THOSE BEAUTIFUL PAINTED wall finishes you have admired in interiors magazines can be yours at the flick of a wrist. With the range of paints available today and their ease of application, it is possible to create a distinctive and professional-looking feature over a weekend. Because the technique takes a little practice, it's wise to start on an inconspicuous area, or one that can easily be painted over. Then, by the time you reach the main wall in the living room, you'll be up and running. The trick is to paint with a light base coat first, then use whatever your imagination conjures - a sponge, a brush, a plastic bag, an old T-shirt - to apply the top colour in light strokes or dabs. Mark Fraser of CDI Professional Decorators recommends experimenting with different patterns before deciding on the one you're happy with. He also stresses the importance of 'getting to know your material'. For example, some walls will soak up paint more easily than others, so establish how yours responds before launching into your project. Interior wall paints are usually water-based emulsion paint, low in toxicity and often with properties such as fungus resistance. There are three finishes: vinyl matt for a dull, flat look; vinyl silk with a silky sheen; and a gloss finish that shines. All are also available for woodwork application. Water-based woodwork paint in an acrylic gloss or eggshell finish is becoming more popular than the oil-based enamels of the past. Although enamel is more durable for heavy-traffic areas such as skirting boards and doors, it smells, is more difficult to apply and more arduous to clean up. Latex (water-based) paints are less likely to run during application, and if you have a spill, it is easily mopped up. Another advantage of choosing a matt finish for woodwork is that it is kinder to old or worn surfaces, toning down rough edges or the evidence of previous paint jobs. In contrast, eggshell highlights any imperfections. Fraser tends not to reuse paintbrushes as they are cheap to replace in Hong Kong, and not of high quality. At the end of each day's work, place the brushes and rollers used for water-based paint into a plastic supermarket bag and tie them up. They will be good as new next day. Most people store their enamel paintbrushes in a bucket of turpentine, but plain water works too and helps to keep the brush soft. Count on applying at least two coats - more if you plan to change a dark wall to a light colour. But before you get to that stage, proper preparation will prevent a poor performance. Start by attending to the plugs left by picture hooks - most walls will have plenty of those. Either cut them back with a Stanley knife or pull them out and fill the holes. Check for any loose plaster caused by dampness, which may be obvious (by flaking or cracking), or revealed with light tapping that produces a hollow sound. You're most likely to find dampness around air-conditioners or on the bathroom ceiling. Scrape out anything that's loose, and for about seven to 10cm around it, fill the masonry behind it with an oil-based sealer and then plaster it flat again. Hong Kong walls rarely need to be sanded down, and usually a light rub will do. But they should be cleaned with trisodium phosphate mixed in a bucket of warm water: wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands, wash from the bottom up to prevent streaking. Move furniture to the centre of the room, and cover with drop cloths. Remove as much hardware as you can, such as window latches, door knobs and electrical switch plates. If it seems too difficult to remove the light fittings when painting the ceiling, cover them with large plastic bags, such as bin liners. This is when masking tape will become your best friend. Running the tape along the edges of wooden floors, carpet and window frames will save you time and effort later on. Finally, you are set to go. Watch out, Picasso.