August 2nd, 2011

IDAL Roundup

The International Decorative Artisans League Convention was quite a success! Attendance was somewhat low, with just over 200 artisans attending, but with a renewed interest in stencils we had a busy booth and I was thrilled that both my classes were sold out! Before too much time goes by (just where DOES that time go?) Iwanted to share a bit of the action….

Modello wall pattern stencils

In addition to my classes and booth, I was asked to do some demos on the trade show floor. I came up with a couple of new concepts that I thought would be fun to share: a crackled Greek goddess on patinated gold leaf and a colorful paisley pattern done with metallic foils. Both of these were done using some new Modello masking stencil patterns that we’ve just added.

Greek goddess stencil

Unfortunately, with all that was going on I never DID get to the large Greek panel I had planned, which will have to wait for another day, but I did manage to finish the large paisley canvas which I just love!

large wall stencil in progress

large paisley wall stencil

I am loving the large scale of this and think it would be ab fab done as a headboard or across a tri-panel floor screen, or ????

wall stencils

Walking around the trade show floor, it was very exciting to see my Royal Design Stencil and Modello masking stencil patterns used abundantly in other booths.

wall stencils

Artist David Lusk had a particularly elegant display in Golden’s Proceed booth!

rusted wall stencil

Michelle Delgado, of Wonderfaux Studios had a super cool rusted plaster sample using our Grand Damask stencil.

Modello floor stencil on concrete

icoat and modello stencil countertop

My faux buddies Krista Vind and Cindy Everett filled their The Studio Destin booth with iCoat floor and countertop finishes featuring our Modello stencil patterns and also had lots of stencil samples showing for their wall and cabinetry classes. This tabletop was a huge hit!

wall stencil sample

Besides the trade show, we were well represented in the classrooms as well! Lottie Banner and Micki Coles used a variety of Royal Design Studio stencils in their “Cracked Up” class.

If all these fabulously inspiring photos are making you sorry you missed the International Decorative Artisan’s League Convention, fear not! There is always next year…..July 2012 in Reno, NV.

Whoa! Wait!! It’s THURSDAY already?! Did anyone else just blink and find the week almost gone??? I was meaning to post this on Monday (well, longer than that actually) because this is something kind of BIG!

BHG Royal Design Stencil Cover

A few months ago, we received a request for a bunch of stencils from our Moroccan stencil collection from Better Homes and Gardens for a possible feature in their July issue. They had actually chosen stencils to use from another company already (not sure which one), but when they saw ours they decided to make a switcheroo. They “hinted” at  a possible cover shot, but couldn’t say for sure, and we waiting patiently with fingers drumming….

Wall stencil_Damask_Endless Circle Lattice Stencil

You can imagine how THRILLED we were to see our Small Chez Ali stencil used on multiple pillows on the cover, as well as some great interior shots! You can imagine that we are cutting a LOT of Endless Circle Lattice stencils these days with this beautiful blue wall stencil application to showcase it!

Allover stencil_wall stencils on fabric pillows

There is even more great stenciling shown on another page where they used our Moroccan Inlay stencil on even more stenciled pillows, and the darling Chicken Stitch stencil on some curtains. As you would expect from Better Homes and Gardens, they did a fabulous jot with the styling and photography, and we are so appreciative to see our stencils put to such gorgeous use!

Damask wall stencils_Japapanese stencil_Kyoto

More stencil excitement! Just yesterday, a friend turned my on to this “Decorating Rules You Can Break” feature on the Better Homes and Gardens website that shows our Japanese Kyoto stencil cleverly used as a feature panel between two curtains on a wall. How cool is this! A lot of times you don’t necessarily want to stencil an allover pattern “allover” and the coordinating curtains provide a nice frame. I could totally see this idea working on a bed wall, with the stencil pattern acting as a “headboard” that is softly framed by the fabric!

Damask wall stencil treatment_paisley stencil

But wait! There’s even MORE to this stencil tale!! One of the bloggers featured in the July Better Homes and Gardens article is the talented designer, Lauren Liess of PureStyleHome. While I was enjoying perusing her delightful blog yesterday, I stumbled upon a great stencil project that she did for her nursery.

wall stencil on fabric_paisley stencil as damask pattern

This clever canopy is actually a canvas dropcloth that she stenciled with our Small Indian Paisley stencil motif in a repeat pattern to create a damask effect. Notice how she repeated the same motif on the front drop of the canopy to create a stenciled border. Simply. Brilliant!

Lauren has some other smashing stenciling in her home, via a classic Ralph Lauren stencil pattern.

Isn’t this a great look?? I love the color and, even more, the fact that her sweet husband actually did the stenciling for her. Good man!!

Well, that’ s my big stencil news for this week. Pretty exciting, huh??

July 8th, 2011

Lost Art. Amazing Accent.

In the last post, I shared a beautiful example of a building facade with a sgraffito pattern. If you are familiar with the dimensional or “embossed” stencil method, it appears as if a giant stencil was placed over the side of the building and a layer of thick plaster was troweled through to create a raised image. Sgraffito is actually a process where a wet layer of plaster is placed over a contrasting color of plaster, the design is transferred, and the plaster is carved (or scratched) back to reveal the first layer in the shape of the design. You will find examples of the sgraffito method of decoration used extensively in Italy and other European cities, as well as Morocco. I have posted Italian examples of sgraffito here before, and many beautiful examples from Marrakech as well. I have even tried to reproduce the look of Sgraffito with our Modello patterns.

In Barcelona it was used quite a bit in the older Gothic Quarter.

Alas, this labor intensive means of decoration has become something of a lost art.

The common use of sgraffito may have had its last swan song at the beginning of the 20th century in the Eixample district of Barcelona, as they were constructing the beautifully detailed buildings that grace this area.

According to our guide on a recent tour there, at that time time labor was cheap and highly skilled craftsman were plentiful, so sgraffito was a “cheap” alternative to more expensive stone facades.

We can be thankful for this today, as the Modernisme movement of Catalunya has left us this gift in the city of Barcelona.

Some of the most stunning examples of Sgraffito can be found at Casa Amatllar, on the “Block of Discord”, right next to Gaudi’s Casa Batlló. This beautiful space, built by architect Puig i Cadafalch has just recently been opened to the public for tours. The photos above show just the open entrance area that anyone can walk into from the street. I unfortunately MISSED the opening time for the tour, but two of the ladies on our group were lucky enough to join a guided tour of the building and IT IS AMAZING with all the walls and ceilings FULL of decorative sgraffito (they sneaked some pics!). They will be closing it down again in a couple of months for a full renovation, but I can guarantee that this is the first place I will try to visit when I return to Barcelona!

Last image via flickr

July 6th, 2011

Looking Up in Barcelona

On my recent trip to Barcelona, I got up early one day (well, OK, 8am-which IS early when you’ve just flown intercontinental from the West Coast!) to take a nice, leisurely walk around our hotel neighborhood.

We were staying in my favorite area, the Eixample district (roughly promounced EYE-SHAM-PLA)

This well-planned area of Barcelona was constructed in the late 19th-early 20th centuries after they tore down the Roman wall surrounding the old Gothic Quarter of the city to expand westward and connect it to the outlying small towns of Gracia, Sants, and others.

Designed in a strict grid pattern by Ildefons Cerda, the blocks are actually octagonal in shape. The chamfered corners were designed to bring in more sunlight and ventilation. You REALLY notice these as you are walking, because each time you reach a “corner” you have to walk a bit more to get to the place you can actually cross the street.

The Eixample district includes some of the finest examples of Modernista architecture in Barcelona, including the major works of Antoni Gaudi, such as Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, and Casa Batlló (shown above).

But beyond that, it’s one of the most pleasant city neighborhoods you will find. This is high density living at its finest. I particularly love the rows and stacks of divinely decorative balconies….

…and the special touches and attention to detail on the facades….

…including my favorite design detail, sgraffito. You will see amazing examples of this decorative plaster technique on almost every block. This one above is one of my favorites, but I have more sgraffito to share with you when we continue our walk-in the next post!

July 5th, 2011

Painting at the Monestir

I have been super fortunate to have been given the opportunity to plan and lead painting adventures to many beautiful cities and countries of the world: France and Italy with my friend Gary Lord, and Marrakech with the help of Maryam Montague. These trips have now actually become an integral part of my business AND personal life. I love doing all the research and planning for both painting and enjoying the local culture, and most especially introducing new experiences to the students who sign on to these trips.  With the help of my friend in Barcelona, Paul Deprez, I have just returned from a 2-week stay in Barcelona and the Catalunya region.

This was my fourth visit to Barcelona, and each time my love for this city grows exponentially. So much so that I am already planning a return painting trip for September 2012! But back to THIS trip….I have so much to share, but thought I should start with the primary reason *cough* for the tour-the decorative painting classes.

The trip was planned to include a 6 night stay in the city and 6 nights in a former monestary in the hills nearby.The monestir, Sant Jeroni de la Murtra, was partially burned and sacked in the 19th century during a widespread backlash against the corruption and power of the church. It is now run by a private foundation that maintains it as a place for solitude, silence, and encourages artistic pursuits.

We were able to set up some small, low-ceilinged rooms as studio spaces to work on a range of projects. I wanted to take the opportunity to incorporate some forthcoming stencils from The Hearst Castle Collection, as these were designs created by Julia Morgan to decorate Hearst Castle in a Spanish/Mediterranean Revival style.

The Delphine Panel sample was done on smooth textured plaster background. We laid in the initial color and pattern with a simple dry-brush stencil technique. I was inspired by the amazing work of Italian artist, Carolina d’Ayala Valva, to overpaint the stenciling with washes of color to create a luminous look.

Some day, I would love to have the opportunity to study with Carolina in her Rome Atelier, but in the meantime I have her wonderful book, which I highly recommend! After painting with watered-down acrylics (as opposed to the traditional egg tempera) the painting on plaster was sanded to distress, and given a soft toning glaze.

Here is lovely Nancy showing off her own completed panel.

Another panel that I have taken from Julia Morgan’s amazing architectural drawings is the Pescado Panel. It is full of whimsical birds and fish that appear almost happy to have been caught-ha!

This panel is stenciled with three colors of our new Royal Stencil Cremes over a background of composition gold leaf. The gold leaf has been patinated and distressed with a safe chemical process that I am still perfecting-as much as you “can” perfect a chemical process! Once I have it a little more “under control”, I will surely share the details. ;)

Another project that we worked on was a faux tile mural. For this we again used upcoming Hearst Castle Collection stencils. In this case we simply used them as patterns to trace and then add loose hand painting to create the look of classic Portuguese tiles. My sample above shows the mural in various stages of  completion. I hope to finish the mural in the next couple of weeks. It was thrilling for me to have the time to actually pick up a brush and paint, as it seems my hands are most often attached to a computer keyboard these days!

This study shows the final effect of the last step-adding a China Crackle layer (from Modern Masters) and rubbing in a toning glaze to reveal the cracks and add depth and aging.

Here is a completed mural by Debbie Hayes, who was the fastest painter of the bunch of us! It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it? All of the stencils featured in the projects above will be available soon from Royal Design Studio stencils!

Another decorative style that is synonymous with Barcelona is Modernisme, the uniquely Catalunyan version of Art Nouveau. I wanted to honor that heritage, and so we also did a tecnique using metallic foils with a new Modello Marquetry Masking Pattern stencil from Modello Designs.

On our way from Barcelona to the monestir, we stopped at Espintura Studio to do an embedded tile pattern technique with SkimStone and a Modello masking pattern.

Now that I am back, I’m continuing to work on the videos and lessons for my next Virtual Workshop combining these two mediums.

I hope you enjoyed seeing our painting samples from Barcelona! As I said above, I am already planning a return trip in Sept. 2012, so drop me an email if you want to be the first to get those details when they become available!. The details on this recent trip are still available here.

 You can view more photos from the Barcelona painting class and trip in my flickr sets!

July 1st, 2011

Customer Love: Gary Lord

Having two companies can be a lot like having two children. You love each one passionately and strive to give them equal amounts of time and attention. It can be hard to maintain that balance, though, when one or the other becomes more “needy”. And so, while lately I have been focusing a lot on my “oldest” child Royal Design Studio, which sells reusable, “designer” mylar stencils since 1994, my “baby” Modello Designs (one-time-use vinyl masking stencils) has been feeling neglected and is frankly starting to get a bit jealous. And so, my darling Modello Designs, I am committing some quality time to spend with you, and promise to show you off and brag about you here once a week!

Modello stencils on cabinets

This will not be hard, as you can do amazing things! While your Royal stencil sister excels at creating beautiful repetitive pattern, YOU truly shine when it comes to creating custom-designed, custom fit patterns. Take this recent project by my good friend and Italy traveling buddy, Gary Lord, of Prismatic Painting Studio and Gary Lord Wall Options.

Gary worked with our in-house custom Modello designer extraordinaire, Michelle, to modify some of our existing designs for an amazing kitchen cabinet conversion.

Each Modello vinyl stencil pattern was designed to fit the various door panel spaces perfectly, so that Gary could simply place them and focus on his artistry rather than the frustration of trying to fit the patterns to individual spaces.

Modello cabinet stencils

Gary used an elegant trompe l’oeil painting technique that Alison Wooley shared on one of our painting trips to Italy.

furniture stencils

Using multiple values of the same color and applying some hand painted touches over a quickly stenciled base color that was applied through the Modello patterns, Gary created a kitchen masterpiece! What will our Modello customers cook up next?! Stay tuned, and see….

In the fall of 2009 I began introducing Virtual Workshops as a way to teach decorative painting techniques to students around the country (and world) through web-based methods. To date, hundreds of students have enjoyed learning new techniques such as metallic foils with Foilin’ Around, Stencil Impressions, and the popular patterned finishes for mirror and glass through a series of recorded video lessons, detailed manuals and review webinars. These have been very successful in this current economy where funds have been limited for travel to participate in hands-on studio workshops. Recently, we began production of our 4th Virtual Workshop which combines our Modello Masking Pattern stencils with one of my favorite concrete resurfacing products: SkimStone. This new workshop will be available in late summer. One series of video lessons will guide students through the process of competing a beautiful floor project from start to finish. I am joined in this video series by Katrina Johnson, technical sales director for SkimStone, and her wealth of product knowledge from her ten years with this amazingly simple yet versatile product. Would you like a sneak peek? Well…..ok….and to celebrate this upcoming workshop, we are offering super pricing on our current ones for a limited time here!

Modello stencils and SkimStone

Modello stencils and SkimStone

It was a lot of work trying to do this project and film it well at the same time, but it will be SO worth it to be able to show a major project from start to finish, in addition to the basic studio lessons and Modello finishes. I think it will really take the intimidation factor out of tackling a floor project that incorporates pattern work, as I get the opportunity to show how easy it is to make adjustments with the Modello stencils. Oh, and I love my new floor! Look for more info in this new Virtual Workshop coming soon! Meanwhile, you can check out quite a few  previous SkimStone posts here.

June 8th, 2011

Provence Plaster Finish

This year’s annual IDAL (International Decorative Artisan’s League) Convention is right around the corner. It will be held in Norfolk, VA July 20-24. I have taught there now for every year for the last 17 years. I guess you could say it’s a tradition! Last year, I taught a hands-on workshop that incorporated our Modello masking patterns and Royal Design Studio stencils with plasters from the Vella Venetian plaster system. My absolute favorite finish of the five that I taught was a distressed Provence plaster finish in French red and blue colors. In case you missed it, which I KNOW you did, the step-by-step outline of my Provence Plaster finish  featured at today’s edition of Artisphere Online-with photos!  

The Artisphere Online, the official publication of the International Decorative Artisan’s League, is a relatively new digital magazine that has just gone to a daily (Mon-Fri) format. Each week there will be a feature article, an IDAL Update, a blog report, a featured product, and a step-by-step tutorial, so you will want to sign up for the feed so you don’t miss anything! ;) You don’t have to be a member to enjoy the magazine, but we would sure like to welcome you to “the family” if you’re so inclined to join!

Speaking of THIS year’s convention, I believe that there are just a couple of spots open in my hands-on class Shining Up Your Portfolio, where I will focus on metallic finishes with stencils and Modello patterns.

I will also be joined by the lovely Helen Morris, of The Stencil Library once again to reprise our lecture/demo from last year, Double Vision. I wrote about this last year, and am looking forward to working with Helen to show you all the ins and outs of the amazing stencil. Hope to see you there!

Regina Garay, of the awesome Fauxology blog, posts daily about all things related to decorative art and inspiration. One of her regular features is “Fauxcus on the Pros“, and I am proud to now be included on that list with a two-part post that ran yesterday and today.


One of the questions that Regina posed to me related to how I got started in this business *cough* 20-something-something years ago. That led ME on a mind trip down memory lane.


One of the things I share there is what an influence the book, The Art of Decorative Stenciling by Adele Bishop and Cile Lord, had on igniting the interest passion that I have had for stencils for the better part of my life now.

This book by these two women literally put modern American stenciling on the map in 1976 (coinciding with the bicentennial), and their commercial work in the 60′s and early 70′s elevated stenciling to an artform that is rarely matched to this day.


As I spoke of in the Fauxology profile, it’s sad that their body of work occurred before the digital age and so little is known of them or can be found through normal online channels.


The book, however, remains-though out of print. I suggest you snatch one today on Amazon!

Every year for the last 3 years I have had the great fortune to lead a different group of “Peacock Painters” on an amazing journey of art, culture, and discovery to one of my favorite places in the world: Marrakech. Each trip has been unique in the projects that we have done with Maryam (of My Marrakesh) at the increasingly lovely Peacock Pavilions. On our first trip in 2008, this chic boutique hotel was still a major construction site, but we were able to stencil some amazing graphic ceilings and henna-inspired stair risers. In 2009, we returned as Maryam and her family had just moved in to the main house there-with much work still to be done. This trip featured stenciled floors, more stair risers, and a dramatic, Art Deco-inspired mural. In 2010, we inaugurated the hotel as its first guests while we stenciled a beautiful entertainment tent there. As many projects as we have done to floors, walls, ceilings, fabric and stair risers, there are still spaces that are calling for an artistic touch.


And so, I am happy to announce that in October 2011, we will return to make more magic and more memories! And the memories ARE magical. In order to prepare for planning this upcoming trip, I spent a couple of days reliving our past journeys. Each person, each group, each project lives happily in my heart. I wanted to honor that with a special video that (I hope) captures the mystique and the joy that these trips have brought to me and all who have joined me….

Would you like to join me in Marrakech as well?? You can find more trip information here, and download a pdf with all the juicy details here. Space is limited, so don’t delay, OK? See you in Morocco!!