Feathers and Paint

Carmelo Rivas works in a dry climate. The charms of wallpaper are not a good choice in that climate. The wallpaper paste dries out and the paper shrinks and sheds off walls.

CarmeloCarmelo wanted a wallpaper effect on a stucco wall, but wasn’t sure how to achieve it. This was 1994, so Google wasn’t a first choice. Or any choice at all. Carmelo began to talk to people who did renovations and discovered that some people were creating decorative finishes with ostrich feathers. He loved the effect and taught himself how to use a big, curving feather to create an effect that looks a lot like Japanese Unryu paper with grass inclusions.

Over the last 20 years, Carmelo has perfected the technique and gone through a lot of ostrich feathers. The paint can’t soak through the feather, and the finish has to be done with a gentle touch. In order to make the finish look like wallpaper, the pattern has to be evenly spaced, have the same paint distribution and use a blend of colors, and sometimes a glaze.

When I saw Carmelo’s work, I had a lot of questions about techniques. He hasn’t ever been interviewed before, and my questions sounded as if I were trying to pry his secrets out of him. I backed off and just enjoyed the papers.


And here’s a blue wall with cream feathering.


Because I took the photos inside, under fluorescent lights, there was some color distortion, which wasn’t on the wallboard I was holding.

The two more were so subtle that they photograph poorly. Carmelo judges the light in a room and the colors that are outside, but visible from the room and those inside the room before he paints. Sometimes he chooses four of five colors, but the final effect is so well blended that it’s hard to pick out the different colors.


I have a great appreciation for people who choose a creative outlet that inspires them and spend years improving it. If others laugh at them or tell them the work is impossible or silly, they shrug and admit that others have their opinions. But it doesn’t matter as long as their work satisfies  their creative itch and improves with practice.

Quinn McDonald loves discovering people whose creativity is an integral part of their lives.


8 thoughts on “Feathers and Paint

  1. Quinn – Thanks for sharing Carmelo’s work. I love that he perfected his technique and would love to see his work in person. My favorite part of what you wrote is, “If others laugh at them or tell them the work is impossible or silly, they shrug and admit that others have their opinions.”

    I needed this inspiration!

  2. This looks like something you would have to see for yourself. I’m sure the pictures don’t do the work/art justice. Like Pete I don’t understand it. However, having done many different wall applications I can appreciate that there must be something there that I’m not seeing since you posted it!
    Feathers on the wall remind me a little of a home improvement episode I watched on TV. The owners have to agree to leave their home while decorators come in and “improve” their room. In this case the homeowners came home to a wall covered in white feathers. It was horrible. It looked nothing like Mr. Riva’s work and certainly did not take any kind of technique to accomplish, unless you call a bottle of Elmers and a sack full of feathers technique.
    Good on Carmelo Riva for finding a way!

    • The techique is done with an ostrich feather. The feather is dragged along the surface of a thinned paint, then touched to a wall. The feather is used instead of a brush, only the glaze of paint stays on the wall. The photos are not a good quality, as it is difficult to take photos of walls under fluorescent lights, and the ones in natural light were too shaded and dark and flash didn’t help. But the idea is so refreshing–who uses an ostrich feather to apply glaze to a wall and gets results like this?

  3. I don’t quite get it; are the ostrich feathers embedded in the paint on the wall, or are they used to apply paint to the wall?

    • The ostrich feather is used to apply the paint. The trick of course is to get the right amount of paint on the feather and then on the wall. The effect of seeing it in a room is amazing–the ones I saw were so subtle they looked like Unryu (Japanese rice paper) wallpaper. Subtle and beautiful–and almost impossible to photograph with fluorescent lighting.

  4. How ingenious and inspiring, and a reminder that no matter the conditions you can create beauty all around your sing what you have on hand. Thank you for sharing!

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