18 April 2014

Magazine Mayhem

It’s been magazine mayhem this month for me!

A Breath of Fresh Air

First of all we had Fresh Style magazine [‘simple ideas for creative living’] coming over from Alabama, USA, to do a photoshoot with us here in Oxford. Here’s a sneak preview (above and below, love the Paul Klee chest on the cover!).* 

The team of Ande Fanning (editor) and Stephen DeVries (photographer) along with creatives Brian and Faith delved deep below the surface to showcase my style for their May/June issue (Fresh Style is a bi-monthly mag and tablet/online offering). These behind-the-scenes-shots were taken by Rebecca, our intern from Canada.

The Fresh Style team did a day’s recce and then “snapped” around our shop and at Felix and Lizzy’s new home (who have only just moved in to their house with my granddaughter Willow!). The magazine’s approach was less structured than the Annie Sloan book photoshoots I’m so used to. I must say I found it very exciting as they employed a more hand-held, ‘cinema verité’ approach to the styling, set design and photography. The result was less ‘studied’, more spontaneous!

Editor Ande Fanning’s first name has an interesting twist; it’s actually her grandmother’s name backwards (Edna). She was charming and a pleasure to be interviewed by. She caught the essence of everything 'Annie Sloan' in some lovely turns of phrases:

This [Chalk® Paint] is a powerhouse in the DIYer’s arsenal because of its design-savvy properties. The colour selection alone is exquisite, but in addition to that, it requires little-to-no surface prep, is non-toxic, and can be used with a variety of techniques and styles to create myriad looks.” 

Fresh Style is a very interesting magazine and you should certainly check it out – not just because we’re in it, but because it’s great on ideas and inspiration. I have to say I love their style (!) and admire their passion and commitment too.

Hurry out to get your copy of Fresh Style available on newsstands across the US now!

Love Reloved

Meanwhile in the UK, you may have seen the Annie Sloan Source Book – a 32-page supplement from Reloved magazine. It’s a special ‘pull out’ on some of my techniques.  It was also great to work with the magazine’s editor Sally Fitzgerald. The Reloved team are so passionate about everything to do with upcycling! 

The Annie Sloan Source Book is available as a freebie in the Reloved April issue – as well as my stockists. So hurry while stocks last!

Yours, Annie

* top 2 pictures courtesy of photographer Stephen DeVries ( www.stephendevriesphoto.com/blog). For the full issue go to the Fresh Style website www.freshstylemag.com/annie-sloans-amazing-chalk-paint/

Reloved Magazine's Annie Sloan Source Book is available from Annie Sloan stockists and via www.relovedmag.co.uk/2014/03/reloved-april-2014-is-on-sale-now-with-free-annie-sloan-sourcebook/

11 April 2014

Dialogue with a chest of drawers

I recently found a chest of drawers that I wanted to do something with but wasn’t quite sure what. That got me thinking about the whole creative journey from idea to execution to finish.

I want to take you on what is also an emotional journey, because it may be familiar to you (in which case it’s always good to share!), and if it isn’t, it probably should be!

Let your furniture speak to you
How I visualise decorating a piece of furniture is as important for me as the actual decorative paint technique and finish I end up with.

This chest of drawers had been ‘sitting there’, sort of staring at me for some time. I remembered the old adage (mine actually) that if you’re going to create an effect or finish, ‘allow the furniture to talk to you’ – because you have to be receptive to what the piece ‘wants’ [yes Annie communes with her furniture!]. Well let’s put it this way: if you try to impose something new on an old item like, “today I am going to paint a piece of furniture in a rococo style”, do you know what, it usually doesn’t work.

So yes, it’s got to be a finish or effect you’ve been wanting to experiment with, but it’s also got to be something that works with that particular piece of furniture.

This is especially true when you have a ‘difficult’ piece of furniture to paint, by which I mean you’re not sure which effect will work best, and/or the piece doesn’t present an obvious solution. And I do find some pieces can be ‘difficult’ – it’s not all plain sailing is it?

Back to the drawing board
And then there’s the fear of failure: this can have such a negative hold on creativity. Those creative talents (and we all have them) will flourish if you are able to be receptive to admitting something hasn’t worked out as you expected first time – and then changing it.
Don’t go “oh that’s awful!” and abandon it. Say instead “mmmmmm, okay, that doesn’t work, let’s try something else.”

For me the chest of drawers didn’t come with an easy solution, so it was all about being a bit lyrical, a bit ‘mindful’. That also means sometimes I have to leave it, walk away and come back again. There was no obvious decorative finish: instead it felt like it was just sitting there saying “c’mon then.”

From wash to white stripes to watercolour 
When I came back to it, I noticed it actually had quite a nice texture, the wood itself on the top was old varnish that had crackled a little bit. I thought it would be quite nice to keep some of that crackling and texture, so I decided to try wash drawing – spreading with a brush over the broad surface evenly enough so that no brush marks would be visible in the finish.

But when I looked at the finish it just didn't work for me. Then I had a bit of a brainwave: “Stripes” I thought.

I added a lot of water to the tabletop so it became very wet (there was paint in the water which made it thin).

Using my paint, Chalk Paint® in Country Grey, I painted opaque stripes across the top with the full width of the brush. It started to blend in a little so I took a dry cloth and just gently wiped the paint down.

So I have opaque-ish stripes, and thin, very water-coloury stripes. Then I thought “I know, I need a white line of opaque paint”. So I had three layers of stripes: grey, blue and white.

I added some Old White with a smaller thin brush as solid paint. I then sanded the chest of drawers to give texture, followed by a wax finish.

So to recap:
1.     Wash all over (use a fine diluted layer of colour on the surface you are going to work on)
2.     Paint translucent lines across the surface
3.     Paint thicker, watercoloury, wettish stripes that blur into each other
4.     Wipe it down with a cloth
5.     Add strong opaque stripes as desired
6.     Sand to give a texture
7.     Wax

I love the way watercolour works – it can be applied in various techniques such as wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry to obtain different effects. And you get thick and thin together. Working with wet paint also means the colours blur together a little bit creating new and interesting effects. Try it!

(By the way, I did also try the stripey look over the rest of the piece, but it just looked ridiculous and in the end I plumped for one colour – Chalk Paint® in Duck Egg Blue.)

The resulting painterly effect reminds me of something you might find in Charleston House in East Sussex.

Painterly? You ask. I’ve seen comments on my Facebook saying “is that even a word?” Well, yes, actually it is and it’s a word that painters and artists use a lot (and it appears to date back to c.1580s). To me it means ‘as an artist would paint’, and Merriam-Webster adds: “marked by an openness of form … and in which sharp outlines are lacking”.

It also felt painterly because the painting of the sea, which I found in a bric-a-brac shop, complemented the effect.

I also think it looks like a woven rug – with the textured paint strokes blurring into each other – and overall I am really thrilled with the finish.

Yours, Annie

4 April 2014

Sgraffito – starting from scratch

Here’s a drawing technique I’ve recently used on a table top which I simply love and have done ever since I started delving into decorative techniques!

A little known fact is that my “Annie Sloan” signature logo was also created using this 

So have you guessed what the technique is? Yes, it’s sgraffito and it actually dates back to the Middle Ages, and quite simply translates from Italian as ‘scratched’ or ‘scratch work’. It can be applied in painting, pottery, and glass.

The yummyness of it
Essentially, if you are a painter, then at some point or other you are going to put paint on and then turn your brush round and scratch out some of the paint with the handle tip or similar. So effectively you are drawing into the paint by taking it off. I’ve always liked the texture and the yummyness of it.

With sgraffito, you generally apply layers of contrasting colour to a surface, and then scratch through a pattern or shape through the upper layer to reveal the colour below.

For Medieval palaces and churches, where money was no object, gold leaf often provided the base colour. Other colours were applied over the burnished gold and then the decorative design was scratched into the paint layer with a wooden stylus. It was fairly crucial that the paint had not dried completely so that it could be neatly removed without damaging the delicate gold layer underneath. Although we’re not likely to be doing a gold brocade decoration, the same ‘not-quite-dried’ technique applies today.

My jumping off point for my table top project was this 1940’s woodcut (I upcycled this years ago from an IKEA box). I’d Instagrammed a picture of this piece some time back and got lots of comments. I love that black and white look, and that's what I was going for initially. But I soon found that trying to transpose woodcut into sgraffito doesn’t really work!

A simple sgraffito character step-by-step
But I was on a mission and I had another inspiration – a quirky stick figure I drew on a cabinet in my house in Normandy.

The technique used to create this incised character is a variation of sgraffito and is also how I essentially created the sgraffito tabletop.

So I’ll take you through a few simple steps to show you the basics of this technique (for more detail, go to my Colour Recipes for Painted Furniture book (Cico, 2013):

1 Paint the entire piece with Chalk Paint® in one colour (here I used Graphite). Then paint the panels in a second contrasting colour (here Old White).

2 Now paint a smaller area in your first colour over the panel. Use thin strokes.

3 Almost immediately – while it is still wet – start to draw your design into the paint with the tip of the brush. Press and draw firmly, working into the wet paint to reveal the colour below.

4 When it’s all dry, add a coat of wax with a wax brush and lightly dab with a cloth to give a matte finish. Et voilá.

Grayson's inspiration


While I was revisiting this technique for my table top, I was reminded that it’s a technique also used by Grayson Perry. He does it on his pots, scratching into the clay. I love his work and it gave me the inspiration to experiment with figurative drawing rather than the usual patterns and scribbles, doodles and motifs I so often do. 

Perry works straight from the heart, which is the ideal springboard to create and try something new. He is a fantastic observer of contemporary life – be it political, satirical or more personal. He presents his view of the world much like William Hogarth did in the 18th century. To me, he is very English, very special and quite different.

I’ve certainly been inspired by him and I would like to develop even more Perry-inspired,
sgraffito-style pieces.

PS I ought to add that to achieve the colour effects on the tabletop (you can see above and at the top of this post), I smudged different colours on to it with my thumb – again applying the paint slightly wet so I could change it, if I felt it wasn't quite right!)

What do you think?

Yours, Annie

[All project photography by Christopher Drake]