Tiki statues come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and styles. Some may look just right the way they are, and others may be a bit rough. If you have purchased one (and certainly if you made your own) you may want to consider embellishing the appearance to make it exactly fit your personal taste. With a little effort and some simple materials, you will be able to make your tiki really pop, and give it a finished look that will catch anybody’s eye.
The first thing to consider when finishing or embellishing a tiki statue is a sealing material. Most tikis are made out of some form of fibrous material, whether it is wood or the trunk of a palm tree. If it is to be displayed outside, the need for protection from weather is obvious. Even if the tiki is used indoors it is a good idea to have it sealed to protect it from dirt and stains.
One of the best sealing materials is polyurethane. Simple to apply, durable and easy to clean up, polyurethane makes a great finish. The best way to apply it is with the biggest brush that will fit in the urethane container. Bristles of the brush are able to get into tiny crevices that sponges and other application tools are unable to reach. I have found that using a circular motion with the brush really allows the brush to cover well.
Something to consider is that it will take a LOT of polyurethane to cover your tiki, especially if it is the first time you are sealing it (it must be redone once in a while to ensure good protection). When I sealed a 7 foot tiki, it took about one gallon (admittedly the tiki had many rough areas which tend to soak up more of the polyurethane).
Attention must also be given to the type of polyurethane used. Not all polyurethane is the same. They are designed for many different purposes. Try to find one that is specifically for outdoor use, protection from UV, heat and moisture. I used Helmsman Spar Polyurethane, and it seemed to work well.
An enhancement that I find very attractive and allows for a very authentic look is the burnt look. Perhaps it has to do with the connotation of primitive cultures, or Polynesian affinity for fire and acknowledgement of its power, but it just looks darned cool! Making it an even more attractive enhancement, it’s VERY easy to do. All you need is a propane torch and you’re all set. Simply decide the area for the burning and apply the torch. I like to burn the areas around the eyes, nose and mouth, but you can really add it anywhere you’d like. If you use this technique, make sure you have a safe area (noncombustible) and a bucket of water or other fire suppressant because sometimes the wood or palm trunk will catch fire. It usually goes out on its own in a few seconds, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.
Next you may want to consider adding color. While many people consider it “unauthentic” and prefer their tikis natural, others enjoy the judicious application of a bit of paint. I enjoy both types; they each have their own appeal or “vibe.” When I do use color, I like colors in the red/orange/yellow spectrum (perhaps again tapping into the “fire” motif), and generally paint just the eye and mouth areas. I have, however, seen tikis painted with virtually every color you could imagine,-sometimes completely covered! As with most of these issues, it’s a matter of personal taste.
If there are decorative carvings on your tiki (for example palm trees, pineapples or flowers) you may wish to highlight them with paint. On my first tiki, I carved a palm tree below the face and colored the “fronds” bright green, and burnt the “trunk” with a torch for contrast. It made the palm tree stand out nicely.
If you do choose to use paint, carefully consider your brushes. I would recommend using one smaller than one used for the application of the polyurethane. You will probably want to get into areas that are relatively small, taking care not to get paint beyond a certain point. Actually using two brushes is a really good idea. Use a medium one for larger surfaces and a very small one for tiny or highly detailed areas.
When choosing paint, make sure that it will be durable. Do not use a type that will wash off (for example Tempura). I chose acrylic paints from a local department store craft section, and was able to get exactly the colors I wanted in the quantities I wanted. Unless you are painting a whole tiki, you would probably not use more than 8-16 ounces of any one color. If you’re painting really small areas for accent, you may use even less.
Enhancing a tiki statue is really quite easy as long as a bit of care is taken. While “primitive” tikis can and do look great, adding a few enhancements in just the right places can sometimes take them from “good” to “really extraordinary.” If you choose to use some of the enhancements described herein don’t be surprised, when you show off your work, if others have a hard time believing that you actually did it yourself instead of some professional.