Tiki sculptures come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and styles. Some may look exactly the way they are, others may be a bit rough. If you have bought one (and certainly if you made your own) you may want to consider decorating the look to make it exactly fit your personal tastes. With a little effort and some simple materials, you’ll be able to make your tiki really pop, and give it a finished look that will catch anyone’s eye.
The first thing to consider when finishing or decorating a tiki sculpture is sealing material. Most tikis are made from some form of fibrous material, whether it’s wood or a palm tree trunk. If it is to be displayed outside, the need for weather protection is obvious. Even if the tiki is used indoors, it is a good idea to seal it to protect it from dirt and stains.
One of the best sealing materials is polyurethane. Simple to apply, durable and easy to clean, polyurethane finishes great. The best way to apply it is with the largest brush that will fit in the urethane container. The bristles of the brush can reach small crevices that sponges and other application tools cannot reach. I have found that using a circular motion with the brush allows the brush to cover well.
Something to consider is that it will take a LOT of polyurethane to cover your tiki, especially if this is the first time you have sealed it (it must be repeated once in a while to ensure good protection). When I sealed a 7-foot tiki, it took about one gallon (admittedly, the tiki has a lot of rough spots that tend to absorb more of the polyurethane).
Attention must also be paid to the type of polyurethane used. Not all polyurethanes are the same. They are designed for many different purposes. Try to find one that is specifically for outdoor use, protection from UV, heat and humidity. I used Helmsman Spar Polyurethane, and it seemed to work well.
The burnt look is an improvement that is very appealing to me and allows for a very authentic look. It may be about the concept of primitive cultures, or a Polynesian affinity for fire and the recognition of its power, but it looks shady! Making it an improvement even more appealing, it’s VERY easy. All you need is a propane torch and you’re all set. Simply determine the area for the burn and apply the torch. I like to burn the areas around the eyes, nose and mouth, but you can add it anywhere you like. If you are using this technique, make sure you have a safe (non-renewable) area and a bucket of water or other fire suppressant because sometimes the wood or palm trunk will catch fire. He usually goes out alone in a matter of seconds, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.
Next you might want to consider adding color. While many people consider it “insubstantial” and prefer their tikis to be natural, others enjoy using a small amount of paint wisely. I enjoy both types; each has its own appeal or “vibe.” When I use color, I like colors in the red / orange / yellow spectrum (maybe again tapping into the “fire” motif), and generally only paint the eye and mouth areas. However, I have seen tikis painted with almost every color you could imagine, – sometimes completely covered! As with most of these issues, it is a matter of personal taste.
If your tiki has decorative carvings (for example palm trees, pineapples or flowers) you may want to highlight them with paint. On my first tiki, I carved a palm tree beneath the surface and colored the green “fronds”, and burned the “trunk” with a torch for contrast. It made the palm tree stand out nice.
If you choose to use paint, consider your brushes carefully. I would recommend using one less than one used to apply the polyurethane. You will probably want to go to relatively small areas, making sure you don’t get paint beyond a certain point. Using two brushes is actually a very good idea. Use a medium one for larger surfaces and a very small one for small or very detailed areas.
When choosing paint, make sure it will be durable. Do not use a type that will wash away (for example Tempura). I chose acrylic paint from the craft department of local department stores, and was able to get exactly the colors I wanted in the sizes I wanted. Unless you paint a whole tiki, you probably wouldn’t use more than 8-16 ounces of any one color. If you paint very small areas for an accent, you may use even less.
Improving a tiki sculpture is actually quite easy as long as a little care is taken. While “primitive” tikis can and do look great, adding a few improvements in just the right places can take them from “good” to “truly extraordinary.” If you choose to use some of the enhancements described here don’t be surprised, when you are displaying your work, if others are having a hard time believing you actually made it yourself instead of some professional.