With brush in hand, painter transforms spaces

Sarah Coleman is trained in old-world painting techniques
By: Gloria Young,
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Artist Sarah Coleman enjoys creating gallery pieces but she also channels her talent into interior design.
Coleman, owner of Painted Bird Studio in Nevada City, specializes in wall, floor, door and furniture finishes and using unique effects to customize the look, she said in a press release.
She was born in Marysville and after several intermediate moves, arrived in Auburn when she was in the eighth grade.
“I went to Placer High,” she said. “I was really involved with the art department there. I knew while I was at Placer that I wanted to be an artist and study art.”
After college she moved to San Francisco and began working in interior design.
“I got a job working for the biggest name in the Bay Area for decorative painting, faux painting, murals and custom painting, and I learned the tricks of the trade,” she said. “I was my own artist and then branched off and had a big interest in interior design and all the specialty finishes that are out there.”
Coleman opened her own business, Painted Bird Studio, in Nevada City about a year ago “to make the most of those techniques,” she said.
Her recent focus is on natural products.
“Part of the training in San Francisco was to learn old world techniques with how to do wood graining and really specialized metal gilding — doing things like domed ceilings using really thin metal sheets,” she said. “You can do it with real gold or white gold and you can also use (an) imitation (product).”
In the foothills, she has ended up working on a lot of old Victorian houses, blending modern design with really traditional techniques that have been around for a long time.
One of her recent projects was doing some work on the restoration on a historical home called the Powell House in downtown Nevada City.
“It was a Baptist Church at one point. It has a rich history,” she said. “It sat unkempt for 40 years or so. Then a local couple took on the project and completely restored it. They hired me to do a few things. The most interesting was to wood grain the wood doors. They were some of the only original features left in the home. They were painted out white. I came in and made them look like wood.”
Often she’s called in to create a special accent.
“Maybe a wall in a dining room or living room that needs to have some originality or unique treatment that creates a mood,” she said. “That could be doing something really modern and contemporary or it could be more old world like a European finish.”
Frequently, she finds herself offering assistance and advice on colors.
“Ultimately (choosing a color can depend on) what is already in the space, what kind of mood the clients want to create or what is appropriate for the space,” she said. “Some rooms need to be clean and bright looking. If you are in the kitchen, you want it to be bright, cheery and clean. In the living or bedroom you might want it to be more dramatic or warm. Colors can make (the room) warm or cool. It can make it unique or make it blend. Sometimes people want to make something disappear.”
She recently finished a job transforming stones on an old fireplace that needed to be updated without tearing it out.
“They were that black lava sooty 70s look,” she said. “I repainted them with lime paint. I used lime paint, which is paint made from crushed stone and water. It was the perfect material to paint on top of this existing stone. I gave it more of a limestone look. It went from dark, sooty and old to bright, cheery and clean.”
She enjoyed the faux painting aspect of the task — making it look like a different kind of stone.
“With my art and my custom finishes, I really am intrigued by optical illusion and tricks you can use,” she said. “Faux painting is not just multi-color painting on a wall. It’s something that tricks your eye and makes it look like something it’s not.”
She also does the traditional faux wall glazing that gives the old world plastery look.
“But that’s just one of the techniques out there,” she said.
Another recent job was for Siteline Architecture, doing the finish on a concrete fireplace surround that was the centerpiece of the great-room in a custom home for a client.
 “The original piece was beautifully decorative, but lacked presence in the room,” Richard Baker, Siteline partner/designer said in an email. “Sarah made thoughtful and articulate recommendations about how to manipulate the coloring of the object and went to work quietly and diligently, eventually completing her work in a way that not only completely transformed the fireplace but tied it into aspects of the room that allowed for a beautiful and cohesive finished product.”
Even though she’s often immersed in interior design projects, she puts aside time to create her own artwork.
“As an artist, I use metal leaf and paint on wood panels and my paintings usually are sky scapes that are pretty fantastical and also translucent and shiny,” she said. “The thing I strive for is these optical illusions that happen because the metal leaf reflects the light as you walk by, so the painting shifts a little and clouds roll and lightning kind of flashes.”
She shows her work at a gallery in Los Angeles and San Francisco and recently had an art show in Nevada City.
Her Web site includes her blog as well as an idea resource site for clients “to see what their options are and what is possible.”
Reach Gloria Young at