The Negative / Subtractive
Technique of Rag Painting

Negative rag painting is a faux finish technique where you use a bunched up piece of cloth to remove the glaze from the base coat, revealing the base coat color.

rag painting example

Sometimes referred to as cheeseclothing, subtractive rag painting creates a finish with the look of soft suede.

Like its companion decorative painting technique of ragging on, ragging off gives you significant opportunity to experiment and customize the texture and consistency of the glaze that appears on the wall.

And just like in positive ragging, here the way you hold the rag and the type of rag you use also affects the look of your final faux finish.

How to Do Negative Rag Painting
- the basic method -

NOTE: for even more helpful tips and tricks, review "Ragging Faux Painting Finishes".

Tools and Materials:

  • roller tray

  • paint brush

  • masking tape

  • rubber gloves

  • mixing bucket

  • small paint roller

  • faux technique glaze

  • regular paint roller

  • bucket of clean water

  • satin latex paint in 2 colors

  • cloth cut into several 6' long pieces

Rag Painting Instructions:

apply a base coat before rag painting

1) Apply the base coat to the surface and let it dry for 2 days. Make sure your base coat paint has a satin finish - anything duller (flat, matte or eggshell) and you won't be able to lift any of the glaze off of it.

Tape off moldings, trim and ceiling, and protect the floor.

2) Mix the glaze using this formula: 2 parts clear glaze, one part paint, and one part water. Stir well, and pour some into a paint tray.

3) Load the roller with glaze, and roll on 2 roller widths of glaze on the wall. Using a brush, cut the glaze into the corner, and about 18 inches along the ceiling and baseboard.

rag painting technique

4) Wearing rubber gloves, wad up one length of cloth and, beginning in the corner and working from top to bottom, pounce the cloth on the wet glaze, using quick movements of your wrist. The goal is to lift off some of the glaze.

Vary the painted print by rotating your wrist, repositioning your arm, and dabbing again, holding the rag at a slightly different angle. When the cloth no longer removes the glaze, reposition it in your hand to expose clean portions. When it becomes completely saturated with glaze, change to a fresh one.

Working in an area approximately 2' deep, space the dabs 3-6" apart. Continue to dab in between the first set of dabs until you've filled all the spaces. Do not rag the leading edge!

To rag in the corners, simply bunch up the cloth as necessary so that it will fit.

rag painting finish example

5) Repeat, ragging beneath the previously worked area, until you reach the baseboard. Rework the same area as much as you need to make the ragged pattern even: the color should be uniform, not variously light or dark.

6) Cut in another 18" section along the ceiling and baseboard adjacent to the first section. Roll two roller widths of glaze from top to bottom.

Continue the rag painting process, pouncing from ceiling to floor along the edge of the previous section to blend it with the fresh glaze. Then rag the width of glaze from ceiling to floor, working in 2 feet deep sections as before.

TIP: When ragging off each section at the ceiling, start with a fresh rag to make a smooth transition (a clean rag will pick up more glaze).

Paint Color Cheat Sheets
Paint Color Cheat Sheets

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