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How to Become a Decorative Painter

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

Decorative Painting is a career many stumble upon as a way to utilize their creative and design skills in conjunction with the joy of entrepreneurship. There is also an intrinsic sense of accomplishment that comes out of completely transforming a space with one’s hands and working as a team, either with a client and/or an interior designer, to see the change come to fruition. Color theory, analytical skills, physical labor, creative inspirations, and one’s own talent come into play daily in this field. It can encompass troweled plaster work, hand painting a mural, glazing an interior surface, updating a furniture piece, transforming an exterior, and more – every day offers new challenges and new avenues for creativity.

Here are some ways to explore the decorative painting field:

  • Begin and continue to take decorative painting classes to gain and increase your knowledge.

  • Work with an established decorative painter to gain knowledge and experience.

  • Work with an established painting firm on their decorative painting projects.

  • Work with select clients, decorators, and designers on projects.

IDAL is an organization dedicated to supporting your efforts by providing resources, guidance, workshops, and business tools (such as business insurance) to enable your business to grow and prosper. We have a mentor program and a valuable Decorative Beginnings One-Day Program during our yearly IDAL Convention that teaches you the basics of decorative painting. Select local IDAL chapters also offer continuous educational and networking opportunities. Our mentorship program pairs you with a Mentor to help guide your journey.

There are an incredible number of benefits to working with an IDAL Mentor

  • Access practical advice, encouragement, and support from a trusted and experienced source.

  • Defining goal-setting techniques and identifying career goals.

  • Develop skills and competency by helping identify and correct gaps in general technique and knowledge.

  • Establishing a sense of direction for goals and the strategies/options for achievement.

  • Gain valuable insight into the next stage of your decorative painting journey.

  • Learn professional development techniques such as how to prepare for a consultation or execute a project.

  • Gain access to the experiences of professionals in time management, communication, and networking skills.

  • Discussions will help by giving access to another perspective from a professional point of view.

  • Increase in personal, artistic, and business confidence.

These are some of the ways IDAL helps you establish a successful decorative painting practice. Interested in finding a mentor, click here.

How a Few IDAL Members Began Their Decorative Painting Career


I have been drawing (or doodling) since grade school. My teacher once wrote on my report card, “I wish Kathy would put as much effort into her school work as she does in decorating the page.” I did not go to any school; I wanted to be married and have a lot of kids. So, at 18, I married and eventually had 4 kids. After the first one, I took a Tole painting class to get out of the house and talk to adults! Soon I was teaching the class and painting oil paintings on the side.

“I wish Kathy would put as much effort into her school work as she does in decorating the page.”

To make a long story short, I got divorced, and started working at a large decorating company to see if I wanted to be a designer…..NO WAY!!! Then one of the designers asked if I could duplicate a discontinued border for a client and it grew from there. Artist Margaret VonKaenel introduced me to IDAL and I found more to love! 20 years later, I am still working for that designer!

DONNA MOCKClassic Wall Finishes

I had been a store executive for Bloomingdale’s in South Florida for 11 years. Never thought I would leave it, but retail being retail was no longer fun. I had been doing some faux finishing for friends and family for a couple of years, ragging, rolling some glazing, and enjoyed it. After all, I do have a degree in art, although no one had ever mentioned faux finishing. Kids were out of school, and insurance was with my husband’s office, no good reason not to start your own business, so I quit and found a friend who wanted to do faux as a business, and The Painted Ladies was born. That was 19 years ago.

I was very fortunate that I had contacts in the building industry who let us do model homes for them, and that was how we got started. South Florida was and still is a hotbed for decorative paint finishes. We were very lucky and met the right people at the right time and were consistently working. I was always anxious to try something new and Venetian Plaster was calling my name. It still does. I have been fortunate to meet so many inspiring artists along the way. When we moved back north in 2006, and I no longer had a business partner, I became Classic Wall Finishes. The business was better and bigger and again, had the opportunity to meet many amazing people, including Lori Wilson, who introduced me to IDAL. Thanks to her and many others, my business has steadily grown and prospered.


My love for the decorative arts started back in 2001 when I was called to help my sister, Regina of Garay Artisans, with a decorative painting project in a home. I was intrigued at what could be achieved using paints, glazes, plasters and other mediums and looked forward to learning more. I never left after that first project! We worked in everything from

I was intrigued at what could be achieved using paints..,it changed my life!

residences to large hotels to airports and won several national awards. It changed my life! My sister has since moved to the marketing end of decorative painting and I continue to create many beautiful spaces for both residential and commercial clients with a love for the arts that continues to this day with my own company, Artisan Factor.


My story is similar to the growing number of decorative artists in our profession – this is my second career. i have an accounting degree. After marrying and starting my family I decided to devote myself full-time to raising my children and making our house a home. When it was time to enter the workforce again I still had small children and the thought of sitting behind a desk full-time was not appealing. Around that decision-making time fate intervened. I read an article in our newspaper about a local woman that started up a business by painting furniture and walls. Rewind back to my stay-at-home years ... this is what I had done with a passion for years!

During any free time I could find I would hang out at the local bookstores absorbing anything decorating-related, bringing home books, and happily painted away. For years. Ding! Bells and whistles went off – my head was spinning with ideas. This was also about the same time that the World Wide Web was making it possible to research anything. I found a local decorative painting instructor and took my first class. Through one of her private classes, I met someone that belonged to a decorative painting organization called IDAL, went to my first IDAL convention that was crammed full of classes and absolutely fell in love with this painting world. The rest is history.

I took my creative passion and turned it into this sweet little business that is not so little anymore. I am now a full-time decorative painter with my own studio, I have been blessed with hundreds of creative colleagues and friends that I’ve met thru classes, and I even hang out with the same exact authors that inspired me to paint my homes during my bookstore adventures. I’ve found my home, and have never looked back. I am a decorative artist.


My mom is very artistic and a talented DIYer, so I grew up surrounded by arts and crafts. When I told my mom that I wanted my dresser painted white, she promptly handed me a quart of paint and put me on the back deck to get to work. This began my love of painting. Fast forward to moving into my first home, in my late 20’s, with builder’s white paint on the walls and no personality, I got to work. I painted barstools, a large floorcloth, and the boring white tile backsplash, and glazed the powder room walls.

My friends and neighbors began asking me if I could paint for them, and it was then I realized that I could make money doing what I loved. Shortly after that, I saw a small ad in the back of Paint Décor magazine about the SALI (now IDAL) convention in Baltimore, MD. I was thrilled. I didn’t know anyone in my area who was doing what I was doing. I signed up for classes, drove to Baltimore and found my people. That was in 2005 and I have been a working decorative painter ever since. I have only missed 3 conventions since and I am so thankful for the learning opportunities and camaraderie that this organization has granted me.


My career in the decorative arts field all started because an interior designer we hired to do some work in our home had seen what I could do with paint. She encouraged me to pursue it as a career, knowing I was not happy with my current job. I signed up for classes with Kathy Carroll of the Chicago Institute of Fine Finish in the mid 90’s and the rest just happened! I now have a thriving business in St. Louis with a studio showroom, the Riverhouse.

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