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Chalk Paint 101: What Is It, Its Uses & My Faves for Furniture Painting

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. Welcome back to the 101 series where I go back to basics and talk about the products that we use in our furniture makeovers and do a bit of a deep dive into them explaining what they are, what they’re used for, a bit about how and when I like to use them, my preferred brands and the pros and cons of them. Today’s episode is all about chalk paint! If you missed it and are curious, feel free to check out this blog post where I talked all about mineral paint.

Now, if you have had any exposure to the world of furniture painting and furniture makeovers, I’m going to assume that you have at least heard about chalk paint before. I feel like it’s typically the beginner paint that is used and it has made a pretty big name for itself, especially in certain styles of furniture and furniture refinishing. But what is chalk paint, anyways?

So the term “chalk paint” specifically was actually coined and trademarked by Annie Sloan back in 1990 and it is known to be a versatile furniture paint, which is why it’s so beginner friendly, and Annie Sloan has said it was specifically designed to be easy to use, quick and reliable.

It is said to rarely require any prep work on the piece before going in with paint, which is why it is so beginner-friendly (though, as you already know, regardless, I always recommend not skipping the prep stage, but it is what it advertises!). It is said that it doesn’t require any sanding or priming, and it can work on wood, melamine, metal, laminate and concrete and works on pieces that will live both indoors and outdoors. I’ve also heard of people painting flooring, dying fabric and painting glass with chalk paint.

Chalk paint is also a water-based paint (my personal favourite), which means it isn’t an acrylic or latex paint and thus it has low VOCs, which are Volatile Organic Compounds, and barely any smell. This means it’s safe to use indoors where you might not have great ventilation and things like that, which is always a plus.

The thing that sets this type of paint apart from the others in its appearance is the very matte finish it provides compared to others. It has a soft, chalky appearance (hence the name) and it looks like that due to the plaster of Paris or calcium carbonate that is in the recipe of the paint. You may have also come across other additives to other types of paint that can give it a chalk-like appearance, like BB Frosch.

I mentioned that the term chalk paint was coined by Annie Sloan, and if you didn’t know, Annie Sloan is a person but also a brand and a line of chalk paint and other related products. I use them, I love them, but there’s other brands of chalk paint out there, however you’ll often notice that they’re called something similar but different, like “chalky paint”, “chalk-style paint” or “chalk-based paint”. It’s a small difference but I always find it funny seeing the different variations that they come up with for the different brands.

To apply chalk paint, you can use either a brush, roller or even a paint sprayer. If you are applying with a brush, it’s recommended to use a natural-bristle brush with long, flexible bristles to get a smooth, uniform finish. I use the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint brushes, I’ll link them in the show notes, and they work great for that medium. If you are rolling or spraying, I would recommend watering the paint down a bit by putting the amount you will be using into a separate container and then slowly adding in a tablespoon of water at a time and mixing it up until you get a thinner consistency that will glide a bit smoother. Even when I’m applying with a brush, I like to have a misting bottle handy to spray on either the surface I’m about to paint or the paint brush prior to applying the paint to the piece (or sometimes both, depending how thick the paint is) to ensure I get a smooth glide when I apply it since it is a thicker paint than some others you may be used to.

Some colours are a little more pigmented than others and it always depends what colour you are covering up, but typically you only need about 2 coats of chalk paint for your pieces. That comes with exceptions, of course– if you have a black piece that you haven’t primed first and want to paint it bright white, you will likely require another couple coats, that kinda thing.

Since this paint is water-based, you should always add a top coat over it to seal it in and provide more durability to your piece. Often, wax is used with chalk paint to provide that finish– and unless you want to add decorative elements, then you’ll likely be using a clear wax. I personally use another chalk paint brush to add my wax on, but there are wax brushes specifically made for that purpose, or you can even apply it with a microfiber cloth or lint-free shop rag or shop towel. Wax will provide that velvety finish on the piece, or you can achieve more of a satin-looking finish if you really buff it into the piece once it has sat for a bit and you’re wiping off the excess. You can also always use something like a polyurethane to add some more durability to the piece or even to certain areas that require it, like the top of a dresser or something like that.

Now, as you know, mineral paint is my preferred paint medium as of late so I don’t grab for a chalk paint super often these days. However, the lines of chalk paint that I have tried and enjoyed in the past have been, of course, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, as well as the Rustoleum Chalked line that I get from Home Depot, the Behr decorative chalk paint that I also get from Home Depot (and hot tip, you can get that tinted to any colour you want if you bring it to their paint desk), and I also really like the Folkart chalk paint that I get from Michael’s. There are many others out there and I’m sure they all perform similarly so feel free to try out whatever is most accessible to you, but I’ll link those in the show notes if you’re interested in checking them out.

The times when I do gravitate towards a chalk paint over something like a mineral paint is when I feel like the piece leans in a farmhouse-style direction because I feel like chalk paint is a really great medium to achieve a really classic or even rustic farmhouse look. It is also my preferred paint to distress. Since it’s ultra-matte, it distresses really easily with some high grit sandpaper and it’s really forgiving in its look if you have some spots around the edges of where you distressed that got worn but didn’t necessarily wipe away completely, if that makes sense. There’s other techniques you can use to distress like wet distressing, but I’m just the kind of person that I stick with what I know if it’s been working for me so I just opt for my sandpaper.

It is also a great medium to choose if you want to achieve a textured look of any kind on your piece. There are some furniture artists out there who exclusively use chalk paint because they do all of these super cool techniques creating layers of texture in different areas, and those amazing ombre dressers you see have also likely been painted in chalk paint because you can blend it together super easily and use your misting bottle to your advantage to create the most seamless effect. Also worth noting is that you can absolutely mix up custom colours of chalk paint, just like any paint really, to create your own bespoke, unique colours if you can’t find one that fits the vision that you have in your head.

I always like to provide both sides of the coin so I also want to talk about some things that may be considered “cons” to choosing chalk paint, depending on the piece that you’re working on and depending on your situation. Like I said, since it is an ultra-matte finish and can be a thicker texture, I wouldn’t recommend choosing it if you are looking to achieve a super sleek, modern, satin finish. There’s just other products out there that will help get you there quicker and easier, in my opinion.

Like I mentioned, it also requires a protective top coat in order to provide the durability you will need so that is some added time, money and effort in your project. Other paints like Fusion Mineral Paint, for example, have built-in topcoats so they don’t necessarily require that added protection on the whole piece (I recommend adding one for sure on high traffic areas, but things like the sides of a dresser may not require it). I do find that wax as a top coat, though it is the finish most often chosen, also takes quite a while to fully cure and can end up having imperfections in it during that time easier than something like a poly would once it was dry to the touch but not yet cured. With wax, you also will likely need to put another layer on after a while– say, a year or two– to keep it staying durable for you.

When painting with chalk paint, it is easier to end up with brush strokes in the finish if you aren’t being careful so I think it’s important to say that, especially if you are a beginner and are doing your first furniture flip with chalk paint and see that, so you don’t get discouraged. A way to mitigate that, like I mentioned, is watering the paint down slightly or using water intermittently on the piece to make the paint less gloopy when it’s being applied. If you don’t notice the brush strokes until the layer of paint has dried, you can just go in with a higher grit sandpaper (I’d say 220 grit or higher) and lightly sand the paint to remove any of those brush strokes in the finish, wipe away any dust from it that may be there, and then go in with your next layer of paint.

At the same time, chalk paint is a really beginner-friendly paint to try out overall. If you are getting huge tins of it, it can be more expensive than other types of paint but if you get a smaller container to try out a small project like a side table or something like that, it can be a great way to try out your first furniture flip and it’s a project you can easily do indoors without needing very many materials. As always, if you have any questions from today, if there’s something I didn’t cover OR if you have suggestions for more episodes in the 101 series where we go back to basics, send me an email or hit up my DMs on Instagram and I’ll be sure to add them to my list. Shout out to Jen who reached out and let me know she wanted one on paint strippers - it’s coming for ya soon, Jen, stay tuned!

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is from the book The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday and it is: Passing one obstacle simply says you’re worthy of more.

If you are enjoying the podcast so far, I would love if you would go to the podcast page on whatever platform you’re listening on today and leave me a rating (preferrably 5 stars but I’ll leave that part up to you) and if you have the time, leave a quick review letting me know why you love the podcast and tune in every Thursday for more, because that will help this get pushed out to more people to discover and join us on this furniture refinishing ride.

Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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