By Amy Wright of A. Wright Design
From the fall 2012 issue, take your farm table one step further with this fun and whimsical painting technique!
*Citristrip furniture stripper (much safer and easier for indoor use)
*Chip brushes and painting brushes
*Choice of paint colors: flat finish or milk paints work best for the heavy sanding.
*Sandpaper: 80, 120, and 220 grit
*Orbital hand sander
*Green frog tape
*Tape measure, calculator, and marking pencil
*Water-based darker colored stain or glazing medium. I like General Finishes brand because it has less odor and is very thick.
*Oil-modified polyurethane. I prefer satin or flat Rustoleum brand.
Day 1: I’m of the strong belief that no matter what paint or finish you choose to use on a piece, proper prep must be done to the existing finish before you start for best results with the new finish. This particular piece was solid oak and I wanted to use that to my advantage when I sanded back for that really rustic farm table look. I knew I wouldn’t use primer for this reason, but the library table had been in use for many years and had a lot of deep scratches, tape and tape residue, and even staples throughout it. I gave it a light sand with an orbital sander and 120-grit sandpaper, and then realized it may take a bit more. I applied a thin coat of Citristrip furniture stripper to the top surface to help with the damaged topcoat and tape residue. Citristrip is a very affordable furniture stripper that you can find at any local hardware store and it works fast and most importantly does not have that unbearable chemical smell that many furniture strippers possess. So while you should wear a mask, you can use it inside. Just brush it on and let it set anywhere from an hour to overnight. I let the stripper set for about an hour and then began to scrape the residue and old varnish/finish off of the table with a scraper. When all loose material was scraped off, I cleaned the surface well and sanded for about 20 minutes with the orbital sander and 80- and then 120-grit sandpaper to smooth things out. The process worked great and I was down to mostly raw oak finish, but the table still had some deep gouges and scratches left over from it’s previous life. I loved this and knew that would add to the rustic look of the table when I sanded through the paint colors, so I made sure not to over-sand.
Day 2: After cleaning the table again then came the most time consuming and tedious part of creating a Harlequin Diamond pattern—measuring, marking, and deciding on a color scheme. Unfortunately there is no easy formula for creating the harlequin pattern. It must be very piece specific and must be figured by using the exact measurements of what you are painting. It is my opinion that the diamonds look best when they are about twice as long as they are wide, so I try to take this into consideration also when laying out the pattern. For example: If a piece were 60 inches long and 15 inches deep, you could just take 15 into 60 and know that your pattern would work with four large diamonds in the center. Unfortunately it is never that easy, so have a good tape measure, marking pen, and calculator handy. When creating a large diamond pattern like this, I divide the length by the width and work from there to establish the most even measurement for diamonds—a small amount of tweaking will be necessary of course. There are some very great tutorials online for creating this pattern on walls, so you can always refer to that to help you get started. Once the measuring is done, the next steps are actually quite easy.
Another dilemma is deciding on a color scheme. I had done this effect a few times with black and gold, and if you use only two colors in your color scheme, you can work a bit faster, as you can tape out every other diamond and paint one color at a time. This particular table however, was extremely large—in excess of 9 feet, and I knew that wherever it found a home, it would likely be a signature piece in a room and maybe even a display piece in a store or business. I opted to try something a little different and use a variety of colors and even some stains to create a multicolored pattern before I sanded through to the original wood. Choosing to do this will slow the taping and painting process down a bit. I chose to work one section at a time so I could see how the colors looked beside each other. I knew I wanted to use muted and jewel-tone colors, but if you plan on applying a glaze or stain over your paint at the end, it is a good idea to mix and use it a bit brighter than you intend it to be in the end. Before painting, carefully use painter’s tape. I prefer the green Frog Tape as it tends to cause less damage on uncured paint so you can work faster. As you tape things off and paint, its important to remember you cannot work on two diamonds beside each other at the same time, as the tape will be overlapping your surface area…it’s sometimes hard to recognize this as you work. I completed about half of the diamonds on day two and made sure to lay down colors that I wanted to be multi-layered on this day. Day two also ended by applying a green base coat on the apron and legs of the table so this color would show through when sanded back.
Day 3: I removed painter’s tape and continued the painting process. This can be tricky, as you may have to remove yesterday’s tape and now reapply the painter’s tape over the edges of the diamonds that were just painted yesterday. This paint will not be fully cured, so pat the tape down in place lightly so it adheres, but will not lift the paint tomorrow when you remove it. Basically you will be working in kind of an every other diamond pattern—opposite from yesterday. A light coat of polyurethane was also applied over the green base color on the legs, and at the end of the day the apron and legs were painted a final coat of black. *The thin coat of poly between the two paint colors will help the green show through the black easier when sanding back and will help avoid sanding through to the base wood.
Day 4: After the paint has had a few days to cure and all tape has been removed, you are ready to sand back and decide just how worn and shabby your desire your finish to be. I sand by hand in some areas and use 220 sandpaper on an orbital sander for others. Many of the diamonds have two color layers of paint, so obviously more sanding is necessary there to let the multi-color effect show through. Start slow, use fine sandpaper, and sand until your hearts content—depending on the look you are going for. Once the sanding was completed, I addressed the diamond areas on the top that I left natural wood. I used a dry rag to run General Finishes mahogany stain over these raw wood areas to let the natural oak show through in a few areas, but still look like old wood. I then mixed a small amount of this same water-based stain with my polyurethane (about a 1 to 10 ratio) and quickly brushed it over the top of table and wiped it off to darken the colors up a bit. Once dry, a coat of satin polyurethane topcoat was applied to the entire table.
Over the course of the next week, the tabletop was given two more coats of protective polyurethane topcoat with a light sanding with 220-grit sandpaper happening between each coat.
Amy Wright has been teach art in Liberty for the past 14 years, as well as working at Good JuJu for the last 3+ years. She also worked finishing furniture for 3 years prior to that. She has been junking and collecting with an obsessive passion for about the last 7 years, but has created, painted or drawn every day of her life. She loves ornate and funky furniture pieces that need a little lovin’, tramp art, original portraits, artwork or paintings, and anything groovy and glass from the 1970s. Find more of A. Wright Design work at Good JuJu in the West Bottoms.