Part of Historic Environment Scotland

Conservation of surface finishes

Discover the history and conservation of a range of internal and external surface finishes traditionally used on Scotland’s historic buildings.



Download a prospectus for more information on the diploma and short courses.

Temp prospectus link

Study time

Taught:28 hours

Self-study:24 hours


As a stand-alone short course:£420

Someone painting a piece of decorative stonework for a building

Get a historic overview of the use of paints and other coatings in Scottish architectural traditions, from the medieval period through to the 20th century.

What you'll learn

As well as exploring the impact of internationally renowned Scottish artists such as Adam, Cottier, Mackintosh and Traquair, you'll learn about:

  • technological developments from hand-mixed coatings using natural materials such as lime and earth pigments
  • manufacturing of paints and varnishes on an industrial scale and innovative synthetic materials
  • the physical properties of paints, varnishes and other coatings
  • high-style decorative finishes such as gilding and stenciling and the technical skills and knowledge required to conserve, restore and replicate these today

By the end of this course you'll understand:

  • current conservation repair principles
  • how to undertake appropriate repairs including:
    • initial survey and documentation
    • assessment of fabric condition and diagnosis of the causes of defects, deterioration or mechanical failure
    • specification, procurement and on-site repair of existing or installation of new material

Everything you learn will be according to the best current principles of best conservation practice.

Topics covered

  • Origins of materials
  • Range of materials and uses
  • Properties and characteristics
  • Decorative finishes
  • Decay mechanisms
  • Repair and conservation techniques
  • Specifying repairs
  • Health and safety

Course content

Hands-on workshop/lab activities

Paint sampling, preparation and micrcoscopal analysis of samples; exercises in gilding and graining and application of other faux finishing

Potential site visits

  • Holmwood House
  • Cottier Theatre, Glasgow
  • Gladstone’s Land and Mansfield Traquair Centre (Edinburgh)
  • Trinity House
  • Leith
  • The Palace Project (Stirling Castle)


Short courses are not formally assessed. Students will be awarded a certificate upon successfully completing this course. Anyone looking for a formal qualification can study our full diploma course or separate units.

What our students say