My Shop in Oxford

21 July 2014

Brush up on your brushes


I’m delighted to write that you can now get to grips with my latest additions to the Annie Sloan brush range in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

I’m actually really excited about that because I spent a lot of time working on the functionality and feel of the brushes to get them just right. ‘Hold on,’ you say, ‘they’re just paint brushes?’ Uh-uh.

They are personally designed, bespoke tools-of-the-trade that’ll make painting furniture and finishes suddenly a lot easier and even more enjoyable! Here’s how…

Putting our brushes through the paces
It’s all in the detail the saying goes, so Felix Sloan and I started our designs by observing attendees first-hand at workshop after workshop, and we watched video after video of people painting with our brushes. (It really was more exciting than watching paint dry!) 


Our research, combined with my own innate sense of what works and what doesn’t (well, I have been painting furniture for several decades!) led us on a journey to hone the best-suited grips and brush hair for our unique decorative paint, Chalk Paint®, and Soft Wax.

Putting the brushes through their paces I noticed, for instance, how I personally (and others) hold the brushes on the ferrule (the metal ring), rather than the handle when waxing: so we designed the wax brushes specifically with an oversized ferrule. I hope you’ll like these new smooth, ergonomic handles (below). They give good purchase as you get into those hard to reach contours and crevices.

Tailored in Italy


My two new Wax Brushes (above) come with specially shaped tips so you can get the wax into detailed areas and move them around in tight spaces. As with my pure bristle paintbrush, the wax brushes are hand-made in Italy by a family-run business. It’s been running for donkey's years – one member who first worked there as a boy in the 1940s, still drops in every day. This firm makes brushes to the highest standards and bespoke quality doesn’t come cheap. But it does come with more pure bristles per pad than your average brush; and that concentration of pure bristles means you can hold lots of wax in one dip.

The tips have also been shaped rather than cut to keep the bristles' natural, ultra-soft split ends. The short bristles are super smooth allowing you to brush the wax on easily rather than labour with excessive elbow grease.

Quick care tip: As the bristles are real hair, treat them as you would your own hair, i.e. wash them well with warm water and a very little mild soap to wash the wax out.

Natural strokes for natural folks

I’ve designed my round, slightly tapered Pure Bristle Brushes (above) specifically for expressive brush work. These real bristles are naturally split at the ends so they can so they can give soft edges to hold a lot of paint – which you need to do to create my signature textured finishes! The pure bristles are very resilient so that as they slowly wear down, the ends will always naturally split keeping your brush in ideal condition.

Quick care tip: If you're only using them with Chalk Paint®, simply rinse with water. There's no need to use soap. Hang them up to dry so the wood and ferule don't get damaged.

Blue, blue my world is blue…


I’ve also introduced two new Flat Brushes (one small, one large) with super soft blue synthetic fibres, these are the smoothest fibres we can find.  The flat ends and soft fibres help you apply the paint evenly, eliminate brush marks, and give you a smooth soft edge for a silky finish. I think the colour is pretty funky too.


Quick care tipYou can tie through some fabric or shoelaces or string so they can hang out to dry after washing. Or just hang them on a wall hook or nail! (Photo above from Stockist Les Couronnes Sauvages in France)

All in all my latest brushes are totally tactile, versatile, durable and reliable. Ok, enough sales pitch, but I’m really proud of the way these have turned out. I think they are brushstrokes of genius. I hope you agree!

Yours, Annie

26 June 2014

“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America…”



…said the indomitable actress Sarah Bernhardt, and you kinda have to agree: the city is really buzzy; or as Frank sang it: “Bet your bottom dollar you lose the blues in Chicago”. So after this year’s Annie Sloan Stockist conference in New Orleans I just had to stop off in one of my favourite places. I’ve visited Chicago a few times before, but I’ve never had the time to take it in, or take my husband David with me (seen here snapping the ‘bean’ – more on that below). 



Blueprint for modernism
We stayed at The Langham, a fabulous hotel tucked into the ultimate statement in modernist architecture – the IBM building. And that’s saying something because Chicago is the city of architecture for me. The minimalist steel-and-glass tower (the dark one next to the Trump Tower above right) was designed by Mies van de Rohe, a tour de force of modernism. The building (and Mies himself) just oozes corporate power with its structure, shape and composition. At art school I studied him and the Bauhaus experimental art and design movement of 1930s Germany where he was director. The Nazis forced its closure and Mies came to the USA. He was an unreformed character who liked to puff big cigars and said stuff like “A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.” Mies own ‘Barcelona’ chair (below) is a pretty cult object too.


Since college I’ve continued to be immensely interested in the Bauhaus (see my post on Klee) and the later modernist movement – especially because of the gap between people’s perception on the lines of “oh those modern buildings are so ghastly,” and then they see them in the flesh and you hear “oh my aren’t they amazing?” You can’t fail to be impressed by those gleaming high-rises along Lake Shore and dotted around the city.

It’s certainly not painterly, it’s not New Orleans, nor Charleston House (UK) – and there’s little or no colour involved, but it still has an extraordinary exuberance and depth and boldness, which I admire. It’s actually all about form and structure and of course there are other styles to see too, such as postmodernism with its filigree and Chippendale flourishes and the flying buttresses of the early steeple style skyscrapers.

Every building here seems to beckon in some shape or form, or provides a neutral frame or backdrop for another building to emerge or stand out. It’s like having a little bit of one of my neutral colours like Paris Grey next to a bright primary such as Emperor’s Silk!

Ultimate Art House


Chicago also houses one of the most amazing art galleries in the world – the Art Institute of Chicago, in which you could spends literally days there are so many wonderful paintings and furniture pieces. I really like the Post-Impressionist collection here and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1891) in particular. The painting shows people relaxing in a suburban park on an island in the Seine River. 

The scene is stylised, formal, with echoes of Ancient Greece but what really gets me is his mastery of pointillism to capture the qualities of light and harmonies of colour. Stand back and the black looks black from afar, but when you come in close you find it is in fact a mix of orange and blue. That’s pretty much impressionist colour theory and what I base my colours and colour mixing on.



Seurat also re-stretched the canvas so he could add a painted border of red, orange, and blue dots to act as a visual link between the interior of the painting and his specially designed white frame.

Bean around

Outside not far away in Millennium Park we strolled over to walk around and under the most exciting sculpture by English artist Anish Kapoor. It’s called Cloud Gate but most people know it as the ‘bean’ for its obvious shape (also a bit like a globule of liquid mercury apparently). 
It’s fun to see this gleaming stainless steel sculpture mirroring Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above as well as the observer! 
Right next to it is a Frank Gehry piece of architecture and again that’s what makes Chicago my kinda town.

Someone suggested to me that Chicago is a sort of a cleaner, more spacious, less frenetic version of New York and I reckon that’s a very apt description.

Yours, Annie

PS. Thought you might like this ‘Skyscraper Cabinet’ I snapped at the Art Institute (by Paul Frankl c.1927).



15 June 2014

Practical Style




I’ve got exciting news to share with you all today. I am joining Fresh Style magazine as a Contributing Editor – starting with their current issue!


My regular column is called ‘Practical Style’. This was the name of my first shop in Oxford and represents the essence of what I stand for – not just here on my blog, but also in my books and in my line of products.

In each issue of the magazine, I’ll share with you an exclusive project that you can recreate at home using simple-to-follow instructions and tips. I’ll also give you an insight into how I work and where I find my inspiration. My hope is that these practical projects will give you all the tools you need to find your own creative expression and style.




For my first column, I guide you through the approach and method that I took to create a table inspired by America’s abstract expressionist movement. I’ve called the piece my ‘Jackson Pollock table’ as the techniques I used and resulting effect remind me of the artist’s iconic abstract paintings. Although this project might look complicated at first, it really is very easy to achieve with a little help from my decorative paint, Chalk Paint®, and clear Soft Wax.

            

Here’s a sneak peak of the project and what you’ll find inside the issue:



Fresh Style magazine is available on newsstands across the USA, as well as via participating Annie Sloan Stockists around the world.

Fresh Style have also created a subscription offer, to find out more follow this link: http://bit.ly/1io0hnj

Yours, Annie

6 June 2014

Bookmark (2) – Traditional Paints and Finishes


  

… After completing the groundbreaking (and back-breaking) 'Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques' [Bookmarks (1) February 2014],  my publishers in the early 1990s were after the next bestseller, so with Kate Gwynn again designing, I wrote 'Traditional Paints and Finishes' (US title 'Classic Paints and Faux Finishes'.) 

This was a the history and sourcebook of all the different sorts of artisan paints, pigments and colours – a lot about making paint, and less on techniques. Check out the back cover contents below which features shots from my step-by-step stencilling and distressing a cabinet!




Plastered
If I was to pick out a feature I was particular pleased with, it would be the plaster finishes – and I did lots of them. 

Creating the props and effects for this book was a huge task, literally. This was in the days before Photoshop so we made these huge boxes with plaster in them and then I painted them and we shot them. The pic below also show my early infatuation with sgraffito which I’ve also recently blogged about.

There were no computer geeks and graphic designers doing fancy stuff on Macs! You had to make these things. And they were so beautiful, even if they weighed a ton! And the greater shame was that after the photo shoot, we had to throw them away. Anyway, looking back at my first big breaks in publishing I am very, very proud of these early gems.


Absorbed by paint
Researching the history of decorative paints –including limewashing, découpage, fresco and the use of glue size, and old varnishes and waxes, as well as how to make paints from natural pigments – spurred me on to develop my own paints as I became more and more absorbed by what paint is and how it works (and there’s a post to come on that…). It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was "a reaction to the blandness and uniformity of modern paints.”

I was reacting against the standardisation that plastic paints produced. Oil was traditionally the classic paint everybody used, so we did both books using oils – back then I thought it was the only way I could get that translucency. I had by then started to try out my own paints (e.g. early versions of Chalk Paint® in Chateau Grey and Aubusson Blue) and some of these featured in both books.



I suppose, in a modest way, with these two titles I helped kick start the rediscovery of traditional paints and paint effects. The use of many softer and subtler colours allowed novice and more experienced decorators a chance to reclaim the look of earlier times. Some of it will look dated now as fashion in decoration comes and goes (and I have developed more deeper, warmer colours), but the principles and fundamentals hold good. And of course today I have my fabulously versatile Chalk Paint® range so you don’t have to make your own paints from scratch as I had to all those years ago.

You could say that you get my whole history in paint mixing and colour theory in each Chalk Paint® pot!

Yours, Annie

20 May 2014

Potato Prints




I love potato printing as a technique because anybody can cut shapes as I did on this cabinet (above). 

You don’t have to be able to draw, and I find that empowering – and isn’t that what my paint and products are all about? I’m much more interested in seeking people’s creativity especially those who feel or think they can’t draw – but in fact anyone can achieve a finish like this.

I printed this old cabinet a very long time ago – and it was old and shabby when I bought it in the mid 1990s! But I like the results: the top drawer has been worn away through constant family use and it’s been in each house we’ve owned for keeping gloves, keys, all sorts of things. So it has a sentimental value too.



Wonky work out

I did a rough concept of what I want to achieve but nothing exact – it’s all rather wonky but that’s its charm. I was aiming for a parallel design but something organic and fairly loose – not uniformly designed, and anyway that just won’t happen with this technique.

With potato (or carrot or cork, other good printing ‘tools’) you need to create some simple shapes– you can’t do anything very fussy because it ends up looking silly. These particular motifs turned into something African, tribal, aboriginal, it wasn’t intended – this effect is also partly to do with the colours I chose.

The small print

So here’s how I did it:

1. I painted the whole cabinet using Chalk Paint® in Primer Red and left it to dry.
2. The inside I painted using Chalk Paint® in Duck Egg Blue to add contrast.
3. Then I added a third Chalk Paint® colour - Aubusson Blue - over the cupboard and drawer surrounds and legs.
4. Next I painted Yellow Ochre (a colour no longer in the Chalk Paint® palette, but you could try Old Ochre here instead) on the drawer and insets.
5. I cut the potatoes in half with a kitchen knife (un-serrated) and got rid of the residual water by dabbing the exposed inside because a lot of water comes out.  
6. I then drew a shape on the exposed inside of the potato using a felt tip pen (below left).
7. Next I cut around the shape/outline using a knife to leave a relief (or raised area, below right).

8. I then put my potato halves on a tray of paint, dabbed some blobs of Chalk Paint® in Primer Red and transfer them – oomph – directly on to the cabinet surface.
9. Then I waxed lightly with my Clear Soft Wax.
10. And finally I rubbed back to give a more distressed feel.




This cabinet also featured in one of my earlier books How To Paint Furniture (1995) now out of print. Today the cabinet is still in use standing proud in our Oxford home after all these years – and with its original wax. 

If you would like to try your hand on another potato printing project, check out my more recent Quick and Easy Paint Transformations (CICO Books, 2010), the cover of which shows a side table polka dot potato print, and inside how to achieve this finish. 

Go on unleash the inner artist in you!

Yours, Annie


11 May 2014

Danish Delights


I’ve never been to Denmark so it was great to have the opportunity just this April to visit the country and meet up with some of my amazing stockists. I had excellent travelling companions in the guise of Cal Dagul and Jane Warnick – both of whom work with me, looking after stockists.

Karin’s Smukt & Brugt 
Open sandwich Danish-style

Denmark may not have the dramatic, eye-catching landscapes of Sweden (which I also visited for the first time this year) but is does have an amazing ‘other-world’ feel, underpinned by the sheer warmth of the people I met, and the fabulously crafted and designed boutiques and interiors I saw.

Simply stunning
I wasn’t prepared for just how pretty flat the simple, slightly windswept farm land is – much of it no more than 30 metres above sea level. In fact when Adriana Saenz (my Distributor for Denmark and owner of Cinteriors.dk) and her husband Lars told me the highest point in Denmark is 150 metres above sea level, I couldn’t believe it. So when I got back I checked: it wasn’t true!! The highest point is… 170 metres above sea level (!) – so we’re still talking hills here not mountains.

What really piqued (peaked?) my interest was the incredible décor stores my stockists ran – I know I’m prone to over-enthusiasm, but these were achingly gorgeous. I only visited 3 stockists' stores – although I met a lot more of my stockists via the workshops I did there – but each one I visited has created their own beautiful boutique concept.

Stockists’ surprises
My first port of call after Adriana's shop, was Karin’s superb showcase old farm Smukt & Brugt in Aulum, Jutland, in the North. It’s a fabulous place where her grandfather once worked, and Karin now lives. She has adapted the old buildings to showcase her collection of vintage goodies (below).
 

 

It’s a complete fantasy romance: every room is set designed so beautifully and often colour themed– you feel like you are walking onto a stage set; it was pure theatre.


Check out the ‘the boys room’ (above) for example, seemingly all vintage, but cleverly mixed with new items. And everything you see is for sale. Karin herself is warm and charismatic and offers her home-made cakes and coffee when you go there.

Next, it was off to an all-too-quick visit to Hønsehuset near Ølby run by a very creative couple Jette and Peter. I love this picture of them together (below left).

  

Hønsehuset means hen-house but they have made this coop into a wonderfully designed décor store in the middle of nowhere. Just look at this amazing ceiling which is around the side of the building in an incredible old barn –the exposed birch bark logs (above) look fantastic. Peter sells wonderful wines as well as balsamic vinegars and oils inside. 



The yellow in this interior (above left) is a colour you see a lot in Danish interiors and a browny-red too seem to be the old traditional colour too.

My final stop-off was Casa & Co in another completely different décor concept – a horseshoe shaped old farm, one side for clothes and food and the other side for furniture and paint. 

Morgan and Thomas’s Casa & Co (above) fabulous and very inspirational colour board in their shop. 



I did a workshop here for stockists. My stockists Morgan  (on my left) and Thomas have made Casa & Co very stylish.

Scrumptuous Smørrebrøds
And finally I must mention the food, which was essentially non-stop open Danish sandwiches – called Smørrebrød – which I think are best thing ever! Among my favourites were rye bread topped with crushed crispy roast pork fat (to replace butter, below) and the smoked cheese on radishes and chives (top of this post), but I also sampled roast beef, grated horseradish and crispy fried onion (below left) rollmop smoked herrings, capers (below right) as well as other combinations of commonplace Danish ingredients. These open sandwich were from the Casa & Co store but are everywhere. Seems there are rules about what goes where and when and it’s all placed according to a tradition. Yummy.



Tak og Skål Denmark!

Yours, Annie