Friday, 14 March 2014

Chalk It Up

The other night the WI meeting had a guest speaker from a Whitley Bay shop called Vintage Butterfly

I didn't catch the young woman's name, something like Victoria perhaps? Anyhow, she did a great job telling us about chalk paint and the services at the shop where she has volunteered every Monday for the past year. People seem to do that here, work just because they love it. Her other job is working for English Heritage; she sounded like she had a really interesting life!  But this is about the chalk painting...

Now, I have to say up front that part of me thinks painting dark finished wood is a sacrilege. I'm sure I'm showing my age, but I really like rich wood colours. It would be a cold day in hell before I painted my Grandmother's furniture or Bill's Uncle Anty (Anthony)'s handmade tables with chalk paint. That said, when Grandmother's living room pieces were re-constructed (the upright arms had been sat on and they weren't built for that) and re-upholstered by a friend of a friend, they ended up painting the wood bits that showed rather than re-finishing the wood. I don't know if it was because they hadn't quoted enough for the job or that they didn't have the skills, but I thought it looked OK when it was all done and it's held up reasonably well. 

On the other hand, if you have a piece that you hate the way it is, but it would be useful to you otherwise, better paint it than send it to landfill. Well made furniture can last for generations. (In some inter-war book or other I read one of the insults an upper class person might make is to accuse another of buying their furniture, rather than inheriting it.) Anyhow.

She told us that chalk paint is great not only because it produces the chalky-matte finish that is so popular just now and is good for creating the 'shabby chic' look. Possibly the best thing about it is that it can be applied without intense preparation - I gather no prep at all other than cleaning - to most surfaces. She named ceramic, wood, metal, concrete and even cloth. She passed around a strip of fabric that she had painted with chalk paint. It made ordinary cotton/polyester into a texture more like canvas or plastic. I wouldn't want to wear the painted cloth, but we all scrunched it up and it didn't crack or crumble as expected.  Pretty amazing.  I have read about someone painting the fabric on a chair rather than re-covering it.  Just saying...

She talked about the well-known Annie Sloan paints (I never heard of them, but then I don't get out much) and another newer range that had a far larger selection of colours, Autentico, which they are going to stock soon. As she talked, she painted the mirror she had brought. It was a lovely piece with bevelled glass and an interesting curve at the top with a bit of carving.  She had taped off the glass before painting. She mentioned that her boss preferred to go around with a razor blade rather than tape a piece, but she liked the satisfaction of peeling it off at the end. I quite understood that small pleasure. With my lack of painting skills, I can imagine I would end up doing both.

She had painted the frame with a cream colour and was going back over it with a pale bluey-green, the name of which I didn't record - something about clouds or sea, I don't remember. I did take notes though:


  • do the back / underside first; otherwise you'll never get around to it
  • clean the piece before painting
  • a blunt brush is best for applying chalk paint; use smaller brushes for finicky bits (actually, I think she was planning to leave the carved parts 'naked', but I'm not sure)
  • for a smoother finish, use a roller, chalk paint shows the brush strokes
  • on her mirror she recommended doing the horizontal parts first (the top and bottom of the mirror) and then the vertical parts with long brush strokes
  • you can thicken chalk paint by leaving the lid off overnight; thin it by adding water
  • she was doing a two-colour paint job, sanding the edges so the cream colour showed as well as the darker wood; she has done as much as a five-colour job
  • you can add wax on top of a chalk paint job to protect it, but then you can chalk paint on top of that
  • use sand paper or a sand sponge to distress the edges (or in my family we just live with the piece for 40-50 years and it gets well distressed all by itself...)
  • when waxing, use a small brush, stipple it on a small area then spread and push it in; it looks like greasy spots but when dry it's fine - then buff; you can get different shades of light or dark wax (too many choices here for me already!)
  • waxed furniture can be used outside (scary idea, but who knows, maybe she's right?)
  • there are different grades of chalk paint for different applications, including for painting floors (can't decide if I could live with this or not), but given the climate I expect I'll keep my carpets.
I asked if chalk paint was related to chalkboard paint and she said no; nor was it milk paint (another thing I've never heard of) or white wash (that I knew about, vaguely).  But, having read that one can make their own chalk board paint, I looked and sure enough one can also make their own chalk paint.  I've no idea if homemade chalk paint has all the wonderful qualities of industrial chalk paint, but I may have to try it out depending upon how much money I might save.

Now, all of this is quite exciting to me because I've been developing ideas for the East Wing: the sewing room / guest room. Being as how my largest source of income - the rent house in Salt Lake City - has sucked up about 18 months of profit in repairs and been vacant for five months now - my aim is to spend as little as possible. I want to use the furniture and fabrics I already have to best advantage. If I buy anything else it will almost certainly come from a thrift shop or perhaps Ikea. Bill says my plans sound very 'student-y' and he may be right. It it turns out hideous, I can always throw money at it. However, I'm thinking that a very neutral colour scheme will provide a touch of sophistication and if the furniture all matches, how awful can it be? It will be a long term project in any case.

Vintage Butterfly is going to hold some workshops in June, so I may just have to drop by and learn some more!

5 comments:

vintagefrenchchic said...

Shelly! I just chalk painted for the first time this week--3 pieces of furniture. I love it! Easy, quick and great results. Thanks for sharing these tips. : )

Beryl said...

It is interesting how painting your wood furniture goes in and out of vogue, but actual wood is always in style. I would rather sew in a room with white furniture for some reason.

sanda said...

I've been hearing about chalk paint lately have no experience with it but like what I've seen of it. Thanks for the info in case I ever get the urge to venture in that direction.

Shelley said...

Heather - I can well imagine you diving into chalk painted furniture - just your style!

Beryl - Good point about styles coming and going. Far easier though to paint than to un-paint. I feel just the same about a neutral room being sewing inspiration. Having a more serene background couldn't hurt my frustrated efforts at sewing!

Sanda - Be sure to share photos if you end up experimenting!

Carolyn said...

I prefer natural wood too, but it's fun to experiment with new craft techniques. I wouldn't be game to try them out on antiques or family heirlooms though! :)