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Ornamental Frieze – A How To

Grand Illusion Decorative Painting was commissioned to create a trompe l’oeil ornamental frieze in a West Palm Beach dining room. The client had reclaimed 18th-century wooden panels from a French Bistro and wanted a frieze to compliment the tone and style of the panels. So the GIDP team headed to Florida to recreate old-world France. Pierre Finkelstein of Grand Illusion Decorative Painting shows you how he created this finish.


Use our step-by-step instruction below


Here is a list of the tools & supplies you will need to achieve this technique.  Supplies available at are linked below and listed at the bottom of the page.



STEP 1 – CONSTRUCTION OF EASEL:  GIDP usually paints large projects in the NYC studio on canvas and then installs them onsite. But this job required the frieze to be created onsite. A long easel was built to support the long rectangular canvas. An easel was constructed using 4×8’ plywood, cut in three strips creating an 18-foot long panel to work on that was 1.5 feet tall. Two 8ft long 2×4’s were cut accordingly to prop up the panels for stability. Next, the canvas was stretched across the board. The canvas was about 15 inches in height but over 15 feet long.



STEP 2 – TRANSFER DESIGN:  In order to start the process of transfer, the design was first drawn on tracing paper. Holes were punched following the lines of the design using a needle, with a technique called pouncing. This allows for the drawing to be transferred onto the canvas in an efficient manner.  The design was repeated by flipping the pattern to continue in both directions.



STEP 3 – MIX ALL COLORS:  Trompe l’oeil uses many color values to create highlights and shadows. To prepare for the application, all colors should be planned and mixed from your sample. A sample was previously made to try out the colors and create the trompe l’oeil. Eight colors were chosen for the design. The colors and techniques from the sample are listed below.

A semi-transparent medium green Acrylic Color was used. The design was followed to create dimension.

Other shades of green – darker and warmer tones – were added to create the foliage. These were added using a dry brush technique to create dimension to the design without worrying about dry time.

Warm pink tones were then faded into the green using thin brush strokes. Fast drying Acrylic Colors were used. It was important to overlap, not blend the colors, to give the impression of one color moving into the next.

Darker shades of pink were added to create shadows.

Darker tones also helped achieve additional depth.



STEP 4 – CREATING THE FRIEZE:  With the palette and techniques determined, work was started on the installation.  Light transparent green mixed with a medium green  Acrylic Colors were used with a wet-on-dry brush technique

The result gave the impression of fading colors.

An assembly line approach was used painting green tones one at a time where needed throughout the entire motif. This system improves job efficiency as the color is on the brush and can be painted throughout the entire panel. Please note the color testing side on the left side of the image.

After green was used, pink was introduced.

Details of fruit were added next. Here cherries are added.

Pink was faded into the other colors by overlapping it with the same wet-on-dry brush technique.

Painting continued until the frieze was complete.  It was most important to be efficient in technique and staying organized.  A slow-drying Glazing Medium was mixed 1:1 with half Matte Medium which allowed for it to cure quickly and then be glazed.



STEP 5 – AGING THE FRIEZE:  After painting, the frieze was faux-aged. This was accomplished using a slow-drying Acrylic Color mixed with a 1:1 ratio with Matte Medium (equal proportions of each medium). The mixture of raw umber and raw sienna was then applied over the entire surface with a Glazing Brush. The mixture was applied heavily and then sponged off with a Sea Sponge to create a mottled texture.

Spots of paint were added using a Spattering Brush and a Palette Knife.

A Tooth Spalter was then used to add fine striations to make the frieze look like an old, brittle canvas.

A brushed crackle effect was added by using a very thin long hair Detailing Brush and a Liner Brush.

It was more efficient to paint the crackle instead of using a crackle product due to the quicker drying time and increase in design control. In order to paint cracks, it is important to take the time to study how to paint cracks.

The project was then lightly sanded to complete the aging process.



STEP 6 – CREATING ADDITIONAL ORNAMENTS: A panel was requested for over the door and was created in a similar manner as the frieze. Using elements from the rest of the room, a shield was designed surrounded by a scroll on either side. To stay with the original motif, green and a semi-transparent cream Acrylic Colors were used. The entire design was pounced on the canvas.

Sixteen colors were used in the shield panel and were numbered on the canvas (literally paint by numbers). All colors were premixed and painting commenced.  Ochre (as a medium value) provided the basecoat. 4 main colors were used: green, ochre, red, yellow. Each color has 2 darker value (shadow accent), 1 lighter value (highlight).

Yellow and dark sepia were added for the crest.

Shadows (half tones) on are added to red only.

Shadows and highlights were then added to red only.  For efficiency, one color was loaded at a time and painted across the entire panel before another color was selected.

Add highlights and shadows to the green section. Red and Green sections are now complete

Add highlights and shadows to the ochre colors. Bright yellow was used to resemble gold. 

Lemons were added and shaded.

At this point, the ornaments were completed except for the crest. To personalize the work and make the client very happy, the client’s dog was immortalized in the crest. A drawing of the dog was transferred in the center of the crest using pictures of the dog. Chalk was rubbed over the back of the picture and then transferred to the panel by drawing over it with a pencil. The triangle cuts were used to make sure the design was centered.

The dog was painted in light-colored sepia tone with Acrylic Colors. Once dry the chalk was wiped off it left a negative outline on the basecoat.  Additional detail was added with the base color.

A Liner Brush was used to add in hairline cracks.

The panel was aged using a heavy glaze brushed on and sponged off and a strie layer was added with a spalter.

Detail of the crest


STEP 7 – INSTALL ON SITE: Completed panel before installation. The panel was installed by the GIDP crew onsite.



STEP 8 – PROPER PROTECTION:  Apply Varnish in the desired sheen to protect the finish.


Installed panel above the door

Here you can see the 18th-century panels and the newly matching frieze painted by GIDP that was installed above them.