Creating Really Realistic Dollhouse Brick

If you’re building along with me, then you should’ve already applied a base coat to your bricks. This is a stand alone tutorial, though! Anyone wanting to achieve greater realism with their bricks, regardless of how those bricks were formed (and more on that later) can probably find a tip or two. Those of you who remember me from the old blog know that I used to do my bricks quite differently. The new system I’ve developed IS compatible with the egg carton method, which used to be my jam. It’d also work fine with most kinds of plastic sheeting.

For those using the egg carton method: prime your surface with gesso, THEN apply your bricks. Finally, in preparation for your base coat, give your–fully, and I mean FULLY dry–surface a couple coats of varnish. I use Liquitex.

For those using plastic sheeting, such as Houseworks’ brick sheeting, prep your surface with at least two coats of a sealer that’s specially designed to work with vinyl such as Mr. Super Clear. This stuff is expensive, but a little goes a long way.

Then, you’re ready for your base coat.

You don’t have to use the same palette I have, even remotely, although you can find my supply list–again–here. The purpose of your base coat is to establish a canvas. Newer brick will have fewer color variations; I’m recreating a super old, worn look with my project so I’ve combined three different colors here and then, finally, washed everything with a Vallejo wash.

I brushed on Vallejo’s gris obscuro (dark gray), then patted–patted, not rubbed–most of it off. On those areas, where I wanted more aging, I applied a second and in some cases a third coat. My goal was to darken everything down, before I lightened it up. So after this point, my project looked like this:

I find, personally, that the easiest strategy is to, at this point, paint the actual brick itself, then paint the actual stone itself, then go back and add in the grout lines. Your mileage may vary! Here, though, we can see the basic “story” laid out in terms of what’s been going on with this spot over the years. We have a basic pattern to follow.

The next step, of course, is adding greater color. I applied a number of secondary shades to my brick, using a dry brushing technique. Visible brush strokes aren’t very brick-like! Numerous thin coats, however, of color allow us to build up both depth of shade and the illusion of greater texture.

Whatever style brick you’re trying to emulate, there’s going to be a range of color–and real brick, remember, contains a great deal of orange. These are the colors I used, throughout the project. I let my instinct guide me, in terms of where I applied it.

Some of my favorite brushes to use, for dry brushing, are these really stiff, short bristled brushes that are supposed to be for Mod Podge. I HATE Mod Podge itself, think it’s a crap product, and never use it, but these brushes have really held up over time. Honestly, if anything, they’ve improved with age.

So now we know what my brick looked like, before I added the grout lines. You can ignore that (entirely accidental) cut out in the right-hand wall; I did. As you can see, though, I’ve given this brick quite a bit of variation, for interest as well as authenticity. Who wants to look at this much brick, if it’s entirely the same? Who, for that matter, wants to paint such a thing?

At this point, I went back and finished the stone on each piece before “grouting” it and setting it aside for the second phase. Which, of course, is when nature attacks. But, through the magic of the internet, we’re ready for grout right now and what I’m using is LifeColor’s “surfaces shadower.” LifeColor’s range is comprehensive, awesome, and…extremely difficult to work with, at first. The learning curve, however, is steep! You’ll be a pro in no time, with a little bit of practice and a couple of tips.

First, SHAKE THAT BABY UP. This stuff separates really easy, and it’s a drag. I use an eye dropper (like the kind you find at CVS) to transfer small amounts of paint to a new container so as not to dry out/contaminate the main container. Then, using a 3/0 round brush, I begin applying it. I give it another stir, too, with my brush every single time.

The other “trick,” here, insofar as tricks exist, is to use a light hand. Don’t press the brush down into the grout lines; let it glide over them. You can always add more pigment, if you need to! My focus, at this point, is simply to achieve a nice line.

One of those “beauty q-tips,” dipped in water, works well to remove any excess you might get on the bricks. Your goal, though, should be to avoid needing too many touch ups. Unlike with traditional grouting, this is more of a slow and steady wins the race type of situation. I usually throw on a record, or listen to a podcast, something to keep my mind active so I don’t notice the time passing.

Finally, the brick starts coming alive!

So, this is a fairly simple procedure but one that–I think–yields. great results. Traditional mortaring methods always kind of left me cold; they never gave me the results I wanted and, in too many cases, all but erased my results! After the grout was on, I had to redo my details! I hated that feeling of going forward, then back, then forward again. I prefer, now, having this greater sense of control.

Troubleshooting tips:

  • Is your line really wavy? Try using a slightly thicker brush or, alternatively, dip your brush in water, daub it off a bit, then draw over your line to smooth it out.
  • Is your color super uneven? Try dropping a smaller amount onto your palette, or mixing it more often.
  • Is your hand shaking? Use something to stabilize it! I’ve had good success with those buckwheat filled pillows, pincushions, and even one of those gel-filled wrist rests that are meant to be used with computers. Whatever you use, just be sure it’s clean; we don’t want any grease or etc transferring to the project itself.

What do you think?


  1. Karen

    I have used egg carton bricks and rocks, sealed them and applied actual non sanded grout. Sounds a bit like overkill now. Lol Does gesso leave a grout-like texture? Your method sounds a lot less messy.


    1. Cadence

      This is what I used to do, and with fairly good success! Although, to be honest, my bricks always seemed to end up with kind of a film. To me, the combination of gesso and paint/pigment over leaves a nice texture, but a big issue here–for me–is scale. How visible IS such tiny texture, anyway? Grout, like most “full scale” materials, is, well…full scale. It ends up looking kind of rough, to me.


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