How to create a Ornamental Frieze by Pierre Finkelstein

Painting this ornamental frieze was a little different then most because we went into it not knowing exactly what we were painting. Once we got on location we need to build a long easel which you see in the picture below.
The easel was constructed using 4×8 plywood. cut in 3 strips creating a 18’ long panel to work on that was 1 1/2’ tall. We then used (2) 2×4’s (8’) long cut accordingly to prop up the panels with a slant cut on the foot for stability. Doing it this way allowed us to be efficient and it was also cost effective with all the wood costing somewhere around $70.00. Next I stretched my canvas across the board to create an atmosphere not much different from an assembly line to paint the frieze on. To make the situation even more cost effective the canvas we used was leftover from past jobs (which I typically hold on to). The canvas being about 15” in height.

I then created the design on tracing paper and punch holes following the lines of the design using a needle. This allows me to pounce on top of the drawing transferring it onto the canvas.
Needle holes and pounced
To repeat design I use the center design flipping for either side to have it continue in both directions. Again I can not stress enough how time efficient this is when doing a long motif like this.

First thing is to make a sample to try out the colors and work in an effective way of doing the Trompe L’Oeil. Using a semi transparent Medium green my brush strokes follow the design (this is important).
This creates dimension by the way you brush moves along the design.

Adding other values of green, darker and warmer tones I begin to shape the foliage using a dry brush technique overlapping the tones. This dry brush technique gives you much freedom as you don’t have to worry about dry time at all and at the same time it creates a very interesting sense of dimension to the design.

Using warm pinks I fade it into the green using thin brush strokes.  Dry again.
In this I Used fast drying acrylics; matte fluid acrylics by Golden.
Again not blending, just overlapping, giving the impression of one color moving into the next.

Here we have darker values of pink, creating shadows.

Same thing here with even darker tonality.

This is a sample figuring out a system to use.
Here we have the 8 colors that are being used in this design.
Before starting a piece I like to try colors out and create my panel first. For example in this project I spent three hours just getting my palette created and coming up with the system and techniques I would later use to create it. This time is worth it and I highly recommend spending time doing this, then when you do 20’ worth it is easy and quick because it is already figured out beforehand. Once I start the project I am now able to listen to some music and just concentrate on my brushstrokes.

Here we are actually doing the work on the piece that is to be installed.
I am adding a light transparent green with medium green starting at tip moving towards the center again with a wet on dry brush technique, using a point sable to do so. I worked this out previously in my sample.

Here is the result of wet on dry brushing giving it the impression of fading colors.

Please notice the color testing side.
A repetitive manner of painting is used here. Again an assembly line approach is used doing the green tones one at a time where it is needed throughout the whole motif. This system is used to move faster as I already have the color on my brush and can just concentrate on this throughout the whole panel using only one color.

Here you see I finished the base of the greens and now I am starting with pink.

Here I add pink fading it into other color by overlapping it with the same wet on dry brush technique.

Starting to add details of fruit
Adding cherries.


Frieze is complete and you can see the development of it.
Notice sample hanging and color chart in this picture.

Key is being efficient, going at it using technique and being organized
Using slow drying glaze (proceed) mixed with half matte medium from golden giving us a 15 min open time. This always it to Cure quickly so I can over glaze it.

Painting is done and the aging process is next.
Using a Proceed slow Drying Acrylic with 50 percent matte medium, Raw Umber and Raw Sienna I apply over the entire surface with a glazing brush heavily then sponge off the surface to create the modeled texture.

With tooth spatter I give it a fine strie to make it look like an old brittle canvas.

Using a very thin long hair brush and a Samina liner I paint the crackle.
More efficient to paint instead of using crackle due to quick dry and control of design. This is not difficult but I recommend you to really take the time and study how paint cracks. Once done you can see the horizontal and vertical lines and how they connect. In a short time you should pick it up and create it quickly with ease.

Light sanding completes the aging process.

Here is the room with 18th century panels from France brought to NY and now in FL
Baseboards were missing (we marbleized them, look for that in our next “How to”)
Crown was repainted in areas and wood grained.  Tons of touch-ups and all gilding was redone.

These strips had to match existing work and style of artist who did it 2 ½ centuries ago.
It tends to be naive but necessary to match other artist style.

I also needed to create a panel for over the door, creating it in the same manner of style as the rest of the room.

I designed a shield surrounded by a scroll on either side so it will fit in the existing space.

I am able to steal certain elements from the room to create this design

Notice the canvas was based a medium green and over painted with a semi-transparent cream color.

By scraping the original 18th century work, I saw the green underneath remaining in a transparent value to keep constant with original work.

The entire design is pounced to create design instead of tracing.

Using a set of tonality that I mixed(paint by numbers) I created enough to go around.
I created 4 colors: green, ochre, red, yellow
Each color has 2 darker value (shadow accent), 1 lighter value (highlight)
Main color is the medium

Creating 16 colors
Now when I paint I can concentrate on my brush strokes because all main colors are premixed.
This takes away any guesswork and again I can concentrate on painting and the Tromp L’Oeil.

  • Ochre (medium values) (basecoat)

    Putting the red value in.

    Applied yellow and dark sepia for the crest

    Go back to each value adding shadows and highlights

    Shadows (half tones) on red only.

    Highlight for red only
    Because brush is loaded with one color stick with that throughout not being concerned with other colors, again being efficient

    See how colors are being mixed on a small palette, notice the palette cup so I can constantly paint with it in my arm and move around quickly carrying all my tools; water and paint on left hand which keeps me moving from one end to the other even on the scaffold (no more paper plates d**m it!).
    You can see how the Ochre is next (see green and red are done already)
    Because it is small I do on a palette, not in premixed cups which is how I typically work when doing a larger project.

    Green is complete and red is complete

    Ochre is done
    It is to look like gold using bright yellows to give this resemblance

    Working in lemons you can see they are being shaded

    Completed all ornamentation except the crest

    As a way to personalize my work and to make the client very happy (very, very happy) we decided to paint her dog in the crest to immortalize the dog. Client’s dog is transferred in center of crest using a print from pictures I took of dog
    This is done using chalk smeared on back of print. And transferring it through by drawing over the print with a 5H pencil.

    Notice triangle cuts—these are registration marks to make sure the design is centered.

    Painting the dog in light colored sepia leaving out the pencil mark.
    Once dry I wipe off chalk leaving a negative outline (basecoat)

    I go back with the base color and re-detail those lines giving it some movement

    Using a trimmed down long hair Samina liner I paint the cracks

    See hairline cracks
    Remember this is a network of vertical and horizontal lines tied together with smaller cob-webbish cracks. A careful study of existing of crackle on old paintings will instruct you on the pattern.

    Aging the pediment using a heavy glaze brushed on and sponged off and stried with a spalter.(see other)

    Good detail shots

    Detail of crest with dog
    Notice crackle line reads well over dark tone by using a lighter tonality of cracks.

    Completed step before installation

    Installed above door to go with room

    For any information of the tools used in this project please feel free to go to my website at or

    Also check in with us and register online to be emailed my new “the brush tip” which is a monthly newsletter loaded with tricks of the trade and step by steps to make you more efficient. I hope you enjoyed this as there will be a few more to come and thanks to Pat that took time to load it all up.

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