To Paint or Not to Paint?

Blog entry by Chris Mobley posted 03-01-2013 02:49 PM 10389 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

To paint or not to paint? This is the question. I have recently come across several debates on the topic of painting or staining intarsia work to achieve the different colors in a piece. I have even asked a group of my peers how they felt about the topic and I have gained some great knowledge.

There is absolutely something to be said about using natural wood and natural wood grains to create a piece. In fact, in most cases this is my favorite way of doing my woodworking projects.

In the elephant piece that is currently in our inventory , the use of cedar, pine, and walnut working together to create the different dimensions is perfect. I would never paint a piece such as this. I feel that painting it would ruin the feeling of the design and throw off the beauty in the image.

Again in this western cross design, the use of ash, blood wood, and mesquite make the piece what it is. The three woods working together give the piece a feeling that could not be duplicated with paints or stains.

Sometimes you just cannot achieve the look that you desire from natural wood colors and grains without some help. Staining is often used to gain a certain look or to alter the appearance of the natural wood. I have used stain in the past as shadowing by taking a Q-Tip and lightly brushing areas of a project to get a shadow effect. In Kathy Wise’s Q and A section of her website, she gives good examples of the reasons why she will sometimes use paints or stains for assistance in creating a piece. http://www.kathywise.com/QandA2.html

I have also done a whole piece in natural wood and then painted just one aspect of the piece to make it pop or give it a specific look. In this Marine Corps emblem , I painted the earth, but left everything else natural wood. This makes the earth pop against the natural wood background.

There is also the technique of taking paint and watering it down so that you can see natural wood grain through the paint. I actually used this technique on the bulldog project. The natural wood could not give me the white I was looking for, so I took a small amount of white paint and watered it down and gave the wood a “wash” to achieve the white color I was looking for.

Finally, the painting technique where the entire piece is cut from one piece of wood and is painted to accomplish a preferred look, this is also a technique that I use. This is actually not called intarsia when the whole piece is painted. This technique is actually called segmentation. I think a lot of people call this intarsia including myself at times because the term Intarsia is more widely known and it is easier to get the idea across of what you are talking about. Some intarsia enthusiast will often get offended if you call this style intarsia. I normally use this method on custom projects where the customer specifically wants a certain appearance or if painting is the only way to gain the impression that I want. The first time that I ever painted on of my pieces was because my wife enjoys painting, and it was a way of completing a project together. I liked how the piece turned out, and we continue creating pieces together.

On the Boss truck and on the Chevy truck projects that I have recently done. I used paint to achieve the colors I desired. Sure, I could have used canary wood for the yellow in the Boss truck project or blood wood in the Chevy truck project, but this is would not have given me the appearance that I was after.

Regardless of your feelings about the different techniques in these types of woodworking, it is all beautiful to me. My philosophy is to take one project at a time and just do what feels right for that specific project. Art should not be defined on what is right and what is wrong but more on how the piece makes you feel.

The bottom line is there really is not a “right” answer to the question. As a woodworker I take pride in my pieces, I strive to be different, and to do what I love.

I am curious about your feedback on this topic. Your comments here and on my website http://www.cmobleydesigns.com is appreciated.

-- Chris Mobley - www.cmobleydesigns.com

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Chris Mobley

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6 comments so far

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Dan Lyke

331 posts in 5533 days

posted 03-03-2013 12:05 AM

I’ll bite: First, this probably should have gone over on Lumberjocks, though maybe you meant to put it there and…

But… in developing any product, I think it’s important to consider who the audience is. Does the audience appreciate the work? Does it bring them value?

Personally, I like exposed wood grain, and prefer natural colors in that grain, so if I’m making things for me I’ll tend that direction. I am getting a little better about accepting stains and dyes, but if I have the option of “paint” or “not paint”, I’ll take the wood.

But I also freely admit that I am not a market sample. I also, for instance, prefer a very white wall, and add accent and color with pictures and other wall hangings. Others paint their walls, and like off-whites.

I’m also practical: it happens that my house faces north, in shadow, so I have a bunch of exterior oiled wood out there, but the south facing back of the house is all painted, and the rear entrance door is hollow fiberglass because it’s durable and cheap and under a couple of layers of house paint who the hell can tell anyway?

So if you’re making it for me: Don’t paint it, and be gentle on the stains and dyes. But I’m the sort of person who sees things and thinks “I wonder if I can make that”, not “I’d like to buy that”, so I wouldn’t give that opinion too much weight…

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California, http://www.flutterby.net/

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628 posts in 5547 days

posted 03-03-2013 09:33 AM

I, too, am a “keep it natural” kind of person.

Dan, I like your “natural in the shadows” and “paint in the sun” for the house. Never would have thought of that.

I bet the people at LumberJocks would LOVE to see these creations AND jump in on the discussion.

-- ~ Debbie, Ontario Canada

View GaryL's profile


206 posts in 4560 days

posted 03-03-2013 07:26 PM

I would be in the natural camp also. The most impressive intarsia work that has amazed me was accomplished with different tones of different species. I know this is tougher because of the vast amounts of different wood species you would need on hand to accomplish that.
I do like the bulldog though, but the eyes need something. They look a little lifeless. Maybe a small maple or aspen dot for a twinkle.
No offense intended…..

-- The difference between a pro and an amateur, an amateur points out his mistakes

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Chris Mobley

32 posts in 3757 days

posted 03-04-2013 01:14 PM

Thank you for your comments. Your opinions are appreciated.
Dan, I did mean to post this here on this site. I am a very active member of Lumberjocks.com and post there on almost a daily basis. From time to time, I will also post here as well. I was encouraged to do so by a friend who said that they enjoyed reading my post and figured the rest of the active members on this site might as well.
Gary, as always your opinion is valued. I agree with you that the eyes may not be as full of life as they could be. I actually followed someone elses plattern on this one and did not alter it at all. I used this pattern from Kathy Wise. Typically what I will do when making something from a pattern and not custom, the first one I will make exactly like the pattern calls for and then take a step back and say “How can I make this better” then on my next time I make it, I will change some things to make it better than the first.
Thank you for reading my post and taking the time to leave me a comment.

-- Chris Mobley - www.cmobleydesigns.com

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posted 04-01-2018 03:41 PM

this post is really awesome

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View jstatham027's profile


22 posts in 478 days

posted 02-04-2022 04:43 PM

For kitchens, the best way to enliven the walls is to use kitchen wall decor and wallpaper that match and complement each other. wallpaper Paint and wallpaper are two of the easiest and least expensive ways that you can totally change the look of a room.

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