A great day for an artistic experiment - South Lake Tahoe faux finish studio Skip to main content

When the sun’s shining and fresh air is blowing through the studio, for some reason this makes me want to experiment. Sitting on the shelf is a little container that I’ve never opened. It’s a gold label product from Faux Effects® called Creme Activator™. Faux Effects® officially describes it as follows…

Creme Activator™ is a product that was designed to work between separate layers of Faux Effects™ SetCoat™. The Creme Activator™ material creates a poor bonding layer, allowing the artist to remove the upper layer of SetCoat™ in decorative patches thus exposing the first or background color layer of SetCoat™. The decorative result is a chipped or worn off Old World paint look.

Whew! That’s a good but long description. What I read was… this product is supposed to make things easy for me to paint multiple colors and scrape, peel and distress for an old, worn look. Sounds sweet!

What about the rules?

artistic experiment creme activator faux effects

Faux Effects® Creme Activator™

The only point I am stuck on is that you’re instructed to use this activator with a specific paint product called SetCoat™. Of course companies want you to use their products, but what happens if I don’t have any SetCoat™ to use? Does that mean Creme Activator™ won’t work as described and I can’t use it? A lot of product companies are very serious about testing, science and formulas so when they say a product will only work as described, they really mean it! That’s where curiosity struck me and it was time to set up an artistic experiment.

Who doesn’t have random buckets of paint laying around? I sure do! Quarts, gallons, 5-gallon buckets… I always seem to accumulate so many paint cans! My studio ratio right now is four gallons/colors of SetCoat™ and over 15 random colors & sizes of latex paint. Sounds like the perfect time to experiment… artistic experiment, that is!

The Artistic Experiment Setup

artistic experiment sample boards

Number your samples!

No beakers or Bunsen burners. Just wood planks, paint and my Creme Activator™. Let’s not over-complicate this and make things confusing. Three scenarios will do it and cover all the variations.

  1. No rules here. Latex paint only & Creme Activator™
  2. Sort of follow the rules. Latex paint with a coat of SetCoat™ Clear & Creme Activator™
  3. Follow the rules. SetCoat™ paint & Creme Activator™

To help speed up the process, gather all your tools and supplies so everything is ready and within reach.

Tools & Supplies

  • artistic experiment supplies

    Gather all your supplies

    SetCoat™ in two colors (or custom mix them)

  • SetCoat™ Clear
  • Latex paint in two colors
  • Paint brushes
  • Scrap wood boards
  • Creme Activator™
  • Various scraping tools made of wood, plastic and metal


Create Board #1

No rules here rocks! Not following the rules is so easy! This board is simple and takes the shortest time to complete as it has the fewest layers.

  1. Paint the wood board with one color of latex paint. Let dry.
  2. Apply Creme Activator™ and let dry until dull in appearance (30+ min.)
  3. Paint second color of latex paint. Set board aside.

Create Board #2

Sort of following the rules has the most steps and takes the longest. With more layers and drying time, you may want to start this one first or do at the same time as the others.

  1. Paint the wood board with one color of latex paint. Let dry.
  2. Paint one coat of SetCoat™ Clear. This is a clear paint that creates a suitable surface over latex paint for many faux finish techniques. It is a great product to have in your studio. My thought is that if I don’t use the right SetCoat™ paint and substitute latex, if I at least coat with SetCoat™ Clear, maybe the results will be the same as if  I used all SetCoat™ products. We’ll have to wait till the end to see if this is true. Let fully dry, at least 2 hrs.
  3. Apply Creme Activator™ and let dry until dull in appearance (30+ min.)
  4. Paint second color of latex paint. Let dry.
  5. Paint another coat of SetCoat™ Clear over this second color of latex paint. Let fully dry, at least 2 hrs. Set board aside.

Create Board #3

Ironically, following the rules is also as easy a process as not following the rules! Maybe rules aren’t so bad.

  1. Paint the wood board with one color of SetCoat™. Let dry.
  2. Apply Creme Activator™ and let dry until dull in appearance (30+ min.)
  3. Paint second color of SetCoat™. Set board aside.


Time to Scrape!

artistic experiment scraping tools

Metal, plastic and wood tools for scraping

Now is the fun part and what all the setup is for. It’s scraping time! When distressing/scraping paint, you can use plastic items like spoons and putty knives as well as wood stir sticks and metal tools. I wanted to try all three variations to see the effect it left on the samples. Keep track of what tool you use in what section of the board. I used a marker to draw lines on the boards and write the tool type so I didn’t forget. I also write on the back of the boards which # they are since they look alike after painting! Don’t mix up your samples!

The Results

For my scraping exercise, I used a plastic putty knife, metal paint can scraper/opener combo tool and a thick wood stir stick. To me, it’s always a good experiment when I’m surprised by the results and my little artistic experiment didn’t disappoint!

  • All three sample boards were able to be scraped and paint layers removed.
  • All types of scraping tools worked regardless if plastic, wood or metal.

If I stopped here, you would say my experiment proved that any paint can be used with Creme Activator™ to create a distressed painted look. But, I am not making that claim yet. It’s the details of this artistic experiment that are most important. Let’s review each of the sample results. Read carefully as we are detailing in reverse order, discussing Board #3 first.


Board #3

artistic experiment sample board

Sample Board #3

Using all Faux Effects® products produced the cleanest and clearest results, hands down. What I mean is that when the paint is scraped, the underneath color scrapes clean with no residue from the upper color layer. You see the pure color of both paints with no traces of the other. All tools scraped fast and left no drag or burning coloration marks.

Board #2

artistic experiment sample board

Sample Board #2

Trying to mimic using all Faux Effects® products by applying SetCoat™ Clear over the latex paint didn’t quite live up to the same standards. While all the tool types scraped the paint, it is harder to get the paint off so more pressure is needed. The metal tools left metallic drag marks which is very noticeable on lighter color finishes. Also, when the paint is scraped, there is a residue of the top color on the underlying color for a murky look. You can see the dark brown base color is milky as the top cream color seems to have transferred in the scraping motion.

Board #1

artistic experiment sample board

Sample board #1

The results are similar to Board #2’s with only a couple differences. The paint is easier to scrape using only the latex paint and the metal drag marks are not as pronounced. If you are very careful with your scraping, you can actually avoid most all metal drag marks when scraping. The color is still not as clear and bright as in Board #3 but does look to scrape a little cleaner than Board #2.

In Conclusion…

Well, first of all I must claim my little artistic experiment a success! I got results I didn’t expect and learned something along the way. I know deep down we all want to be rebels and break the rules, but I can’t argue with results in front of me.

My takeaway is that the best results are to follow the instructions and use SetCoat™ paint with Creme Activator™. It was the shortest time frame, easiest to scrape, all tools worked with no drag/burn marks and the colors stayed pure and clean. I can’t argue with this outcome. But, on the flip side, if I don’t have the SetCoat™ paint I need and want to create a distressed, scraped paint look, I will follow Board #1 and break all the rules!

artistic experiment sample boards

Completed sample boards

Latex paint only with Creme Activator™ is a close second in results and much better than the Sort of following the rules option in Board #2. And, if your paint colors were light enough, you may not even notice the murky or cloudy look between the colors like my samples show with dark brown against cream.

To sum it up in one sentence – First place goes to Board #3, so follow the rules… but if you can’t, then break them all with Board #1 for the next best result! Happy experimenting & check out our Finish Gallery for more ideas and inspiration!



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