Julie McKinley has been running chalk painting classes all summer, and has more planned for fall. She invited me into one of her early morning sessions to learn more about the shabby chic aesthetic and how to transform a plain item into something worthy of a table centerpiece. She’s used the paints on tables, chairs, candlesticks, trays and even inexpensive photo frames.
“Sometimes I get a little paint happy,” she said. “But this paint is so forgiving, you can’t make a mistake.”
The transformation happens during a simple six-step process. I’m not much of a crafter, but thankfully this project wouldn’t require any fire, expensive machinery or sharp edges. Even if my painting was an abysmal failure, the chair would still be a functional chair, right? Right.
Step 1: Item selection
This part’s easy. Pick something you like the shape of, but isn’t quite pretty enough to display in your home. Maybe a chair, a tray or a shelf. Or find something that’s already in your home, but you want to give it a new splash of color for an upcoming holiday or a different room. The material doesn’t matter. Chalk paints work on glass, metal, wood or synthetic surfaces. Find your item, clean off the dirt or dust, and you’re ready.
I bought a used chair from the Secondhand Rose on School Street. It’s heavier than I thought, and the largest item in the class. Let’s do this.
Step 2: Pick a color
Now you need to have a plan in mind. Is this a Christmas item? Will it go in the living room or hallway? Maybe don’t pick bright orange for a room done in pastel florals. You get the idea.
My chair will join a black and white desk in my bedroom, so I picked purple, bliss (a blue shade), and silver-gray. McKinley guided me through color placement, with blue on the seat, purple for the framing and gray as an accent. I was thinking solid purple, but McKinley knows what she’s talking about. This could be decidedly less of an eyesore than what I’d create without supervision.
Step 3: Get to painting
Break out a soft brush and get your item covered in a nice even coat. The chalk paint is thick and dries quickly, so spread it on out. If you’re sticking with one color, this is easy. If you’ve got a three-color scheme, don’t worry about painters tape. Do the edges as best you can without overlap, and wipe off or paint over any spillover. Optional: Scuff up your item before painting it, so the roughness starts at the beginning.
This took ages. The aged dry wood of my chair soaked up paint like a thirsty sponge. Plus, there was so much surface to cover on this chair. Painting the slats and the framing took smaller, more delicate brushes. One stripe on the base was blue, and it kept running into the gray. The purple was definitely uneven. But whatever. Shabby chic, right?
Step 4: Scratch it up
The great thing about chalk paint is its powdery texture once it dries. It’s easy to add marks and grit to the surface. Grab some 50 grit sandpaper and scuff up the edges. Don’t be afraid to use some force.
I tore into every edge, adding deep scars in the color. McKinley helped me scuff up the seat, adding marks where natural wear might occur. I ran the sandpaper over every surface to expose the natural wood underneath the fresh paint. It’s a dusty experience, covering the work table with a powdery film in purple and blue.
Step 5: Glazing
Now fill in those scuff marks with an aging glaze. You can’t take your time here. Brush on a layer of glaze, then take a clean rag and wipe it off, rubbing it into the surface. For a different look, thin the glaze with some water in a small bowl. The glaze will appear even lighter.
Glaze and wipe. Glaze and wipe. The glaze slid perfectly into the gaps left by the rough sandpaper.
McKinley complimented my work.
“As you go along, you’re getting better with your coverage at each step,” she said. I didn’t expect there to be a learning curve in painting a chair. But since there clearly is, I’m glad to be moving to the front of it.
Step 6: Finishing
Top off your work with a clear satin finish. Chalk paints make several finishes, but this one will leave your piece smooth and shiny. A little bit of the clear finish goes pretty far, so spread it generously across the piece. Go with the grain at this point, since the brushstrokes will all show.
This was essentially the polishing stage. The work was all over, and it was time to make the chair look pretty. I was committed to any mistakes I hadn’t yet repaired. But is it really a mistake if the spot looks shiny and lacquered? No. The finish heals all wounds. After three hours, my hands had bits of paint, dust, glaze and finish coating them. Somehow, my apron was still clean. The chair was done, dried and ready to take home for a place of honor in front of my desk. Maybe I’ll finally use my laptop someplace other than the sofa.