Heritage Crafts

Graining and marbling

The replication of marbles and fine woods using paint techniques. See also signwriting and gilding.
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently
Origin in the UK
16th Century, At its height mid-Georgian to Victorian
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
21-50 full and part-time skilled makers (12 companies listed on Buildingconservation.com)
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
See above
Current No. of trainees
Not known. (Graining and marbling are covered as optional modules within NVQ Level 3 Decorative Finishing-Painting but it is unclear how many training providers will be offering this element to trainees)
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
There will be many people out there working on furniture and doing paint effects/distressing etc. but there are unlikely to be many with the skills of those at a commercial level.
Current No. of leisure makers
See above


The origins of graining and marbling date back to Ancient Egypt and it was also used extensively by the Greeks and Romans who employed decorative painters to imitate real marble. Examples of marbling including trompe l’oeil (‘trick of the eye’) scenes can be seen in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The practice of graining and marbling in the UK arose as a cost saving measure, as timber and marbles were very expensive. The replication, or faking, of marbles and fine woods using paint techniques became popular during the Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods.  Many of our finest buildings and palaces have fine examples of the art. Faux finishes became particularly popular in England during the Regency period, when tabletops were painted to resemble those brought back by Napoleon from his Italian campaigns. Painted furniture became so popular that books such as ‘The Decorative Painter and Glazier’s Guide’ were written, detailing the techniques employed to create the finishes.

Graining and marbling reached its height in the 19th century, inspired by the popularity of rare and expensive tropical woods and exotic marbles, and from the fine examples of graining and marbling shown at the Great Exhibitions of London in 1851 & Paris in 1855.

Examples of graining and marbling:

  • Bolton Museum holds examples of work by Thomas Kershaw and Lesley Priestley.
  • Ham House, Wiltshire
  • V&A – holds work by John Taylor


Graining is a decorative paint effect that imitates an exotic wood grain on a non-wood surface, or an inexpensive wood surface. Marbling is a similar decorative paint effect that imitates marble or stone.

The painting is carried out in thin multiple layers of transparency, the first layer being a base. A second layer of tempera or thinned paint is applied over the dry base, by means of a sponge or large brush.

Graining and marbling can be achieved using a range of specialised tools. A thick brush or ‘mottler’, fan brushes, floggers, softening brushes and texture combs are used to create various effects.

Graining – a skilled grainer would be able to recreate all the joinery joints: mitres, tenons, bolection mouldings, gunstock tenons etc. Grainers also have to study the types of grain exhibited by different species of wood; in addition the grain pattern changes depending how the wood is sawn.

Marbling – a skilled marbler would have an understanding of how different marbles are formed in nature and how the real thing would be applied. Imitation of stone work needs to follow all the joints that a master mason would use: keystones, quoins, voussoirs, mason’s mitres etc. Trompe l’oeil techniques are used for shading mouldings and carvings.


  • Graining
  • Marbling
  • Trompe l’oeil
  • Decorative paint effects – rag rolling, dragging, mark making etc.

Related crafts:

  • Gilding
  • Signwriting
  • Film/theatre set design

Issues affecting the viability

  • Skills issues – Standards in the craft have fallen due to a lack of continuous training and as the numbers of highly skilled practitioners diminish. There is generally less of a focus on the higher level skills of painters and decorators.
  • Lack of training opportunities – there are no formal courses or apprenticeships in graining and marbling alone, although it is included as an optional module within Level 3 painting and decorating NVQs.
  • Lack of funding for training – it is difficult to source financial support to take on apprentices or trainees.
  • Ageing workforce – Many craftspeople are now in their 80s with no one to pass their skills on to.

Support organisations

  • Painter-Stainers’ Company
  • Painting & Decorating Association
  • Association of Painting Craft Teachers
  • AS Handover – supplier of materials
  • Wrights of Lymm – Supplier
  • SPAB, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
  • Salon: Annual Gathering of International Decorative Painters

Training organisations

University courses 

City & Guilds of London Art School: BA (Hons) in Conservation: Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces


Level 3 Apprenticeship in Painting and Decorating

Vocational training and apprenticeships

The NVQ Level 3 Diploma is an advanced qualification in painting and decoration that includes optional modules in graining and marbling. This is available at a number of colleges and training providers but it is unclear how many offer graining and marbling.

  • NVQ Level 3 Diploma in decorative finishing-painting and decorating

Specialist short courses 

  • Cait Whitson runs classes in graining and marbling
  • Paint school runs short courses in decorative paint effects including graining and marbling
  • South Coast Studios Paint Effect Courses – offers online and workshop based classes

Craftspeople currently known

Buildingconservation.com holds a list of companies who offer graining and marbling.

    • Philip Waite, Bristol
    • Paul Bailey, Portsmouth
    • Stuart Kelly, Essex
    • Ricky MacPherson, Kent
    • Gordon McGowan, Southend
    • Jeremy Tailor, Scotland
    • Stuart McDonald, Scotland
    • Mark Nevin, Scotland
    • David Lane, Scotland
    • John Townley
    • Mick Jones
    • Steven Oxley, School of Decorative Art
    • Simon Nobs, South Coast Studios
    • Robert Woodland
    • Tim Salandin
    • Cait Whitson
    • Joanne Poulton, Jo Poulton Studio
    • Theresa Meisl, Black Barn Studios
    • Michael Brady FFD

, Scotland

  • Walter Riley – retired
  • Jeff Chapel – retired
  • Gary Clemence – semi-retired

Companies employing two or more makers:

  • Hare & Humphreys

International makers:

  • Michel Nadai – France
  • Pierre Finkelstein – US
  • Jeff Pollastro – US
  • Shane Ralph – Ireland

William Holdgate (deceased): http://www.painting-effects.co.uk/bill/index.htm

Other information



  • Mindy Drucker & Pierre Finkelstein, Recipes for Surfaces
  • Ina Brosseau Marx, Allen Marx and Robert Marx, Professional Painted Finishes
  • The Project Gutenberg EBook of Graining and Marbling, by Frederick Maire: Downloadable as an e-book at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43500/43500-h/43500-h.htm
  • Wikipedia: Graining https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graining
  • Winters, Wendi. “America’s most beautiful door is undergoing a Revolutionary change”. capitalgazette.com. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  • Oestreicher, Lisa, ‘Imitation Timber Graining in the 18th and 19th Centuries’, The Building Conservation Directory 2014
  • DVD by Walter Riley, Oak Graining: quartered and oak over-graining
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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