Monday, March 28, 2011

Handpainting Furniture: A How-To Project You Might Want To Try

I have a small part-time job painting names and illustrations on children's furniture for a local store. It's something I can do at home putting my drawing and painting skills to use, hopefully creating happy memories for the young recipients. Rocking horses, step stools or chests are some of the items that can be personalized.

Painting and lettering is a skill but one that can be learned with some patience, paint, a few tools and a computer printer. I'll list some steps below and supply a shopping list in case you want to give this a try.

Of course, doing these small items for others has revived my interest in hand painting a few things of my own. When my husband and I were first married we lived in a small apartment with very little furniture. Visiting my mother one day on Long Island, we took a ride to one of her favorite haunts: the local Salvation Army. Here she would pick through donated stuff with a discerning eye in hopes of finding a treasure to take home. This was not my husband's idea of a good time but I got into the spirit and discovered a tall double doored chest, really a wardrobe, that was painted white. The piece was chipped and worn but had a metal label at top indicating that it came from Wanamakers, a now defunct but respected department store. It was only $20. and I could envision it adding to our closet space in our storage-challenged apartment. The only problem was getting it home to to Queens (one of the boroughs of New York City) where we lived. We had a Volkswagen beetle.

Well, as my husbands luck would have it, the chest remained in my mothers basement for almost 25 years when in a fit of defiance, I insisted that it come home with us (now to Staten Island) and since we had three children, we of course owned a van. The chest fit nicely in the back with all of the seats removed. What we did with the kids is a bit foggy, but no matter, I finally had my chest.

I took it to a furniture stripper and had the paint removed. My intention was to paint it. Fast forward almost 10 years later, the chest remains unpainted.

It's a great piece (pictured at left) and we get lots of compliments on it. I've finally decided on a plan for the chest: Asian-style cherry branches and blooms complete with illustrations of birds of all species. I'm thinking of a light Tiffany blue background with brown and tan branches, white blooms and of course lots of beautiful plumage. Will share the 'masterpiece' when completed.

Here's a 'How To' in case you feel inspired to get involved in a similar project.


Craft paints from stores like Michael's, AC Moore, of all colors or the sample wall paint jars from paint stores.

Brushes of all sizes: regular brushes for background color if there isn't one, flat brushes and tiny pointed sable brushes for detailing. Brush sets are available in craft stores.

Soft pencil for sketching. 

Stencils or letters and illustrations printed to size from a computer 

Ruler for centering and measuring 

Q-tips. These make great erasers using a small amount of soap should pencil lines show after painting. 

Wood skewers.I use the soft points on these to make adjustments to painted edges. By lightly scraping with the wooden point you can remove errant drops of paint safely from a wood surface.

How to do it

Determine where the name and illustrations will go. Measure area to find the center at top and bottom. 

Print out appropriate size letters using a font that has some weight to it. Cut the letters out with a small scissor and place the center letter in the marked center of the piece. For example, for the name Jason, the letter 's' would be the center.

Place the other letters to the right and left and lightly trace the letters being careful not to make an indent in the wood. Keep the printed letters nearby for reference as you start to paint. If this is your first time, choose simple block letters.

Most jobs need more than one coat so you'll have to go over it a few times. 

When completed, check for stray pencil lines and use a damp, lightly soaped Q-tip to erase. Dry immediately. Use the wood skewer to lightly scrape away up any small drops.

When you are happy with the lettering and/or illustrations, seal art area only with a water based gloss also available in craft stores.

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