Introduction: Creating a Weathered Bronze Faux Finish

About: I'm an out-sourced engineer, former professional brewer, retired photographer, and above all a life long tinkerer who loves to make stuff. My latest gig was being the Resident Maker at the Perot Museum of Natu…

For the last few years, I’ve tried to make the Christmas gifts I give to family and friends. As a self-proclaimed maker, I somehow see it as my duty, as a maker, to “make” stuff. What better venue to ply my trade than Christmas gifts!

This year I wanted a special gift for a family member who collects Santa Clauses. I had recently tried my hand at faux finishing by making a Cthulhu statue (of H. P. Lovecraft fame) for my son. The piece turned out so well I decided to replicate the process for ole’ St. Nick.

Below is a process I’ve created that is inexpensive, easy to do and most importantly very realistic, at least in my humble opinion. Being an engineer and not an artist, I looked at the situation a little more pragmatically. I realized my limitations (remember, not an artist…) and relied on my skills – research and technology, and the engineering motto, K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid).

I combined standard off the shelf faux finish products to keep it simple with regular paints to take the finish to the next level and make it more believable.

Step 1: What to Faux?

For me this was simple. I had a specific, small object that realistically could be created as a bronze or metal statue. Picking what to faux is just as important as how you faux. To create a realistic faux finish, the object created should conceivably have been made with the chosen material you’re trying to replicate with the faux finish. For example, while a coffee cup could be cast in bronze, you’re much more likely to make it from ceramics, so a weathered bronze coffee cup isn’t quite a believable as a weathered bronze figurine.

Step 2: Gather Your Materials

For this project, I wanted to use common finishes and products that were inexpensive and easily obtained at your favorite hobby store or on line. Here’s a list of things I used:

- Santa Claus statue – 3D printed

(I stretched the figure vertically in the slicer program before printing.)

- Modern Masters Metal Effects Blue Patina kit

- DecoArt Americana Acrylic paint - Hauser Medium Green

- DecoArt Metallics Acrylic paint - Worn Penny

- Folkart Brushed Metal Acrylic paint - Brushed Bronze

- Rub’n Buff Spanish Copper

- Rub’n Buff Grecian Gold

- Krylon Gray Primer Spray Paint

- Krylon Satin Leather Brown Spray Paint

- Small paint brushes, rubber gloves, paper towels, cotton rag, something to protect your work surface

Step 3: Prep Your Part

The Santa Claus figure I wanted to use was a digital model I 3D printed. I printed it on a high quality setting, small layer height and slower speeds, to get the best quality as possible. Unfortunately most 3D printed objects can look 3D printed no matter what you do – it’s just the nature of the beast. There are several products out there you can use to coat the surface to reduce the look of the layered surface, but keeping to the motto (K.I.S.S.) I opted for a couple coats of spray gray primer and brown paint. It wasn’t perfect, but it did fill in most of layer texture without losing detail or distracting from the finished product.

Extra Tip: I keep large pizza boxes (that are relatively clean) to use as mini-paint booths when painting small parts. They are free and disposable, or preferably recyclable.

Step 4: Primed and Ready

Apply the brown Metal Effects Primer to the part. This gives it a base color but also acts an acidic blocker to the part. Once dry, add a second coat to build up a good base.

Step 5: First Coat or "Get Your Metal On!"

When the primer is dry, apply the Metal Effects bronze paint. Be sure and shake the bottle well to distribute the metal particles. The first coat will seem a bit thin, that’s ok; just apply it as evenly as possible. Let this dry.

Step 6: Making the World Better Through Chemistry

Now we’re ready to add the aging effects. For the Modern Masters Metal Effects, you add a second coat of the bronze paint, and while it’s still wet add the acidic activator creating the patina finish. The wet paint allows the activator to penetrate as much of the metallic particles in the paint as possible, maximizing the effect.

I chose to drip the activator onto the Santa instead of spraying it as recommended. I didn’t want a uniform finish, but instead wanted it to look well handled and weather worn. You can use a brush or cotton swab to apply it. Let it drip naturally down the features of your piece. It will take a few minutes for the reaction to be noticeable. If too much accumulates in an area, you can just swab it away while it's wet. Be careful to not rub the piece when applying the activator as the second coat of bronze paint you applied is still wet and will rub off. After an hour most of the patina will have formed. As it dries, the effect will get brighter. (The photos show the progression of the reaction.)

Step 7: Making Chemistry Better Through Art

You should have a nice faux finish at this point. You can always add more bronze paint and activator to add to the effect if it's not to your liking. At this point, I wanted to take the process further and refine the piece. The activator I used created a blue patina which I thought was a bit too bright for the look I was going for.

I decided to apply a green “wash” to enhance the patina, add depth and tone down that blue color! A wash is simply a watered down layer of paint applied to the piece. The Hauser Medium Green most resembled green patina to me. I applied the paint with a water saturated brush. Use small amounts of paint applied basically where ever the blue patina had formed. If you apply a bit too much paint, just wet your brush and dilute the area of paint spreading it out and watering it down.

The other effect the green wash has is to dull down the colors making a more natural appearance. I also lightly applied the Worn Penny metallic paint in a very diluted wash focusing on high points like Santa’s nose, beard and arms – areas that would be bright points or areas that would suggest handling or buffing through contact.

While I was working on the Santa, I decided to paint an extra Cthulhu I printed when I made the one for my son. On this one, I added the Brushed Bronze and Worn Penny acrylic paints after the primer and first coat of Metal Effects bronze paint, and before the final bronze coat and activator. I wanted an extra layer of metallic finish. I randomly applied the two paints not wanting to fully coat the surfaces, but just provide highlights that peek through the final finish.

On the Cthulhu statue, I think a better, deeper finish was obtained. So, I would recommend applying the metallic paint between the Metal Effects bronze coats and before the patina coat. The Santa still came out great, but took a bit more work to get the same look. Live and learn. You never know how something will turn out until you do it and don’t be afraid to try something different or change your mind!

Step 8: Time to Get Your Shine On!

The key to a great faux finish is adding your finishes in layers so each builds on the look. It adds depth and realism to the piece.

At this point we have a nice patina finish. Now we will focus on the highlights to bring out the metal in our finish. You could use the metallic paint I used earlier, but the best product to use is Rub’n Buff. There are many varieties to choose from, but I like the Spanish Copper for dark notes and Grecian Gold to add polished highlights to the piece.

A little Rub’n Buff goes a long way. I like to dole out a pea-sized drop of each color onto a work surface, then smear it out flat on one end. Also, best to use rubber gloves for this part. Rub’n Buff is wax based and takes a bit of scrubbing to get off… Start with the dark color. Smear a thin layer on your finger from the drop you put down and lightly add the color to your piece. For the Santa, I focused on his back, arms and hat - areas that would show more of the original metal and not hold as much patina through simulated handling. I also hit the mittens, belt and boots. You will have to “reload” your finger frequently. That’s good, you don’t want to put too much on at a time. Once you’ve added the color, take a rag (don’t use a paper towel like I did….it shreds to pieces!) and generously buff the color into the piece. Because Rub’n Buff is wax based, it doesn’t really come off when you buff it. It basically spreads out and works its way into the pores and crevices of the piece.

Don’t use a lot of this product at a time. Work it into the piece in small doses. You can always add more. Adding too much at a time can overpower the look, but don’t worry if you do add too much, you’ll just have to keep buffing.

After the Spanish Copper, I added the Grecian Gold (very sparingly, a little at a time) to add bright highlights to the piece. I focused on raised areas like his nose and areas that would normally be worn bright if the part was handled frequently. The Grecian Gold is very bright, but buffing will dull it down and add a natural highlighting sheen.

Step 9: Final Thoughts

Faux finishes, to me, are very subjective. The methods I’m using are what I think looks good. Feel free to find your own look. Would a bronze statue look just like this if well aged? Maybe not, but it’s a look I like.

The important aspect of creating realistic faux finishes is to research the look you are trying to achieve. Go on line and search for the type of finishes you are interested in recreating. The more examples you can study the better idea you will have on how the piece you've chosen to add a faux finish to will look. Don't be afraid to try a new technique or method - you never know how it will look if you don't try!

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