Wall textures are only limited by imagination. Joint compound is wonderful stuff to show off DIY artistic talents. An inexpensive decorative look can be created no matter what your skill level. If it's new drywall, the joints and corners do need to be taped, finished, and sanded first. Blemishes will show through a light texture, so more care must be taken during preparation. Heavier textures will hide many small imperfections. When texturing over an existing finished surface, holes or cracks will need to be repaired first.
Texture is sprayed on, rolled on or knifed on. The spray textures like orange peel and popcorn are usually left to the professional. It requires special equipment and is very messy. This article is not intended to address those types of texture, nor paint textures.
Doing any texture can be somewhat messy. If you're working on finished flooring, do cover it with plastic or tarps. Joint compound is water soluble, so clean up is a breeze if you do have a mishap. Provided of course you don't knock an entire bucket over. Nothing's a breeze when that happens!
The most common, the easiest, and the quickest method of applying joint compound (also known simply as "mud") for texturing is using a regular paint roller. A medium nap roller cover works the best. The thicker napped covers tend to grab too much joint compound and rolling on joint compound is a bit different than rolling on paint. Dip the entire roller into the joint compound. It will be hard to roll until it gets saturated. If you're still having trouble getting it to roll after a few dips, you may have need to add more water. See below.
Use the pre-mixed joint compound sold in 5 gallon buckets at any home improvement store. There is no real difference in brands, but do not use the variety that is marked "lite". It has a different consistency. The joint compound will need to be thinned down before you apply it.
You can purchase a mixer attachment for a standard electric drill, or a hand mixer that resembles a giant potato masher. If you opt for the hand mixer be forewarned; it's a real work out doing it that way. It will take approximately 1 to 3 pints of water to get the joint compound to the right consistency. Do not put a lot of water in at one time or you'll splash it all back out trying to get started mixing.
Start with about a half pint of water and mix thoroughly. You want a consistency similar to pancake batter. You can always go back and add more water and re-mix. Once it's too thin, you're stuck with it. Clean the edge of the bucket with a wet rag and put the lid back on until you're ready to use it. Joint compound will keep for months as long as it is tightly sealed and keep away from direct heat or freezing.
You can experiment on scrap pieces of drywall, or even on cardboard, if you're not sure what you want. The majority of textures use a brush to achieve a design. The most basic texture is a stipple. A stippling brush can be purchased at a home improvement store. There are two types; round and crow's foot. The crow's foot is an oval shape and can be purchased as a double brush. They both make the same style of texture. The mud is rolled on and the brush is "stomped" over the wet area in a random over-lapping pattern.
You can also use a white wash brush, a sponge, or a notched trowel. A type of texture known as lay down or knockdown uses a stippling brush and then is lightly wiped over with a large (10 inch or larger) drywall knife when it has "set" (just starting to dry a little) It makes a nice wall texture. This type of texture is known by various names such as; knock-down, stucco effect and others. Keep in mind that any texture you use on a wall that uses a brush to pull the mud can have very sharp points when it dries. A heavy stipple texture has points that are sharp enough to draw blood from accidentally brushing against it.
My personal favorite texture is similar to a plaster swirl. After rolling on the mud, a 6 inch white wash brushis used. Starting about 6 inches down from the top of the wall, sweeping fan-like motions are used drawing the brush through the the joint compound. The rounded end of your "fan" is at the ceiling angle and the start and stop marks at the bottom. Overlap each 180 degree loop, working across the wall and down at the same time, keeping them random sizes. The brush will pack up quickly with excessive mud so rinse it frequently in a bucket of clean water.
Joint compound is very forgiving and doesn't have a finite set time like plaster does. However, it will dry quickly if the temperature is above 75 degrees. It will dry even faster with air flow. You don't want to try texturing an entire wall all at one time. Only apply as much mud as you can keep up with. It works best with two people, one applying the mud and the other doing the texturing. Don't have any fans blowing on your work, nor have the windows wide open on a breezy day.
So, take your time and experiment until you find just the right texture to suit your tastes and needs. Brush, stomp, dab, and/or wipe until you like what you see. Heavier textures are harder to clean so keep that in mind. You don't want a hard to clean textured wall in a high traffic area especially if you have children. It will be neccesary to paint a textured wall once it is completely dry to seal the joint compound.