up without touching the metal - it is usually used for flatter surfaces and outdoor gilding. Transfer leaf is pressed face down onto the sized surface and rubbed from behind so that the gold is released onto the surface. Loose gold leaf is more difficult to work with because a slight breeze or breath will make it float away and fold up onto itself, and it cannot be made flat again. But with skill it is what is needed to apply leaf to surfaces that are not flat, such as a carved frame moulding, where transfer leaves cannot be pressed into the valleys.

Gilder’s knife
The gilding knife is made of stainless steel and has one blunt and one sharp edge. The knife is shaped specifically for cutting loose gold leaf on a gilder’s cushion.

Gilder’s cushion
The gilding cushion is covered in leather that has been stretched over a wooden base. The cushion is packed tightly, so that the surface is firm but gentle, against which the gold can be cut with a knife. Used with loose gold leaf, the cushion usually has a wind shield that folds away.

Soft hair mop
A domed mop brush made of extremely soft natural hair (such as squirrel) is traditionally used for applying french polish and by gilders for various applications. This brush can also be used instead of a gilder’s tip to remove loose gold leaf from the booklet, and it’s also useful for tamping loose leaf into detailed mouldings or crevices.

Shellac or varnish to seal the surface
Most gilded surfaces and objects need to be sealed for protection. Genuine gold leaf 22 carats and above doesn’t need sealing, but anything lower than 22 carats can oxidise, which is why sealing is recommended. Shellac or any permanent solvent-based varnish will seal the leaf.

Burnishing tool
Agate burnishers are made from highly polished and smooth agate stone. The burnishers can be used to burnish the leaf to a brilliant finish (once the applied leaf has completely dried).

Can I paint in acrylic or oil on top of gold leaf?

A painting in transparent acrylics or oils on top of a panel covered in gold leaf, or another metal leaf, can glow with a shining light. The procedure for painting on top of gold leaf, silver leaf or copper leaf – genuine or imitation metal leaf – is not as complicated as you might think. After you have applied your gilding and let it cure you then apply one or two types of sealer and you are ready to paint.

1. Be aware that metal leaf is so thin that any texture underneath will show through, so you may wish to prepare the surface of your support to be as smooth as possible. Apply your metal leaf to your support following the directions on your bottle of acrylic gold size or oil-based gold size (that’s the adhesive). You may wish to use the transfer gold or silver leaf as opposed to the loose metal leaf because it is so much easier to work with and you don’t really need the loose leaf unless you are working on a surface with grooves or carving that you need to push it down into. Brush the excess off gently with a soft brush. Rub the gold down firmly through a piece of paper or cloth. Then let it dry thoroughly, usually about three days or the curing time listed on the bottle of gold size, before sealing it in the next step. It needs to have air reach it to finish the curing process and become hard and stable.

2. Then spray or brush on Golden MSA (Mineral Spirit Acrylic) Gloss Archival Varnish to seal and prime the metal leaf surface for the oil or acrylic paint layer. You should seal all metal leaf because it is thin, delicate and can be scratched, but some metal leaf will also tarnish if you don’t seal it. You need to choose a product to seal the tarnish-able leaf that will not itself cause tarnishing. After speaking with a technical expert and testing it ourselves we determined that the Golden MSA varnish is the correct choice for sealing metal leaf without damaging it. Using a gloss varnish allows you to retain the shine of the metal. Three coats of spray varnish or one thin coat of MSA Varnish brushed on should be enough to protect the surface from tarnishing. Read the label for the dilution instructions of the brush-on varnish.

There are two ways that the metal leaf can tarnish. Sealing with the MSA varnish prevents both kinds.

If left unsealed, some metals will tarnish over time from exposure to air while some will not.

Genuine silver leaf will tarnish
Imitation silver (aluminium) won’t tarnish (sometimes it will slowly tarnish if it is not pure   aluminium)
Genuine gold of 22ct or more will not tarnish
Genuine gold of less than 22ct (gold plus copper – or sometimes silver or another metal) will tarnish
Imitation gold (copper and zinc) will tarnish
Genuine copper and imitation copper (copper and zinc) will tarnish.

Acrylic paint and mediums contain ammonia which will tarnish any leaf containing copper. Sealing the metal with the solvent-based varnish before applying acrylics solves this problem. If you are painting in acrylics and are using one of the metals that does not tarnish (genuine gold 22-24ct and genuine or imitation silver) you can skip the varnish sealer and use the acrylic medium coat in the next step instead.

3. If you are painting over the metal leaf with oil paint you should next apply a coat of GAC 200 or another clear gloss fluid acrylic medium. This will seal the MSA varnish from any future solvent applications.

4. You are now ready to paint. Lots of artists like the look of bits of shiny metal peeking out of the paint. Remember that transparent colours will allow some of the metal leaf to shine through the colour (especially if painted on thinly or in a glaze), while opaque colours will completely cover over it, and metallic paints will be less shiny than the metal leaf.

5. If you plan on a final varnish, a gloss varnish will keep the metallic shine the best. You can use the same MSA that you primed with, it works on top of oil or acrylic.

Summary of sealing the metal leaf:

All metal leaf should be sealed before beginning your painting.
If painting in acrylic on a leaf with no copper in it (genuine gold 22-24ct, genuine or imitation silver) then you can seal it with a hard clear acrylic polymer medium in gloss.
If painting in acrylic on a leaf which contains copper, (imitation gold, genuine or imitation copper, genuine gold of less than 22ct) you need to seal with MSA varnish before painting.
If painting on top with oils you need both steps – the MSA varnish to seal the leaf and the polymer medium to seal the varnish from solvents.

Adding more gold leaf on top of paint:

Oil paint takes six months or more to completely dry, so applying metal leaf on top of oil paint is not advised because the adhesive (gold size) will prevent the oil from finishing drying and making a stable structure. It should be fine to add it on top of a very well-dried painting – dry enough that you would varnish it (this could be a year or more if it’s thick paint). Be sure to use an oil-based size and test a bit to make sure it adheres. You will need to seal the leaf each time you apply a new layer.

Adding more metal leaf on top of acrylic paint is fine, but be aware that acrylic needs a few days to cure and let all the volatiles gas-off, so don’t add size on top right away, give it a few days so you don’t seal the surface too soon. Be sure to use an acrylic-based size and test a bit to make sure it adheres. You will need to seal the leaf each time you apply a new layer.

What other forms of gold can I apply to my surface?

Gilt cream can be used to retouch damaged gilding or to gild new surfaces. Porous surfaces such as wood and plaster need to be sealed before the gilt cream is applied. It can be applied with a cotton cloth or a small brush for intricate areas.

Metallic paints

AV Liquid Metal colours are formulated with metallic pigments, soluble only in alcohol, and are absolutely durable and light fast. The 8 permanent metallic colours are suitable for fine arts, restoration, decorative arts, and hobby painting. The colours can be mixed with one another and dry almost instantly. They can be overpainted or varnished almost immediately. 

Liquid Gold contains alcohol and cannot be mixed with water - the slightest contact with water will cause the pigments to rust within the jar. Brushes should be cleaned in alcohol only.

Goldfinger is a unique product developed by Daler-Rowney. It is an all-purpose, rub-on metallic paste available in five finishes. It can be used for anything from the restoration of antiques to gilding picture frames; or for stencilling, plaster, clay or wood decoration, mouldings for imitation ormolu furniture, textiles, leather, plastics, model making, and greeting cards.

Ardenbrite Metallic Paint is a high quality, solvent-borne, metal pigmented paint. It is suitable for interior and exterior use on plaster, paper, wood, plastic, ceramic, previously painted or primed metal, previously painted, and cementitious areas. Ardenbrite Metallic Paint is also suitable for painting bridges, lifts, lamp posts and balustrading as well as domestic items such as plasterwork, radiators, doors, iron gates, railings, fencing, ironwork and metalwork. Ardenbrite also make a water-based metallic paint that is easier to use than their solvent-based paint, but is not suitable for outdoors.

Restoration of woodwork

Applying wax will nourish and protect the wood by enhancing the natural beauty whilst protecting it from dryness. It is traditionally used on antiques, but can also be used on modern furniture.

Liberon Verdigris Wax gives a green hue for oxidised copper or brass effects. This product is ideal for creating striking effects on wood, metal, gilt, plaster, stone, MDF and papier mache. 

Liberon Fine Wax Paste is lustrous and hard wearing. It polishes and helps prevent wood from drying out whilst helping to cover marks and scratches. It is safe for use on toys and is endorsed by the Guild of Master Craftsmen.

Liberon Liming Wax adds a white colour to the grain of hardwood. The wax is applied using ultra fine steel wool or a lint-free cartoon cloth to work the wax into the grain. A clean cloth is then used to remove any excess. If a water-resistant finish is required, Liberon Finishing Oil can then be applied.

Liberon Easy French Polish is ideal for use on furniture, carved woodwork etc. Easy to use, it is ideal for beginners and will beautifully enhance wood's natural finish. Easy French Polish produces great results quickly and is suitable for use on small surfaces.

Wood dyes
Approved by the Guild of Master Craftsmen, Liberon Wood Dye is a water-based dye for interior woodwork. It is suitable for use on floors, leaves the wood grain visible, and is suitable for use on both hard and soft woods. It is also EN 71 approved, so it is safe for use on toys, and it can be mixed with Liberon Natural Finish Varnishes.

Wood primer
Designed for Turner Acryl Gouache, Turner Wood Primer can be used on wood to allow the paint to adhere strongly to the surface.