Upon examining early japanned furniture, it becomes apparent why so much testudinally painted furniture was surrendered to japanners and other artists accomplished in chinoiserie. The least convincing simulated tortoiseshell finishes are bedaubed with a repetitive pattern more reminiscent of leopard skin than any turtle’s carapace (figures 1 & 2).
As with furniture that is veneered with tortoiseshell – the largest pieces of which seldom exceed 12″ by 9″ – (figures 3 & 4), better quality faux examples were painted in similarly small sections.
I divided the carcase panels, drawer fronts and mouldings into segments and then painted each area separately to more closely replicate the use of the relatively small individual scutes that constitute a turtle’s carapace (figure 5).
Tortoiseshell backgrounds range from cherry red through amber to pale sand, the darker colours are known as ‘scarlet’ (figure 6) and the paler colours; ‘blonde’ (figure 7).
Paint-simulated tortoiseshell (whether ultimately blonde or scarlet) normally begins with an opaque flavescent ground. I brushed two coats of a flat, oil-based buttery-yellow over the gessoed chest and when thoroughly dry, I flattened it all with fine abrasive paper. To complete the ground, it was brushed all over with a thin spirit varnish (figure 8).
I struggled to capture the true colour of this yellow with my camera; however, the representation in figure 9 is quite true… on my monitor, at least.
I purchased a 500ml can of Zoffany Hawksbill from their True Turtle Paint range and brushed a couple of coats over the prepared ground, sanding lightly between coats.
When that fantasy didn’t eventuate, I resorted to the more traditional method of brushing on layers of water- and spirit-based glazes in imitation of the splotches and streaks of natural tortoiseshell. When the glazes are all dry, the whole lot will be sealed with a couple of coats of spirit varnish.