This post will share why I love chalk paint, why you will too, and how I used chalk paint to refinish an old medicine cabinet that was covered in rust.
I am actually a terrible painter. Most people think that because I’m crafty, I must be good with paint. I am not. In fact, I’m awful. I don’t know what it is about putting a paintbrush in my hand, but I become a total spaz as soon as I am holding one. I love all hobbies that have a visible, tangible result at the end, so sometimes I forget (or block out) how messy and imperfect my painting is and I attempt to paint something. It takes under five minutes every time to remember how much I stink. I am messy, I can’t care enough about perfection (which seems to only exist in painting) to make my hand move carefully and slowly, and I am so impatient that I rush and drip and smudge and it is awful.
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Enter chalk paint. I bet you could read a thousand articles about why chalk paint is pretty, trendy, old-fashioned looking, cute, natural, yadda yadda yadda and while it is those things and more, I LOVE it because it is forgiving. If you are a terrible painter, chalk paint is your best friend.
Chalk paint is made with natural, as in from the Earth (like chalk- diatomaceous earth) ingredients and water. It is not a petroleum product, and much of it is made in the USA. You know the mineral-based makeup that is a bit more expensive than regular drug store fare but doesn’t make you break out and looks pretty amazing without much effort? Chalk paint is like that.
Not only is it lacking in a headache-inducing fume, but it also lacks many of the bad-painter caveats of petroleum-based paints. If you drip while chalk paint you can wipe it with your finger and probably never know you dropped there. It doesn’t get gummy, super sticky, weirdly gluey, or tacky nail polish-like. It’s kind of like painting with flour and water.
I haven’t read a label that proclaimed you could safely eat it, but if my toddler stuck a wet paintbrush with chalk paint in his mouth, I wouldn’t freak out nearly as badly if he slobbered on some petroleum-based paint because of the natural ingredients that don’t smell like death. It actually smells like nothing, I think. Bad mom or common sense mom? Let’s go with Wildflower mom, shall we?
The basic pattern that a person would follow when painting a piece of furniture or their walls with standard petroleum-based paint would be clean, prime, paint, and paint again. Except I would have lots of smudging and dripping and messy clean up interspersed in that lineup punctuated with lots of swearing.
Chalk paint is more freeing. You don’t have to prime every dang thing the way you do with petroleum-based paint and depending on the look you want, you can create a ‘wash’ by cutting the chalk paint with water (the way you’d dilute a strong drink with some ice) and give it a fairly imperfect coat or two and call it a crafty day. You can paint a very imperfect surface (I remember reading in an Andy Rooney book something like, “if the surface is perfect, why would I be painting it?”) and have it look terrific. I painted a really rusty, dinged up, not clean, metal kitchen cart when I was almost 9 months pregnant and it looks dang good and if it wasn’t holding all my cloth diaper goodies, I’d share a photo with you. It’s whitewash white with some not-lame glitter, which is obviously pretty rad.
In my typical bad painter, Wildflower fashion, I scrounged up a very old metal medicine cabinet in the barn lot at the ranch (while my kind father aired up my tires). It came out of “the old house” that my great grandmother lived in on said ranch and in addition to being of sentimental value, it was needed for practical value. My children are growing, are climbing hither and yon, and I need a place up high to put all kinds of things. And because I needed it yesterday, I need to paint it quickly. Which is how I do almost everything.
It was very rusted and dirty and even had bottles of mystery medicine still in it. I wiped it out with a wet rag and could see that the white paint was flaking off pretty badly and while I imagined painting over the original white with chalk paint white for a layered, chippy paint, shabby chic look, there was so much rust, I knew I needed to prevent it from rusting further in my steamy bathroom.
The mirror was a little tricky to remove as it sat out in the weather for over 30 years but my husband used 2 pairs of pliers and steady, gently pulling to pull it from its spot. It revealed that most of the reflective mirror finished had gone the way of the dinosaur and some wet cardboard stuff that cushioned the mirror from the door remained. I took it to my local glass business, Ken’s Glass, and he made me a new mirror for under $20, which brought the total cost of the project to under $30.
I took the 4-inch angle grinder that I used here to make a distressed metal display board and started grinding. These tools are powerful so get some earplugs and eye protection and use a strong grip. I ground off as much paint and rust as I could to reveal the metal beneath.
I think there’s a chalk paint primer (to prevent rust from spreading rampantly) but I didn’t have any handy so I used up the can of rust preventing primer I had on hand. I sprayed and let it dry.
As I was working, I still had the white, shabby chic paint idea in mind but when I started rustling around I found 2 chalk paint samples purchased when I painted the above-mentioned cart. I was introduced to chalk paint and my sort of local Pretty In Paint store and when I was last there (2 years ago!) I had picked out these two samples and promptly forgot about them. I had red and sea glass to choose from and I went with sea glass. If you don’t have a crafty store like Pretty In Paint near you, Amazon has a wide selection of the Americana brand chalk paint that is well reviewed. Check it out!
With only probably half a measuring cup of paint to work with and a 90-minute drive to get more (utterly out of the question, unfortunately) I actually liked the idea of painting till I ran out and no more. I cut the paint with a little water (about 2 parts paint, 1 part water) and mixed it with the rubbery-handled brush that either came with the paint or was magically left by the crafty fairy.
As I applied the two wash-y coats, I felt so dang glad that chalk paint is forgiving, and that I had to make it work with the little amount that I had. It sort of evens out the bumpy imperfections (as does that nice mineral make up I mentioned!) and makes it look intentional rather than criminal.
I applied the clear top coat with the same weak sauce, a sloppy technique I use on all my painting projects and it looked terrific. The clear coat is very watery on its own and I did not cut it with more water because I wanted to be sure this rusty contraption would stay rust free in the wet bathroom. I have time to do projects like this once, not twice. It isn’t like shiny, clear nail polish; it just provides one more, almost invisible layer between the paint and the universe.
Because I was on a roll and the kids were still asleep, I used up the remaining paint to paint a chair in my bedroom that usually holds my dirty laundry basket. It was painted chocolate brown 6 years ago and needed some brightening up. I loved how plenty of the brown peeked through and while painting spindles is definitely more difficult for detail-challenged me, it still looked great.
Now my meds are stored safely out of toddler reach and my chair brightened my space.
I hope I have encouraged those who aren’t paint savvy to try chalk paint. What do you think, Wildflowers?