A wall doesn't have to be ordinary. It can look like a marble masterpiece or feature something whimsical like a couple of lizards clinging to its surface. When it comes to off-the-wall ideas, look to decorative painting - a broad category that includes everything from stenciling and sponging to hand-painting realistic, three-dimensional images.
From the brick facades of office buildings in Manhattan to painted armoires in homes, decorative painting is becoming the fashion. Since the time of cavemen, people have decorated their environments with wall paintings. Decorative painting, however, is not limited to walls; any surface can be painted. Various techniques and paints can be used on valences, floor cloths, furniture, ceilings and even kitchen cabinets.
Decorative painting has a long history in Europe, where it initially entailed painting marble and wood-grain patterns on furniture and other interior furnishings. The field expanded to include ideas such as the painting of cracks and imperfections in the finish, to give the object a genuinely timeworn look.
A decorative painter need only learn several basic strokes and can then combine them to draw pictures on small articles, such as picture frames and jewelry boxes, as well as on furniture and walls.
Amateurs and professionals alike are sponging, glazing, color washing and stenciling to add drama and individuality to homes. Decorative painting is a great alternative to using paint the traditional way or trying to coordinate wallpaper with your decor.
Instead of wasting time shopping for wallpaper, create your own. Embellish your walls with stamps, stencils, hand-painted details or trompe l'oeil (French for "fool the eye") in the colors of your choice. Trompe l'oeil is a realistic rendering of objects so that they appear to be three-dimensional.
Many old-world techniques can be used to recreate these looks in 20th century homes. By using large-scale stencils you can achieve a Baroque or English parlor look. As a matter of fact, you can use paint to create any atmosphere you desire -- from traditional to fantasy.
Do-it-yourselfers can use paint to give unfinished furniture a marble finish or a new-classical look. And flowers would really spruce up an old bureau.
If you need help, turn to one of the many books that explain the techniques of decorative painting. Don't be afraid to try simple methods such as sponging or ragging in one or two colors. When you feel more confident, you can go on to bigger and more complex projects.
Many craft stores have stencils and block prints with easy-to-follow directions. They produce excellent effects and can be used over a textured wall or on their own.