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.