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  • Design Room: Spray on Creativity
    By Rich Salvaggio, AAF, AIFD, PFCI
    Teleflora Vice President of Floral Publications

    You can't beat Mother Nature when it comes to color, but paint can come in handy when you need a certain shade of blue to enhance a floral design or when a pink ribbon is a shade too "hot" and needs to be toned down.

    You don't have to have a degree in fine art to be able to use paints and render extraordinary results.

    Most florists use paint, but many don't realize how handy a can of spray paint can be. The more you experiment, the more delighted you'll be with this tool.

    There are a few general guidelines for successful spray painting. These hints can take some of the guesswork out of learning to paint like a pro:

    • Spray thin coats, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly.
    • Keep in mind that materials take paint differently. For example, porous materials (such as cloth, unfinished wood, wicker, and terra cotta) absorb the paint, so the color of the material will show through.
    • For total coverage, use several coats. Non-porous materials (such as finished wood, wicker, plastic, or glass) will only need a few coats for complete coverage. It's especially important to use light coats with non-porous materials to avoid drips and uneven pigmentation.
    • When painting porous or pre-painted materials, use a commercial primer (available from most paint suppliers) or a coat of silver spray paint. Otherwise, the original color of the item will bleed through.
    • Spray paints have an odor when freshly applied, so allow some time for the sprayed item to air out. This is especially important when creating corsages or table arrangements, since these items will be used close to the customers' noses. If needed, you can use a spray-on floral scent or a few drops of potpourri oil to help mask the paint odor.

    Artistic Brandishes

    Spray painting can be much more than just changing the color of a design accessory. There are many simple techniques you can use to transform an ordinary item into a work of art.

    Masking — Apply strips of tape, stencils, leaves, lace, or string to a container and spray paint the surface. Allow to dry completely before removing the items.

    Best applications: smooth-weave baskets, terra cotta pots, smooth glass vases, plastic containers, and wide ribbon.

    Layering — You can achieve interesting effects by spraying different colors onto an item. For example, spray on a solid base coat of a dark color, then highlight with a sparse layer of a light or metallic color. Spray the inside of clear glass containers with several light layers of various colors for a marble effect.

    Best applications: baskets, terra cotta pots, smooth glass vases, plastic containers, dried and fresh plant material.

    Sponging — This technique is great for updating or freshening old and shopworn containers. Spray on a generous layer of paint. While the paint is still wet, use a cotton ball, soft rag, or paper towel to sponge off some of the paint in a pattern or randomly, depending on the look you prefer.

    Acetone, a paint remover available from most hardware stores, can also help you achieve interesting effects with paint. Wearing rubber gloves, dip a cotton ball, soft rag, or paper towel in acetone then lightly sponge off or swirl the paint.

    This works best when paint is layered. For example, try spraying a base layer of black, then spray over the black with copper. Wherever you sponge or swirl lightly with the acetone, the black will show through.

    Best applications: smooth-weave baskets, terra cotta pots, smooth glass vases, and plastic containers.

    Highlighting — For custom looks, use light layers of paint to enhance the beauty of any item. For example, take a dark brown basket and spray a light mist of gold or peach for a warm glow.

    Experiment with different patterns, such as spraying some areas with stripes of highlight or short bursts up close to the item. Tone down an accessory's color by spraying a lighter color on it. For example, you can give permanent botanicals an "antique" look by spraying them with a light mist of eggshell or ivory to mellow out their colors.

    Best application: baskets, terra cotta pots, smooth glass vases, plastic containers, dried and fresh materials, grapevine wreaths, ribbon, and permanent or dried fruit.

    Safety and Storage

    Floral spray paints may seem harmless because they are used on fresh flowers. However, they are still chemicals that require safe handling and storage.

    Store paints and other chemicals away from heat sources and electrical outlets, preferably in a closed, metal cabinet. Use spray paints in areas with adequate ventilation and don't forget to wear gloves.

    Follow all precautions on the manufacturer's label whenever you use spray paints or any other chemicals. Dispose of empty cans in the manner specified by the manufacturer and according to your local hazardous waste disposal guidelines.

    To conform to Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] standards, contact the manufacturer and/or visit the OSHA Web site at for specific guidelines.

    Painterly Ways

    Next time you're at a trade show or some other event where floral creations are on exhibit, pay attention to any unusual use of spray paint and then adapt it to your own style.

    Be careful not to overdo.

    Sometimes a touch of spray paint is all it takes to lift a creation to a new level of beauty.


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