Using paint to upcycle? Kya deLongchamps makes the case for milk and chalk varieties.
The frantic popularity of up-cycling might be over, but incidental reinvention of furniture and accessorising is something we should all have a bash at.
Deploying crafting skills on an under-appreciated old or dull new thing is environmentally friendly (the hipper term today is ‘woke’).
It’s relatively cheap and is a deeply satisfying way to introduce some authentic you, into your home.
If you don’t fancy stripping and intense, perfect sanding, and tacky, thicker paints like gloss terrify you, milk paint and Chalk Paint (copyright to Annie Sloan) are non-toxic, water-based liquids.
Handling and applying is as forgiving as a sweet old grandma, refreshing and colour treating multiple surfaces.
In most cases, milk and Chalk Paint don’t even require a primer. They do dry quickly, so practise before you start.
Real milk paint is an ancient, homemade, decorating substance that bonds really well to wood. The rawer the timber the better.
Commercial milk paint comes as a powder that you can mix to your required volume and consistency with water.
It contains plant-based fillers, lime, clay, and milk proteins (casein). That’s it — no solvents to off-gas in your spaces, no nasty petrochemical binders, nothing.
Milk paints don’t require a finishing top coat but can be oiled or waxed if you prefer, once dry — a wait of just 30 minutes in most cases.
Real milk paint does not contain acrylic, but you will find commercial versions with other ingredients — some sustainable and worthy, some not so much.
Milk paint is less predictable than Chalk Paint — the finish and colour can vary, even over one piece.
That’s what its devotees relish — shifting colour and lustre, the not quite knowing the final outcome.
With any of these naturally inclined paints, clean the object you’re working on with a wipe of warm soapy water. Oily residue will otherwise interfere with the texture.
If you want a slightly translucent, glowing vintage distress to the look try milk paint first on a small area.
If you’re determined on a very particular colour and want it flat, velvety and consistent — go with quality Chalk Paint.
Very thin milk paint can be used as a stain.
You can mix colours by mixing the milk paint powders, but be careful as it’s hard to standardise with second and third volumes of water and powder.
To make up a single colour of milk paint, put some powder into a jar, add the required amount of water and break up the lumps with an old spoon, before stirring or shaking up with the lid on.
Allow it to settle (no bubbles), stir again to lift any solids on the bottom and apply.
Use multiple thin coats, with periods of drying to achieve cover and depth to the colour.
Colours can be layered to achieve a scrubbed back style — try this out on a piece of scrap wood rather than directly on the furniture.
When you’re finished, either throw out the remaining paint or put it in the fridge overnight.
Try The Crafty Bird for milk paint and finishing lacquer. It does a handsome shade, Collins Barracks, celebrating the green of the Irish Free State uniform.
230g makes up one litre of paint or use a 30g sample for 100ml of paint, milkpaint.ie.
Annie Sloan introduced her original Chalk Paint in 1990, trademarking her formulae for traditional and largely forgotten clay paint.
The market was soon awash with store outlets, classes and online primers to get her look. There are now 35 official shades from €28 per litre.
Chalk Paint contains a heavier dose of calcium carbonate, and has a thicker, viscous consistency.
Suitable for raw or treated wood, metal and even glass, it dries to a dense, opaque finish with less brush strokes than milk paint, but is not necessary a stronger surface once dry.
It shouldbe fixed with a few coatings of wax (an enjoyable, meditative process — don’t worry). One litre of good chalk paint will cover around 13sq metres (one coat).
Chalk paint bought by the tin or made up from constituent ingredients can chip and crackle and is easily sanded back, so if you want to try other distressing techniques — it’s perfect.
Work from dark to light when layering or take two equally tint dense colours.
Both Pinterest and Instagram feature thousands of projects by professional and highly creative amateur crafters.
If you decide to make your own DIY chalk paint, try to avoid giving up and sloppingin bog-standard emulsion paint — stick to natural, biodegradable ingredients like calcium carbonate (available to order by the tub online). At least use zero VOC products.
Sloan now offers a lacquer in gloss or matt together with her more usual mellowing waxes.
These lacquers are superb for a tough finish with added UV protection in a kitchen or hall situation suffering the slings and arrows of domestic life.
For this year’s trending colours – Annie Sloan’ Napoleonic Blue would be ideal as a Pantone Classic Blue, great for updating cheaper mid-century woodwork or an IKEA Billy bookcase.
For Dulux’s Tranquil Dawn (a sage green) — Svenska Blue is refined and pretty with a determined Scandinavian freshness.
Try combining with fat floral fabrics in a stool or drop-seat dining chair to hit a Gustavian country house look.
Benjamin Moore’s First Light is one of number of shell pinks — read it as an Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Antoinette — lovely for picking out carving in an old chair frame.
For deep greens, drawing interest for their 70s flavour.
My money’s on Amsterdam Green taken from the doors and shutters of the city, which has a contemporary blue undertone — a perfect jewel colour to set against brass and glass in an upcycled occasional table.
To lighten any variety of chalk paint, you can simply add white.
Don’t overlook waxing techniques as a dark wax and even gilding can be used to intensify the presence of detail and moulding on furniture treated with a natural paint.
It suggests years of use even in mid-century pieces.
Allow a 500ml tin for every three-four litres of paint (€13.50) from all Annie Sloan suppliers including Willow Antiques (The Paint Pot) Cork, and The Front Porch, Macroom.