Decorative Painting 101 – The Comma Stroke & A Tip

by | Jan 19, 2010 | Miscellaneus | 15 comments

Welcome to the second installment of the workshop series brought to you by Mustard Seed Creations and Funky Junky Interiors!  Before I start, remember that Funky Junk Donna is guiding you through the great purge this week to make your workspace usable. You’ll find out the pitfalls of the “shuffle” technique and how to deal if you have mild hoarding habits. This is not glamorous work, but it must be done to have a space to create.
Alright, everyone, do you have your supplies ready? If you missed the suggested supply list for the Decorative Painting 101 series, click here to check it out.  We’re going to dive in and start working on strokes.  The first stroke you’re going to learn is known as the comma stroke.  Excuse my nails…I was staining my vanity this morning and despite wearing latex gloves, I got stain under my nails.
You can use this stroke in so many places, so it’s a great one to master.  For this stroke, we’re going to use the #4 filbert and your #1 liner.  Here is the stroke progression with the #1 liner in pictures:
Place your brush down on your surface with moderate pressure.
Swing the brush around, lifting it slowly as you get to the end of the stroke.

Your brush should only be lightly touching the surface at the “tail” of the stroke.  As you can see, it looks like a comma. 

You can also make a “straight comma” using the same technique.  One of the keys to this stroke is to keep your brush facing the same way the entire time.  To help you out a little more, here is a video clip of the stroke in action!  This is a first for Miss Mustard Seed.  Keep in mind that I am not a hand model and my thumbs are terribly double jointed. If anyone makes fun of me, no more video for you!  (By the way, you have to check out Donna’s video…she definitely one-upped me on this!) 

(Do you have any idea how hard it is to film yourself painting?)  Anyway, now that you’ve practiced the comma stroke and are a master of it, what do you do with it?

You could paint a border like I did on my chalkboard side table.  This was done with the #1 liner. 

Do you see the comma strokes in this hand painted “Delft” knob?  They are very tiny, but you can paint a knob in this design using comma strokes.

Can you spot them in this painted border on a two tiered table?  The scroll work is just lengthened comma strokes with a #4 filbert. 

This dresser design has a few straight lines and “s” strokes, but it is mostly made of comma strokes.  See them?

Me: So, Donna, do you think this stroke is doable for you? 

Donna: “Totally doable, MMS! In fact, I ran out and grabbed some paint today from Walmart to give it a whirl. Here are my first two practice sheets done on black construction paper.

I used a #2 I had on hand, and I was totally stunned how thick the stroke became with such a small brush! I’ll be purchasing some smaller ones next time I’m in town.”

Me: Yeah, I prefer a really tiny brush unless I need to cover a larger area.  I feel like I have more control and it looks sharper.

Donna: “I’m not brand new to hand brushing. I’ve done some hand typography when going to graphic design college and we practiced on sheet after sheet of newspaper. I’ve also taken some tole painting courses waaaay back. But honestly, it’s about learning how much to load the brush, the right consistency for a smooth flow, and then from there it’s allowing the brush to do the work. I need a ton of practice to ‘get it back’ but after awhile it becomes a little addictive. 🙂

I didn’t pick up any floating medium which I wish I had. The paint got thick on me from the get go and I diluted the paint with water constantly. With the right sized brush, a nice fluid consistency and possibly a smoother surface, what you see here would probably be greatly improved.”

Me: The construction paper probably soaked up the paint as well and made it so the brush didn’t “flow” as well. 

Donna: “When I was ready to get abit fancier, what helped me was to ink sketch the general shape I was after, knowing the thick strokes were on the outsides of the pen lines. I looked at these pics of MMS’s for the general shapes.


Great first lesson MMS! I’m off to practice for the week before you get fancier on us. :)”

Can you believe this girl?  Great job, Donna.

Now, don’t you be discouraged if your sample board looks something like this.  (This sample board is courtesy of my 3 year old.  He wasn’t exactly catching on to the comma stroke…)
Just stick with it and keep practicing.  This is not a skill you’re born with, it’s something you can learn, so don’t give up if you’re not great right away.  Trust me, I painted a lot of ugly things before I painted something pretty. 

I’m also going to share a paint mixing tip with you.  I’ve shared this before, but it was when I had about 20 followers, so I thought it was worth repeating.  If you like a soft, antique look to your work, mix your colors with a dab of burnt umber.  I do this with almost every color I work with.  You can see the difference in the pictures below. 

Please leave comments to let me know how you’re getting along.  Also, let me know if you use what you’ve learned on a project or you have a sample board you’re especially proud of and I’ll share it on my blog!  I’ll also have a link party at the end of this series to give you the opportunity show off your skills.  Next week, we’ll work on some other strokes and basic flowers.  Don’t worry we’re not going to be painting bears or ducks.  I’m not that kind of a decorative artist and you won’t be, either.
Miss Mustard Seed


  1. Megan


    Now to get my supplies ready and put this into action. I have a small dresser screaming for decorative painting!

  2. Gwen

    Your video was great! I am going to try this as soon as I get the use of my hand back. (a sling and stitches don't make for easy painting)

    Thanks for giving me so much to look forward to:)

  3. Danielle @ Transforming Home

    Lovin' the video – makes it so much easier to see what you are talking about. I am excited to get practicing!


  4. Danielle @ Transforming Home

    Okay, sorry to leave another comment, but I tried it! At first it wasn't good, then I realized I didn't have enough paint on the brush. Now, it looks much better! Thanks so much – I'm gonna play with it now…


  5. Connie

    Sugggggar!!!! I cannot tell you how many times I've practiced that stroke in the hope of painting a rose. Squeeeeeeal….my goal in life. But I've always been told by my eBay group to use an angled brush. I'm truly pathetic. BUT a filbert for a brush stroke makes a lot more sense to me. I'm going to practice it tomorrow and see if I can at least mater that one. Oooooh, be still my heart, I may be a rose painter yet…before I die, I mean!!! Nice to meet you, chickee.


  6. Sweet Bee Cottage

    This is so fun! I haven't actually started yet, but I know I can do this! I'll be coming back when I have a little time to practice – just you, me and my laptop!


  7. Marianne@Songbird

    Ok, make a comma, keep the brush straight and use the smallest one. Check got that, gotta go now and practice! Thanks for the lessons, I need them!

  8. SueAnn

    I have my brush and paint…so I am ready to go. Now on to practice!! Loved your video. It really broke it down well! Thanks

  9. Crystal

    Oh I just love this, it is like one on one tutoring 🙂 I am just new to theses two blogs, so am going to get my supplies and practice. I have yet to share a DIY or craft on my blog, do to the fear of looking dumb. I think this series my help me with this, YIPPEEE!!!!
    I just love, love, love these two blogs.

    Thanks a bunch!

  10. pk @ Room Remix

    I'm definitely going to have to go through this post a few times to absorb, but it's awesome information! Thanks so much for taking the time to put all of this together.

  11. Gail

    Great job and loved the video. Went shopping this morning and brought some new brushes. Will practice later this evening.

    P.S. Donna's video is so funny!

  12. Dana @ Cooking At Cafe D

    The video really helped! I'm looking forward to the rest of this series. I'd love to be able to paint some really cute roses, rose buds, and daisies.

    (I would imagine that daisies could be done with straight comma strokes. One lesson and my brain is trying to what you taught!)

  13. Jane

    Great tips! Thanks for the workshop.



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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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