In this post: Do you feel the finish on reproduction furniture can look a little forced? I painted a new farmhouse clock more like an authentic Swedish Mora clock.⇒
I can tell you steps that I use to paint a piece of furniture…
and I will.
But sometimes I think the more interesting story is the trajectory of emotions that accompanies the process. Or even precedes it.
It generally starts with a combination of trepidation and excitement, the larger part of which is dependent on how many times I’ve done this before.
But even after having completed many painting projects, I rarely approach a piece with complete assurance. It’s that little bit of uncertainty that brings a measure of caution to the task.
For me that’s a good thing.
Despite being a planner who maps everything out, I often dive in head first once I’m ready to get going. This can mean painting in my best sweater or not bothering to use a drop cloth, so a little extra vigilance tends to work in my favor.
I’m trying to be cognizant of the benefits of careful set up, lest the excitement wins out over the apprehensive side of me.
Swedish Farmhouse Clock
It is with this jumble of emotions that I approached the mora clock that stands in our upstairs hallway.
Given that it’s not an antique, it was ripe for painting. A mass produced reproduction, which was nonetheless lovely, I started to think about painting it when I first started painting furniture.
Almost always, my selections of pieces to paint, are items that are already painted and could use a unique identity of their own. I’ve seen this clock in the popular blue-grey color it comes in, in countless photos online and in magazines. (See the before pic above.)
Add to that the fact that the color was too similar to the French dresser that sits across from it in the hallway. It was the perfect candidate for my next project.
Which brings me to step one. Selecting the paint colors.
I keep a box of various light colors of my favorite chalk paint, Pure & Original, and so I started by pulling out the box and seeing what I have on hand.
I’m not going to lie. In large part my base color was chosen by default. Which color did I have enough of?
Of course, I knew the general look I wanted, so I only looked in that range. I was aiming for a range of whites and beiges so that the clock would have the general look of an aged white clock. I opted for Antique White Classico as my base color.
When using this chalk paint it’s not necessary to do any prep, which is why this technique works so well for me. I did, in fact, bother to lay out a drop cloth, opened the paint and stirred it well. That was the extent of my prep.
Oh, and I also moved the clock away from the wall, another step I’ve been known to foolishly skip.
A word about painting the first coat. I usually paint the darkest color first, paint it on flat, and paint it with two coats. No matter how small the piece of furniture, once you start painting, it somehow gets bigger. This is the stage where the work gets tiring, but it’s not hard.
If you’re going to be antiquing the piece with several layers of varying colors, don’t get stuck on being a perfectionist at this early stage. If bits of the original color show through in some spots, go with it. It won’t matter later.
Likewise, razor sharp edges are not necessary, and quite the contrary, softer transitions between the contrasting colors will look more natural.
Let the paint dry between coats. It usually dries a little darker. Step back and assess. This is the time to evaluate how the color looks and what needs to come next.
If the base coat looks great you may experience a little elation, followed by the temptation to call it good and keep it as is.
There’s nothing wrong with painting furniture a flat color and I’ve even done it once, but for me, this is generally a temporary triumph and typically I admit I’m tired and looking for the easy way out.
So next comes the dance.
This is when you start applying the highs and lows and for me when its working well, it takes the shape of a dance. I keep brush in one hand and sponge in the other, applying color with the brush and wiping it away with the sponge. You have to hit your groove, so to speak, to kind of get in the zone and it takes practice. Don’t start on your precious antique the first shot out of the gate. But once you find your technique, it all falls into place.
That said, even with practice, at first this leads to a well known stage, what many people call the ugly stage. Don’t panic when you reach this stage. Maybe the color is looking blotchy and unnatural. But keep at is. The paint is very forgiving. You can alway paint over the mistakes that look really bad or use other layers to create complexity you didn’t necessarily plan for.
Start lightly. Use similar colors and several of them. Apply the paint sparingly and wipe it off quickly. You can always build up more contrast.
For my clock, I first added some shadows in with Soft Taupe Classico. I did this quite sparingly, as the darkest tones are usually reserved for the bottom coat. I added only a little bit where definition was needed. It’s always best to follow the lines of the piece, which is why the more complex the detail, the better. Expanses of flat surface tend to be the hardest to work with because there are no real highlights and shadows to tease out.
My strategy for handling large flat areas is to use 2 colors that are very close in value to fake some dimension. The key is to not use a predictable pattern but to try to make the color distribution more random. You don’t want it to look like even spaced spots. Vary how much you use of each color, as well as whether you apply it as a wet wash or as a dry brush. I like to use both.
For my two close colors I used Old Linen Classico to play off the Antique White Classico base. You can see the two colors together in the photo above.
The last stage of painting is my favorite stage, because this is where the magic usually resides. By this point you’ve covered the piece with at least a few tones and now you can work back into it with more highlights for even more definition. Use your lightest colors at this point and tease out any natural highlights you can find.
This will include raised portions of decorative appliqués, or simply the edges of the various planes of the piece. I use dry brush for this portion and it generally brings out the beauty of both the furniture itself, as well as the layers of paint that have been built up.
It’s also the stage where you can cover a multitude of sins.
Found an area that’s too blotchy, just work back into it with a lighter color. Take care, as well, to view it during the day and at night. The variation in lighting can emphasize sections that need correcting.
For my two highlight colors I used Bone Classico and Milk White Classico, and when I’m using the lightest color, I’m adding the least amount of paint.
Finally, when all is done and it’s completely dry, I use a top coat of clear Classico Italian Wax. Brush it on liberally and let it dry overnight. Then buff it in the morning and you’re good to go.
It always amazes me how the emotional trajectory of a furniture painting project often follows the progression of the project itself.
You may start off apprehensive and go through phases of uncertainty, but the reward is a satisfying sense of accomplishment, along with some pretty new furnishings.
And if you’re not happy with the outcome?
Then you’re just not done…
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