Pearls are one of the most precious natural materials. And the mother-of-pearl lining of oyster shells is coveted for making inlaid decorative things. But instead of tumbling around in an oyster for years to get a pearl look, you can paint something pearlescent in an afternoon!
Today’s example is a “mother-of-pearl” inlaid table with Moorish Moroccan stenciled designs, but you can use the same pearl technique on anything you want to paint.
Supplies for this project:
- Moroccan style table — I used the Jemma table from Crate & Barrel
- Stencil: Royal Design Studio Starry Moroccan Night
- Paint to make pearlescent effect: Royal Design Studio Pearl Oyster Stencil Creme and tiny amounts of Copper Kettle, Frosted Lilac, Orange Ice, Patina Green, and Smoked Oyster to tint the Pearl Oyster Stencil Creme
- Paint to make inlaid effect: Royal Design Studio Stencil Creme in Flat Black, Chalk Paint by Annie Sloane in Country Gray, dark brown Benjamin Moore paint
- White KILZ primer
- Stencil brushes
- Paper towel
- Painters tape
- Annie Sloan Soft Wax in Clear
First, study pictures of mother-of-pearl or any mother-of-pearl you might have around your home. You will notice the shimmery metallic effect. That’s why I recommend starting with the Royal Design Studio Pearl Oyster Stencil Creme. It’s a white paint with a metallic, pearlescent sheen. You’ll see a range of colors swirling in mother-of-pearl: yellows, lavenders, blues, and greens. Sometimes there are veins of colors and streaks of brighter white.
You can create this inlaid mother-of-pearl look on any decorative object. If you want a Moroccan table, the table’s shape is an important sign of Moroccan style. Choose a Moroccan-shaped table that has a lot of flat surface area for paint and stenciling. I got the Jemma table on deep discount from Crate & Barrel in 2014, so that table may no longer available. Try to find a wood table. The Jemma table I used is metal and I’m hoping the primer and finish will hold up over time. (So far, so good!)
As a first step, paint a coat of white primer or white paint on the table. Because your first coats for the mother-of-pearl effect are with somewhat translucent paint, it helps to start with white. My table was white, but it was also shiny metal, so I primed it.
In some areas of your table, you might want to paint a solid black or brown color as a base. I painted solid black along the legs and up to the top of the table, along the edges of the top, and on the inside. You can also stencil patterns on top of this solid color, though I chose to leave it solid and simple. Though I started painting the solid black stripes first, I’d recommend do that later, after painting the mother of pearl and stencils, unless you want to keep moving tape to protect all the black areas.
After the primer dries, swirl on Pearl Oyster Stencil Creme. Swirl your brush in circles in all directions. I used a larger 2″ stencil brush for this step. Repeat this step two more times, so you build up three layers of swirled Pearl Oyster paint. You really need a few layers for the full pearlescent effect to be seen.
Next, choose four or five colors to mix in the Pearl Oyster. Colors often found in real mother-of-pearl are pink, lavender, blue, green, yellow, brown. You don’t need much paint. I used a glob at the end of a toothpick, a tiny amount. You just want to tint the Pearl Oyster a little bit. I already had Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes in many colors, and you can also use acrylic or latex paints you have in the house.
Pour about 1/8 cup of Pearl Oyster paint in four or five little containers. Add a tiny amount of color to the Pearl Oyster. I used a toothpick to keep the amount of colored paint very small. Then mix. You don’t even have to mix perfectly. You can leave some streaks of color because sometimes real mother-of-pearl is streaky.
Then brush colors onto your table in a random way. I chose to start with one color and paint all the way around my table, then I painted with the second color, and so on. I didn’t wash the brush between colors. It’s okay if the colors mix on your brush. Swirl your brush around on the table in areas where you want the colors to be softer. Swipe your brush in lines where you want colors to be like hash marks. You can make a mix of swirls and streaks, and colors going in different directions. At this point, your table might look like a hot mess, as mine did. When I stopped after the first day of painting, I pushed the table back in its spot between two chairs, and my husband was a little bit concerned that that was it!
I used the Starry Moroccan Night stencil to paint a bold Moroccan pattern. I hadn’t planned this, but the Starry Moroccan Night pattern perfectly mirrored the six-sided shape of my table! How cool!
I painted a mix of black and dark brown with the Starry Moroccan Night stencil. Then I dry brushed light streaks of contrast color (like dark brown streaks on black, light brown streaks on dark brown). This simulated the look of ebony wood and other woods that might be on an inlaid table. This starry pattern stencil was painted on the top and sides of the table. You can see the mother-of-pearl peeks through only small areas now, so the mottled and streaky mess looks a little better!
If you’re painting high contrast colors like this, be very careful while stenciling so you don’t get bleeding under the stencil. It’s critical of offload paint onto a paper towel so that you stencil with a nearly dry brush. Your first coat of paint likely won’t look dark enough. Don’t worry. Just keep building up a few layers of paint until there is enough paint. This might take awhile but it’s better than paint seeping under the stencil and having to clean that up. It’s hard to be 100% perfect, so I touched up some lines afterwards with a tiny paintbrush. After the paint dries, seal with a wax or other sealant to protect the finish. I used Annie Sloan Clear Wax.
True to my nomadic decorating style, this Moroccan table sits between two Chinese chairs. They’re upholstered with leopard print suede and draped with textiles from tribes from Vietnam and Myanmar, and the rug was found in India many years ago. The tray on the table has old riad keys found in Marrakech, and the tutorial to paint a tray like that is also here at Paint+Pattern. This table and chairs are just inside our garage door entrance to the house, and it’s the perfect spot to sit and put on shoes. Before taking this picture, I had to clear my husband’s shoe polishing supplies off the table! This might sound like a lot of painting trouble for a spot to put on shoes. But this space is visible from the kitchen, family room and sunroom, from across the whole house really, so it’s worth it for this spot to look good.