Tortoiseshell Finish

Natural tortoiseshell is actually made from the shells of turtles. It has been used for years to craft small personal items such as hair ornaments, decorative boxes, combs, and other beautiful items. You rarely see real tortoiseshell being used today, although you will certainly find plenty of plastic reproductions. The beautiful finish of tortoiseshell can be easily created using simple faux finish painting techniques.

Step 1: Choose Your Paints

In order to create a realistic tortoiseshell finish, you will need gold enamel paint, plus artists’ oil paints in burnt sienna, burnt umber, yellow ochre, and Naples yellow. If you wish to create a richer effect, you can also use a deep, rich red as a basecoat.

Step 2: Assemble Your Other Painting Supplies

You will also need turpentine, containers to mix the paints, two regular household paintbrushes, and varnish suitable for use over oil paints. The size of the brushes will be dependent on the size of the surface you are painting. You will need one larger and one smaller brush. For example, if your smaller brush is 2 inches wide, then your wider brush should be about 3 or 4 inches wide.

Step 3: Apply the Base Coats

To begin creating your tortoiseshell finish, apply a coat of gold enamel over the entire surface, and let dry completely. Thin some of the yellow ochre paint with turpentine until it reaches the consistency of thin cream. Apply a thin coat of this color over the entire surface. If you wish to create a richer tortoiseshell finish, you can substitute a deep rich red color for the yellow.

Step 4: Apply the Faux Finish

Mix the burnt sienna paint with turpentine until it is the consistency of thick cream. Working in a diagonal direction, apply dashes of this color over the wet yellow paint. These dashes should be spaced at a distance which is approximately the same as the width of the brush you are using. In a separate container, mix the Naples yellow paint with turpentine until it is reaches a creamy thick consistency. Using a clean brush, apply dashes of this color between the dashes previously made with the burnt sienna color.

Step 5: Blend the Colors

Using the wider brush, blend the colors together softly by brushing in the same diagonal direction that you applied the dashes of paint. You’ll want to simulate the texture of tortoiseshell, so don’t blend them too much – just enough to create a nice mottled effect.

Step 6: Topcoat with Burnt Umber

To tie the look together, mix the burnt umber paint in a separate container with turpentine until you get the consistency of thick cream. Clean the smaller brush and use it to make small diagonal dashes on the surface, again simulating tortoiseshell. You can also flick the brush towards the surface to create small splatters of burnt umber. Once the dashes and splatters are applied, soften the effect by brushing the entire area in the same diagonal direction with a clean wide brush.

Step 7: Varnish

When dry, topcoat with vanish to protect the surface and add luster and beauty.

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