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


  1. funny what you say about letting the furniture talk to you..this is exactly what I've been doing since I started painting furniture..I always wait with painting until I know with what they want or need..happy painting!

  2. I really enjoy your posts! I'm a big fan of your paint and books and now also your blog.
    Once upon a time, looong time ago I had the opportunity to meet you in Utrecht and you signed your book for me. Unfortunately I lost it!
    I started a blog and shared yours under the title " my favourite blog of the week".
    Thanks for all the inspiration
    Wising you a great weekend!

  3. HI- I love your work! Just found your paint at shop in Arizona!

  4. This is exactly what happened to me whilst painting a bookcase yesterday. I decided I would paint it old white on the outside and pink in the inside but the bookcase had other ideas! It just didn't look right so I white washed the pink and pinked up the white. Now it looks amazing. The colours blended well together and added depth. Love your paint!

  5. Hi, Mrs Annie
    I am delighted with paint chalk and you work:) greetings from Polish

    1. Good to hear Deco-szuflada! I can't wait to visit Poland and the stockists of my paint.

  6. You're definitely right - I don't think any of my projects have finished up in the colour I originally planned! I enjoyed your post!

  7. I adore seeing posts from you, Annie. They are always so interesting and informative. They make me itch to paint something. lol I love this sweet cabinet! I never thought of painting watery stripes anywhere, but these are fabulous! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this tutorial with us. :)

    xoxo laurie

  8. I always learn something from your posts. Thank you Annie.

    Janet xox
    The Empty Nest

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  10. Another fabulous idea, always look forward to your posts! This delightful transformation reminds me of faded ticking, LOVE...Off to find a guinea pig/tattered table to try this on!!

  11. Love youre painting,today for the first time i used youre painting Louis Blue and i love it,tomorrow i buy more colors and my home will be a colorful home,thank you,greetings Musje.

  12. Just when you think your list of 'to do/try' is complete you have just made it longer Annie, my head feels like it is going to burst with all your lovely blogs!

  13. Oh, I know that feeling! Usually when I see a piece of furniture I like, I do have a rough draft in my head pretty quickly, but sometimes, it takes some more time and I keep changing it, which luckily isn't a problem with your paint. Gotta try this one out - as soon as I make up my mind on which piece of furniture!

  14. Nice post. It’s really very beautiful. I like this post so much. Now you can find chest of drawers online with wide range at Housefull.co.in. Thanks for sharing this post with us.


  15. Old post this one, if I look at the date, but I absolutely love the outcome of this chest. Thinking of doing this [or trying to di it, actually!] to our beach house 9ft long table, don't you think it will look good? I am quite new at chalk-painting, and would like to get some advice on how to seal the table top, please - will it be better to use a poly rather than wax to seal it?
    Thank you very much for your attention to my question - appreciated.


  16. Old post this one, if I look at the date, but I absolutely love the outcome of this chest. Thinking of doing this [or trying to di it, actually!] to our beach house 9ft long table, don't you think it will look good? I am quite new at chalk-painting, and would like to get some advice on how to seal the table top, please - will it be better to use a poly rather than wax to seal it?
    Thank you very much for your attention to my question - appreciated.

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