Tiki statues come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. Some may look good as they are, and others may be a bit rough around the edges. If you’ve bought one (and certainly if you’ve made one of your own), you may want to consider embellishing the look to exactly match your personal taste. With a little effort and some simple materials, you can make your tiki really stand out and give it a finished look that will catch everyone’s eye.
The first thing to consider when finishing or embellishing a tiki statue is a sealing material. Most tikis are made from some type of fibrous material, be it wood or the trunk of a palm tree. If it is to be displayed outside, the need for weather protection is obvious. Even if the tiki is used indoors, it’s a good idea to seal it to protect it from dirt and stains.
One of the best sealing materials is polyurethane. Easy to apply, durable and easy to clean, polyurethane is a great finish. The best way to apply it is with the largest brush that will fit in the urethane pot. The bristles of the brush can get into small crevices that sponges and other application tools can’t reach. I have found that using a circular motion with the brush really allows the brush to cover well.
One thing to consider is that it will take a LOT of polyurethane to cover your tiki, especially if this is the first time you’re sealing it (you need to do it again from time to time to ensure good protection). When I sealed a 7 foot tiki it took about a gallon (admittedly the tiki had a lot of rough areas that tend to soak up more polyurethane).
Attention should also be paid 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, protecting against UV rays, heat and humidity. I used Helmsman Spar polyurethane and it seemed to work fine.
An enhancement that I find very attractive and that allows for a very authentic look is the burnt look. Maybe it has to do with the connotation of primitive cultures, or the Polynesian affinity for fire and recognition of its power, but it looks great! Making it an even more attractive upgrade, it’s VERY easy to do. All you need is a propane torch and you’re all set. Simply decide on the area for 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 want. If you use this technique, make sure you have a safe (non-combustible) area and a bucket of water or other fire extinguisher because sometimes the wood or palm trunk will catch fire. It usually turns itself off 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 “fake” and prefer their natural tikis, others enjoy the judicious application of a little paint. I enjoy both types; each has its own appeal or “vibe”. When I use color, I like colors in the red/orange/yellow spectrum (perhaps again taking advantage of the “fire” motif), and generally paint only the eye and mouth areas. However, I have seen tikis painted in practically every color you can 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 want to highlight them with paint. On my first tiki, I carved a palm tree under the face and colored the “leaves” bright green, and burned the “trunk” with a torch for contrast. It made the palm tree stand out nicely.
If you choose to use paint, carefully consider your brushes. I would recommend using a smaller one than the one used for the polyurethane application. You’ll probably want to get into areas that are relatively small, being careful not to paint past a certain point. Actually using two brushes is a very good idea. Use a medium one for larger surfaces and a very small one for small or highly detailed areas.
When choosing paint, make sure it is durable. Do not use a type that washes off (eg Tempura). I chose acrylic paints from the craft section of a local store and was able to get exactly the colors I wanted in the quantities I wanted. Unless you’re painting an entire tiki, you probably won’t use more than 8 to 16 ounces of any one color. If you’re painting really small areas for highlights, you can use even less.
Upgrading a tiki statue is fairly easy as long as a little care is taken. While “primitive” tikis can and do look great, adding a few enhancements in the right places can sometimes take them from “good” to “really awesome.” If you choose to use some of the enhancements described in this document, don’t be surprised, when you show your work, if others find it hard to believe that you actually did it yourself rather than someone professional.