Monday, 1 August 2016

Experiments with Faux Mother of Pearl

For a project I am working on, I need to create a faux mother of pearl effect. I searched online and found a couple of techniques, but I wasn’t able to make my results look convincing, so after quite a bit of trial and error with different materials and methods of applying, I eventually came up with something that I was satisfied with.

The following pictures show the sheets of experiments that I did, and my progress towards a satisfactory result. As usual, shiny and iridescent surfaces are quite hard to photograph, but with a bit of explanation I think you will get the gist of it, and actually the photos came out better than I had expected.

The first sheet

On this sheet, I followed the most widely used technique that I found online, with some variations.

At top left: not having any pearlescent white acrylic paint, I mixed together some titanium white with some iridescent gel medium, hoping for the same shimmery effect, and I applied this with scrunched up freezer paper, which has a waxed surface. Some people suggested this, while others suggested using cling film (I tried this later).

01 1st Sheet

The results were not encouraging. I think the freezer paper was too thick and stiff, and if was really hard not to apply too much of the paint to the paper. Acrylic acts as a resist to water-based distress inks.

I applied distress inks in three colours: Spun Sugar, Broken China and Iced Spruce, using Inkylicious ink dusters and blending them, being careful not to apply too much but gradually building up, especially with the Broken China which was a stronger colour. There was too much acrylic to allow much of the ink to penetrate the paper, except around the edges.

At bottom left, I tried applying less of the paint to start with, but it ended up being little spots which were quite rough, and the colour ended up much too strong.

On the right, things were slightly better. In this case, I applied the colour first, and then added the paint mixture afterwards, again using the same methods of application.

Sheet 2

I found another technique online that I quite liked the look of. Natural mother of pearl is not flat, but has slight ridges as the nacre is laid down by the organism inside its shell. I tried using texture paste for this – at least, my version of texture paste, which is Polyfilla One Fill (known as joint compound in the USA). You can see what it looks like at top left of the first sample, where I have not added anything. I applied it with a palette knife, trying to give it a texture of parallel ridges.

While this was drying, I tried with the second part of that particular technique, at bottom left on the sheet, by dabbing on some gold and copper acrylic paints in small patches with a brush. When it was dry, I brushed on some of the titanium white and iridescent medium mixture. I can’t say I was very much impressed with this, and still less with my experiment next to it, using just the iridescent medium.

02 2nd Sheet

Once the texture paste on the first sample was dry, I tried stippling on the gold and copper acrylic paint with a large stencil brush. I used the same technique to add the distress inks, and once this was dry, I brushed on iridescent medium, and when that was dry, the final treatment was to brush on some soft gloss gel medium to smooth it out a bit and give it more of a sheen.

The texture of the Polyfilla, although it is pretty smooth, was a bit gritty and didn’t give quite the effect I was after, which was a lustrous, smooth, pearly finish.

Top right on the sheet is a repeat of the first technique on sheet 1. This really isn’t nearly lustrous enough, and quite disappointing, even when I used less of the paint mixture.

The example in the centre of the page looks as if texture has been applied, but this is just the wrinkling of the paper caused by the moisture in the materials used. In this case, I used the original technique, and then brushed on more iridescent medium, and finished it with a coat of soft gloss gel medium. Slightly better but still not good enough!

Bottom right was not a success. I began by painting smaller patches of gold and copper acrylic paint, and then stippled on some of the paint/iridescent medium mixture with a stencil brush. The distress inks were then stippled on, and more iridescent medium was brushed on, and finally the soft gloss medium.

I think part of the problem with all these test pieces was that the paint/iridescent medium mixture was too thick, and when stippled on, it left quite a rough texture.

Sheet 3

Moving on to the next sheet, I took a different approach, introducing Liquid Pearls and using scrunched up cling film instead of the paint/iridescent medium mix and the rather stiff freezer paper.

At top left, I began by dabbing on Liquid Pearls with cling film, and then the distress inks, using Ink Dusters. Still on the same sample, at bottom left I added iridescent gel medium with a brush, but this made it a bit too shiny. On the right of the sample, I added more Liquid Pearls with the cling film, and the star indicates that I was starting to be a bit more pleased with the result! Definite progress!

03 3rd Sheet

In the sample at top right, I applied Liquid Pearls and gold acrylic paint with cling film, and applied the distress inks with Ink Dusters. Still on the same sample, at top left I brushed on iridescent gel medium, and on the right, more Liquid Pearls dabbed on with cling film, and below that, some more iridescent medium. It all looked a bit “bitty” and not what I wanted.

Bottom left on the sheet, I painted small dabs of gold acrylic paint, dabbed on Liquid Pearls with cling film, and added distress inks with Ink Dusters. Still on the same sample, at the top, I painted on iridescent gel medium, and at bottom left, more Liquid Pearls with the cling film. The gold was much too strong.  At this point, I abandoned the metallic acrylic paint altogether.

The sample at bottom right earned another star, as it was approaching what I was looking for. I began by adding some texture again, this time using Finnabair heavy body transparent gloss medium with a palette knife and letting it dry. I applied quite a bit of Liquid Pearls with cling film (with a note to myself to apply less), and then distress inks applied with Ink Dusters. Still on the same sample, at the top I painted on some iridescent gel medium, and really quite liked the look of this one.

Sheet 4

This final sheet was where I think I finally cracked it. All of these had texture added, but not as a base.

Beginning with the left-hand sample, I started by dabbing on the distress inks using cling film instead of an Ink Duster. I found it easiest to do this by smearing the ink pad onto the non-stick craft sheet and picking it up from there. The next step was to dab on Liquid Pearls with cling film. Then came the texture, in the form of the heavy body transparent gloss medium. This gave a translucency to the piece which was not there when the colour was applied on top of the texture. The final step was to add more Liquid Pearls with cling film.

04 4th Sheet

This is definitely usable, and was the more shiny option of the two best results.

Moving on to the middle sample, I dabbed on the distress inks with Ink Dusters instead of cling film, deliberately not tapping the brush onto the craft sheet before applying (as one usually does, so as to produce a soft, blended effect without spots), so that it gave a definite stippled effect. Then came the Liquid Pearls applied with the cling film as before, and the texture layer as before, the heavy body transparent gloss medium, finishing off with more liquid pearls applied with cling film. This was quite nice, but the result was not so good as when the colour was applied using cling film, as it was a bit too uniform.

The final sample, on the right-hand side of the sheet, was done in exactly the same way as the one on the left, but instead of using the heavy body gloss medium, I used Finnabair 3D transparent matt gel medium which really holds a texture. When I left it to dry, I wasn’t convinced that it would be any good because I thought the surface would be too matt. However, on returning later, and dabbing on the additional Liquid Pearls, I was very pleasantly surprised – it had a lovely pearlescent lustre and the colours showed well. However, the texture was slightly too ridgy, so I made a note to myself to smooth it out a bit more in future.

Finally I experimented by adding a final coat of soft gloss medium on the right-hand side of the sample only, for comparison, and finishing it with some additional Liquid Pearls applied with cling film. This came out a bit too shiny, and I didn’t like it as much as the sample on the left-hand side of the sheet, although it did have the effect of smoothing out the ridgy texture somewhat.

Now for some closer shots of the final sheet. First, the left-hand sample, which is my final second choice, if I want a more shiny surface.

05 4th Sheet L

The middle sample, which I rejected on account of the colour application method not being so satisfactory.

06 4th Sheet M

Finally, the right-hand sample, definitely my final first choice. I wish the photo did it justice because it does look quite realistic!

07 4th Sheet R

Once I have finished working on the project for which this experiment was designed, I will be blogging about it and you will be able to see an application of this technique.

I hope it has been interesting, and helpful for anyone wanting to try to create a realistic mother of pearl effect.


  1. Wow, what a detailed process! I'm glad you found your solution in the end and shared your findings along the way. Golden does something called interference paints that might produce a similar effect. I've never tried them though so I can't be sure. It's probably more fun to experiment and try to achieve the desired effect yourself!

  2. Great information. Thanks for sharing your findings.


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