Making The (Annie Sloan) Magic Happen

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Perfectly Imperfect – mixing paint to make something look old!


Why I love using Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan

For me, it’s that you can make freshly painted pieces of furniture look old. Not just 20 or 30 years old, but really old, hundred’s of years old, ancient even!

Before I discovered Annie Sloan I used to paint in a conventional way using a well known oil based paint – I sanded back, I prepped, I primed, I applied two coats of paint using smooth brush strokes in one direction and it looked fine, but it was a bit dull and just didn’t look old – a painted piece of furniture without any character. The paint itself was ok, but it didn’t let me express myself (gosh, that sounds arty!) There was a vital spark missing.

To begin with I wasn’t even sure what the missing piece of the puzzle could be, because I Still Hadn’t Found What I Was Looking For (Thanks Bono!).
But then I began to see what made old furniture look old – it was the paint that was used and just as importantly, the way the paint was applied.
The furniture which inspired me most was typically French, between 100 to 200 years old, and the pieces were not always from a luxurious chateau or palace, I liked the more rustic pieces found in ordinary houses, painted in beautiful colours, sometimes repainted several times and worn by years of good honest use.
The paint used back then didn’t come in a 5 litre tin from a big DIY store – it was made up for the job in hand, using simple materials and simple methods. If you look closely at old furniture, the paint finish doesn’t look like a flat colour – it changes, remember the paint was mixed for the job, and if they ran out they’d mix more and it might not be exactly the same, but they just worked it in. I guess if it got grubby or damaged the people who owned the furniture would do the same thing to touch up a painted piece, again there would be another subtle difference.

So over the course of time if a piece of furniture changed hands there was a good chance it could have several layers of uneven painted colours. Nothing like a flat modern style perfect finish at all.
That’s what I was after ‘a perfect imperfect look’

I have found Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to be by far the best medium to replicate this authentic old look. Not just the beautiful palette which is based on historic colours but also the paint itself, which allows itself to be used in several completely different ways – in short it’s an extremely flexible medium. Plus the bonus of not having to do all that sanding prepping and priming!

The piece pictured here I picked up at auction in a sorry state, veneer was lifting, drawers and legs broken and trim missing from around the drawers. To get it repaired and french-polished back to its original condition would cost a small fortune.
So why did I buy it? Well it was still a good looking big chest and I kind of fell for an inscription inside a drawer…
‘Elizabeth Herbert given to her as a keepsack (sic) from me Ann Mary Pemberton 1856’
I love a bit of charming history like that and had to save this 160 year old treasure from the tip.

First thing was the basic repairs to make it function properly again, which left a lot of scars. Ideal for painting!

I used Annie Sloan Original mixed 15/20 to 1 with Chateau Grey as a starting point. I used slightly different mixes here and there to emulate an authentic old look ( remember perfect imperfect!) and also threw in some Country Grey and English Yellow. I didn’t measure it out, I just went with the flow.

I’d spotted a beautiful painted bureau at another recent auction (outbid – sold for thousands!) and used this as inspiration for a new stencil design Corners and Keyholes to embellish the drawer fronts. A sort of hand painted swirly effect (apologies for the poor technical term).
I used a stronger Original/Chateau Grey mix for the stencils with a tiny bit of Louis Blue. I also painted the band above the drawers in this stronger colour – not in a flat way though, remember?
The brush work was all applied quickly in a haphazard manner, all directions, different textures, thicker in places than others and subtle colour changes. Pretty much as it would have been applied hundreds of years ago.

I used some fine sandpaper to rub bits back here and there where natural wear would occur and then I used Annie Sloan Clear Wax for protection and mixed in a little Dark Wax to help show off some bits of texture.
If you’re trying to achieve this look, my advise would be – don’t over analyse it, just go for it.
I’m quite pleased with how this has turned out and hopefully someone will treasure it now as much as Elizabeth and Ann did all those years ago.
Happy Painting
drawers handle angle
duck top left

The inscription inside the first full width drawer Elizabeth Herbert given to her as a keepsack from me Ann Mary Pemberton (keepsack is old english for keepsake)

slightly from above
close up keyhole
top half straight on
top left corner french hat

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