Vinegar Painting

By Sal Marino

NOTE: If you are not familiar with faux type painting, I suggest you first read the article I have on marbleizing back on my homepage. This will give you a basic idea of the purpose for base coats along with using the proper color or combinations of colors for both your base coat and faux coat.

Vinegar Painting has been around for over 100 years. Initially it was used to reproduce the look of exotic wood grain patterns on interior house trim and furnishings. The main ingredients that made up the paint formula was water, sugar, vinegar and some finely ground powdered pigment. Because this paint contained no resins, it was not self sealing, therefore a coat of varnish had to be applied over the paint to seal it. The lack of resin in this paint can also be an advantage to the novice. You see, if you do not like the results after the paint has dried, (but before the varnish has been applied) you can wash it all off with water.

The Process:

First, you must prepare the surface as necessary. This could be by stripping, sanding cleaning etc. If the surface is porous, the next step is to apply either a sealer or primer. I prefer using oil based enamels for this. Let the sealer/primer coat dry very well, at least overnight. Now, apply the base coat color. This should also be an oil based enamel. It may take more than one coat to sufficiently cover the primer. If a second coat is needed, let the first, dry at least overnight, and apply second coat. Let this coat dry very well, at least 24 hours or according to manufacture’s directions. It’s best to wait longer.

Mixing the vinegar paint.

Mix together 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1/2 cup of water, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Mix until the sugar has dissolved. Now add your pigments to a separate, clean container. You can use either tempera or another type of finely ground pigment. These are available at art supply stores or through really good paint and woodfinishing supply companies. If you are not sure, tell the person in the art supply store what you are planning to use the pigment for and he/she may provide you with the proper substitute. Start out with a small amount or combinations of small amounts of dry pigment. You will have to experiment in order to achieve the color you want. Next, add just enough of the vinegar mixture you made to wet the pigment and make it a paste. Stir well until the whole mixture is smooth and not lumpy, then add a little more vinegar mixture and stir once more. Continue to slowly add vinegar mixture and stir until you obtain a syrup consistency. Next, cap the container and put aside.

Applying the paint.

The type of faux effect you wish to reproduce, naturally will depend upon what type of application methods and applicators you will need to use. I believe vinegar painting is not a good choice for marbleizing, but a better choice for graining. Wood grain patterns can be reproduced using many methods and tools such as using a graining comb, graining roller, fine bristle brushes, crumbled up rags or paper towel, the use of lacquering, artist’s, stenciling, stippling and feathering brushes. Regardless of what tools or methods you choose, you will have anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes before the paint dries. It’s best to work on small areas. If the paint dries before you finish, wipe it off with a damp cloth or sponge and apply another coat. You may also use a damp cotton swab to clean up any small splashes of paint. To achieve interesting effects, you may apply multiple coats of different colored vinegar paints on top of each other and also use different grain patterns. Please experiment with this on scrap before doing it on your good piece.


After the painting is done, wait at least three to five days before you apply the varnish. You may use either varnish or polyurethane. My favorite choice is a satin oil based polyurethane called Wood-Glo which can be purchased from Constantine’s, see source below.




Leather.gif (9489 bytes)

Return to Table of Contents   CLICK HERE

  home1.gif (9977 bytes)

Return To Sal Marino's Homepage