Iridescent Colours for Carving

Monday 9 July 2018

“Translucent colours to add highlighting and overall iridescent effects and faux finishes” is the opening paragraph of the Jo Sonja's catalogue describing the range of iridescent acrylic paints, and guess what? It does exactly that.

Jo Sonja's is part of Chroma, a company established by artist and educator Jim Cobb in 1965. Jo Sonja Jansen, a renowned American folk artist, collaborated with them to create the Jo Sonja's range which we are familiar with today.

First impressions

When squeezing the paint from out of the bottle for the first time, I was taken aback by the initial colour. Although I was hoping to use violet, the colour appeared to be white. Thankfully, my worries were alleviated as I soon discovered that these paints don't reach their full colour or effect until they are dry, so the white soon became a vivid and reflective violet. Also, it is worth noting that these iridescents are at their most intense when applied onto a black or very dark background.

In use

I used iridescent violet over a perfume bottle that I had made from wood, to help achieve a shimmering effect to the decorated area of the piece. I found it worked best if applied in thin washes using the Jo Sonja's retarder medium (retarder is used to delay the drying time of the acrylics, and can be used as a painting medium, or for various techniques such as antiquing).

All in all, I found this an interesting product to use as it creates different colour effects when viewing it from different angles with light changes. After some experimentation, I was able to achieve the result I wanted, which was a surface that changed as the light moved across it. The ability of the paint to do this makes it absolutely ideal for painting birds, especially mallards and starlings, where the natural shimmering effect can be easily replicated.

The iridescents also worked a treat on a slate base using a light wash of gold I made for the project. The only problem I encountered was in how to photograph the results of the gold as my fixed lighting and camera couldn't quite capture the stunning play of movement.


Jo Sonja's iridescent colours work superbly and really do bring out a beautiful, shimmering effect that will leave you mesmerised. They will add wonderful colour enhancement to your carvings, and in particular, bird carvings, They seem to have a real depth to them that appears to be similar to the lustre found on some glass work, and this vividness really is amazing! And if you are after a softer effect, use them on a lighter background for a more subtle look, or thin with retarder, building up the layers to get the appearance you are after. Perfect for bird carving!