7 Chalk Painting Tips for Beginners

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These 7 easy chalk painting tips for beginners will liberate you from perfectionism and get you hooked on the latest and most fun way to paint furniture and home decor accessories!

True confession here. If you aren’t familiar with my blog you may not know one simple truth: I am not a painter.

My husband is the painter extraordinaire at Marty’s Musings. He is a painting contractor by trade (until this happened and then it happened again) but there is one kind of painting that I AM an expert at.

Chalk painting. You know why? You really can’t go wrong.

Yep. My kind of painting!

This past weekend Amy at Atta Girl Says and I helped several ladies at the Becoming Conference experiment and learn how easy it is to chalk paint furniture and accessories.

I thought I’d share Tim’s and my favorite chalk painting tips for beginners, because that’s what I am. I always tell him to write like he’s talking to me!

Tim:  If you’ve even had a brush with Pinterest, you have probably come across a few (million) pictures of people painting furniture with chalk paint. While it may take a few minutes to release old thoughts of that incredibly labor-intensive process locked in your brain, chalk painting is a truly liberating and transformational experience.

I have been a professional residential and commercial Painting Contractor for almost 25 years and have seen a lot of products, techniques, and fads come and go…some of them with good reason! I want to ease your mind and share some chalk painting tips and answer a few questions, as well as discuss the pros and cons of the process. So, here we go!

No Prep Work or Priming

This detailed tutorial from a professional painter explains how to chalk paint furniture with tips on turning an outdated piece of furniture into a beauty!

(china hutch makeover)

Perhaps THE single most beneficial aspect of chalk painting furniture is that it requires almost no prep work and no priming. YES! Whether you have a dilapidated old dresser from high school (which I did!), that glossy walnut end table, or your Mom’s glass-doored hutch from the ‘70’s, chalk paint can bring it back to life – or hide a multitude of sins! You simply remove any hardware you don’t want painted and go for it.

No Perfection

These easy chalk painting tips for beginners will liberate you from perfectionism and get you hooked on the latest and most fun way to paint furniture!

(old window photo frame)

Another plus is that you don’t have to be a perfect painter to do this. In fact, you are SUPPOSED to do criss-cross brush strokes and not straight lines. I really took issue with this at first. If you are finishing the piece by distressing it with sandpaper, the irregular and imperfect surface actually helps that look. The only thing to really avoid is drips and runs.

Price 

This shabby chic dresser from Marty's Musings began as a curbside cast off before it was transformed with chalk paint and a little elbow grease! Check out all the DIY details!

While chalk paint can be unbelievably expensive (there are many more brands to choose from more recently), virtually anything can be covered with just two coats. Since you don’t have to prime, it isn’t as big a pill to swallow. Be sure to plan accordingly and buy enough for the entire project. You may hit the bottom of that quart late Saturday night with no rescue available! You may also be more limited in color choices with chalk paint, but a good range is available in most areas.

You can also research making your own “chalky paint”, but most folks have better results with an established manufacturer. And, honestly, I still don’t know where or how this stuff got its name!

Waxing

This shabby chic dresser from Marty's Musings began as a curbside cast off before it was transformed with chalk paint and a little elbow grease! Check out all the DIY details!

(trash to treasure dresser)

The most difficult part of this process is, by far, waxing. There is no “easy” way to do it and it is a step you don’t want to skip. You will have to decide whether you want a clear wax or a dark wax. Clear will seal the piece almost invisibly, depending upon the color of the paint.

Dark will have a more significant impact on both color and appearance. The dark wax really accents the dimensionality of the piece, as it will collect in crevices, corners, and any decorative accents.

The easiest way to apply is, forgive me, wax on – wax off! Apply with a soft cloth and remove with another soft cloth. If you are distressing your piece, do so before you wax.

Types of Brushes

These easy chalk painting tips for beginners will liberate you from perfectionism and get you hooked on the latest and most fun way to paint furniture!

(small kitchen buffet)

You can buy a brush specifically made for chalk painting or easily buy a less expensive one. Remember, we’re not necessarily going for pretty here, just good coverage. Additionally, don’t use a natural bristle brush intended for oil-based paints and stains.

Chalk paint is a water-based medium and will require a soap and water clean up. Exposing this brush to water will ruin it and you will have wasted your money on a very expensive brush. A decent 2” or 2-1/2” latex brush will do the trick.

Distressing

These easy chalk painting tips for beginners will liberate you from perfectionism and get you hooked on the latest and most fun way to paint furniture!

Let’s talk about distressing. While this step is certainly not necessary and may not work with your décor, it is a very popular partner to chalk paint. The key is to distress naturally; that is, think about the areas where a piece would naturally wear over many years and remove paint there. Typically, this is around handles or knobs, corners and along edges, and random spots here and there. Don’t distress as if the piece fell off the back of a truck going down the highway. Distress as though your piece enjoyed many happy generations sitting in the corner!

A popular tip is to apply Vaseline on any spot where you know distressing will take place. The chalk paint will not bond here and it will be much easier to sand it off. The problem? You have to plan in advance where those spots will be! We have been a bit more spontaneous with distressing.

Other Uses for Chalk Paint

These easy chalk painting tips for beginners will liberate you from perfectionism and get you hooked on the latest and most fun way to paint furniture!

In closing, let me note that there is considerable debate on the many other areas chalk paint can or should be used. I would hesitate to ever use it on a piece of furniture that lives outside. It simply is not formulated to withstand all that abuse and exposure. Some have had success with chalk painting kitchen cabinets. I have not experimented with that use, but my experience makes me think something far more durable would be preferred. I would also hesitate to use it on a dining room or kitchen table. These are such high traffic areas and, like the cabinets, need a more durable coating. Chalk paint is also not recommended for metal or plastic surfaces.

SO! Gone are the days of that gross multiple step process from the 1970’s to paint Granny’s sewing machine cabinet! Forget that smelly step using an oil-based primer. Grab a quart or two of chalk paint, some wax, and transform your world. It is amazing what painted furniture can do for a space, great or small!

Marty: Now I’m a little different than my professional painter husband. I’ll try chalk paint on anything, especially if it’s small and didn’t cost much! Most of the items I paint are home decor accessories that I’ll probably swap out or mix and match somewhere else in the house. 

I did paint the table in the picture above, which was found on the side of the road. Love! I may just end up chalk painting the whole house!

I have learned recently that there is a clear varnish that you can apply over chalk paint that will seal it so that the furniture can be used outside. I’m eager to try this out for myself! I’ve also tried the dark wax and I just love the look of it so expect a project from me soon using that product.

I’d love to know if you’ve joined the chalk paint party and if so, what’s your favorite project?

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Comments

  1. Gayle chestnut says:

    Hi both of you and thank you for your information on chalk paint. My question is, what type of wax, liquid or solid? And how to apply the wax? Any information on this would be appreciated. I love your website and all your projects are so interesting. But your greatest gift is you sharing your thoughts and feelings about life. Hearing you speaking of your problems and your love for God gives me such such hope for my own life which seems to have stalled. After losing my son to brain cancer and my best friend (my husband) within a year, I’m struggling to get back to a useful life that includes helping others. I haven’t figured what would be the most satisfying and needed, but I’m working on it. So keep up your “musings” please. You don’t know how much they help. God bless you and your family.

    • Hi, Gayle. Each brand of chalk paint wax has a little different formulation. Annie Sloan, for instance, is more of a solid, while DecoArt is closer to a liquid. Either one serves the same purpose. I use DecoArt quite a lot now because it’s so easy to find and the price is affordable.

      Thank you so much for your kind words on my “musings.” I am so sorry to hear of your tragic losses. I understand feeling like your life is on hold and not knowing what the next step is. Sometimes it’s just dangling your little toe in the water and going from there. You are so brave to even leave me a comment! I hope you will continue to read and let me know how you’re doing. Your loss touched my heart and I know the suffering seems unending. Your faith is your greatest gift. Blessings to you. Marty

    • Hello Marty,

      I am new to your site. It truly seems wonderful. Thank you….
      I also am new to chalk painting. I have a little cabinet that has never been painted, stained, it is just raw.
      I would like to do something to it. Would I need to first apply some sort of wax, or seal, if I want to keep it natural?

      • Hi, Carol. The beauty of chalk painting is that it can be applied without priming. So with your cabinet you just apply the chalk paint until you get the desired look, sand it if you want a chippy finish and then add the wax to it and buff it with a cloth. Good luck!

  2. Nancy Jean says:

    hi! Thans for the tips! I plan to start paintingy first piece of furniture tomorrow! I bought a quart of Martha Stewart Chalk Paint at Michaels for $9.99. Did I grt ripped off?

    • You’re welcome, Nancy Jean. If you got a quart for $9.99 that’s not a bad price at all, plus you can usually find a coupon online for Michael’s as well. I haven’t used that brand so you’ll have to let me know how you like it.

  3. Hi , where can I buy chalk paint ?? Lowes or home depot?? Thanks for all the useful information… also after painting the furniture do you have to wait for it to dry before waxing it and if so how long ?? Thanks again

    • Hi, Leah. I’m not sure about Lowe’s but Home Depot carries DecoArt chalky paint, as do many of the other craft stores such as Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. There are also other brands but DecoArt is one of the least expensive and easily available brands. As far as waxing, just wait until the surface is dry to the touch, not usually too long depending on the weather or humidity.

  4. I am getting ready to do my first project with Anne Slone chalk paint. My question is the color. My bedroom walls are grey & the bed accessories are grey ,black , & white. I’m planning on painting the dresser, the chest of drawers, & a night stand black. What do you think?

    • Hello,

      What about a pop of color? Maybe paint it grey and put yellow or teal over it? When you distress it, the grey will show thru in those areas to blend all the colors together. Good luck!

    • Hi, Barb. That’s a great question! I know I’m a few days in responding. For me it would depend on how much light you get in the room. If you get a light and you don’t think the furniture would keep the room too dark I think it would be a neat effect. Let me know what you decide to do and how it turns out!

  5. Charlotte Greer says:

    Learned and enjoyed all the tips you and your husband said. Also enjoyed comments, my heart goes out to lady that lost son and husband with in a year.

  6. I am chalk painting an old sewing table. Something on the table is bleeding through the paint. So, I decided to Kiltz it. It is bleeding through the Kiltz. Looks like grape juice. Help! I don’t want to paint this piece purple!

    • Hi, Sue Anne. Probably what you are experiencing is “tannin staining which typically occurs on woods such as redwood, cedar, and mahogany. It causes a bleed through. When I did one of my pieces it was a pink not a purple but that’s my best guess. My husband said to try another coat of Kilz because that’s just about the best product to neutralize it. If you’re going to distress it and want a different color coming through you could always try a black or something that would go with your decor. I don’t know. Just a thought! Let me know how it turns out!

  7. Will chalk paint work on brass candleholders?

  8. Hi! I did use American Paint Company’s Reclaim paint on an old buoy and turned it into a red and white bobber. I sealed it with Reclaim sealer and it has been outside all summer for the last two years. I was pleasantly surprised how well it is holding up.

  9. I to enjoy chalk painting! I have painted several pieces in my home including bathroom vanities & kitchen cabinets. I did use a polyurethane on my cabinets to seal them…so far so good!

  10. “And, honestly, I still don’t know where or how this stuff got its name!” — it’s simple… it got its name from the chalky finish. (There is no chalk in the formula, and it should not be confused with chalkboard paint.) And regarding your concern for using it on kitchen cabinets, as long as you follow up with a great varnish, NOT wax (I’ve heard good things about Americana Soft Touch Varnish but haven’t tried it yet myself), it will hold up beautifully in a kitchen.

    • Robin morrow says:

      Love the pics and posts!! Thank you for sharing this info! I’m a retired librarian and sharing info is so important!!! I have an oak dining table and we plan to cut the legs down and make it table height instead of bar height. I want to use farmhouse/ turquoise blue for the color. Since it will be our used dining table? How can I protect it? Any ideas or advise will be greatly appreciated!!

      • Hi, Robin. Here’s some info from my hubby: The quick answer is polyurethane, but not water-based. Because the chalk paint is water-based as well, applying similarly formulated poly will cause a reaction and actually re-activate the chalk paint. So, an oil-based clear poly is the answer. It as available in a few different finishes, but I recommend semi-gloss for durability, unless you really like the high gloss look of a gloss finish. Be very cognizant of brush strokes when applying the poly if you don’t roll it on. If you do roll it, you MUST use the more expensive shed resistant roller cover or you’ll have fuzz all over. Either way, two coats is recommended with a light sanding between coats.

        Americana Decor also has a varnish specifically for use with chalk paint, but it is only available in small sizes from Home Depot or Michael’s and not every location stocks it. I don’t believe there is any real advantage using this product over a regular poly.

        Good Luck!

    • Hi chalk painters,
      Thank you martys musings for this nice article of tips for chalk painting. I love using chalk paint and I’ve done several projects over the last couple years. I’ve only used Annie Sloan chalk paint and wax because it was the first one I heard of & in my area I have “stockists” that’s what they call people who carry & sell Annie’s paint, wax & brushes. I can’t make this stuff up 😉
      I would add this wax tip to help avoid some trouble (I learned this from a mistake I made) Please *Always clear wax everything first then add a small amount of dark wax over the clear, wiping off or adding as you need until you get the look you desire. Dark wax on the chalk paint will “become one” with the paint , & get way too dark and does not wipe off well at that point! Note, if you boo boo and you put dark wax firs get ready to work a bit! I found mineral spirits or the clear wax used asap to wipe on then immediately off with clean clothes can help. Mineral spirits is the cheaper fix. You may need to put another coat of chalk paint on at this point depending how it looks. My most recent project was a large piece of kitchen counter cut off and turned into a center island. I love it!! You can start using the piece of furniture, with some care, shortly after finishing but Annie’s wax will cure hard in about 30 days and will stand up to normal daily use. The cost of chalk paint shocked me at first but I learned a little goes a very long way & can be diluted with a little water. But truth is that – no sanding, striping or prepping is super worth it to me! A tip I learned with previous finishes bleeding thru is to cover that with shellac , when it’s completely dry you can chalk paint over the shellac.
      Ok the name: I read that the name “chalk paint” was given because after this paint drys the finish feels like the silky smooth finish on the side or edge of the teachers *piece of school chalk* for writing on the chalkboard back in the day. I agree the dry paint does feel slippery or silky like that. However, the name is confusing because I and others thought “chalk paint” made chalkboards, but that’s another product. (That’s “chalkboard” paint) See? Confusing 😉
      I hope people will jump in and have fun with chalk paints like I have done. There are many YouTube videos to help learn how. As we say around here “Don’t be sceerd!” 🙂

  11. Becky Witherrite says:

    I chalk painted my kitchen cabinets. It was my first project. It turned out beautiful. So far it’s holding up. I can’t wait to do another project. A lot smaller this time!

    • Hi, Becky. Good for you for painting your cabinets! That’s a huge undertaking. I’d love to know how they hold up. We always have to touch up our cabinets painted with latex because they get so much use.

  12. Have u made your own chalk paint

  13. I just finished my first big chalk paint project, and since I have perfect hindsight, I began to look for how-to articles. I’ve painted a lot of things in my lifetime, but this chalk paint is a booger to work with. I’m super cheap, as well, so I mixed my own using calcium carbonate powder. The paint is beautiful and, I think, comparable to “store bought”. I was interested in your no priming needed tip. My project is an old 3 drawer dresser with attached cheval mirror that was is good shape other than this horrible finish. It was sealed with this brittle glaze that chipped off easily. I sanded some places for fear it would chip off during painting and ruin the whole thing. I debated with myself, and opted to prime some spots, because you could clearly see that a former stain would cause a problem later, and sure enough, there were issues. I used Kilz on a few places and repainted those areas. So far, so good. I have noticed, however, that the paint comes off on the edges very easily; I’m talking just a slight bump, and no paint. It doesn’t look distressed, just bad. I’m wondering if priming would have been a better option. I don’t want to clear coat or wax, and still have the paint chipping off. My husband is a firm believer in always, always, always prime. “Preparation is half the job.” Have you had any other projects that you decided to prime? I’d love to do our kitchen cabinet this spring, and that is a huge undertaking to mess up. I appreciate your help, and love your articles! Thanks!!

    • Hi, Lisa. Sorry this took me a few days. Blog problems 🙁 Here’s my husband’s response: I totally concur with your husband about priming and have actually had to prime a chest of drawers prior to chalk painting it. That’s the only piece I made that choice on because it was a darker wood that had tannin stains (an oil from deeper inside the wood) I feared might bleed through. Even after priming, those yellow-ish stains came back through, but added to the charm of the distressed end result. For your dresser, the age of the piece and the polyurethane used might require a light sanding on all your trouble areas, prime and re-paint. If you’re not distressing, this will be necessary to make the chalk paint bond to the primer (as you’ve discovered).

      As for chalk painting cabinets, there is great debate in the industry as to whether or not to use that medium in that area. I would really encourage you to explore experiences on either side via social media. I land on the “don’t do it” side, mainly because of the traffic and wide range of exposure kitchen surfaces get. The first abrasive cleaner you use will likely change the surface, and chalk paint really grabs dirt, especially if it is not sealed in some way.

      Good Luck! Tim

  14. THanks for your tips-! I’m about to paint my bed with Fat Paint and couldn’t decide between clear or dark. I’m using Raven and Cast Iron so it may end up quite dark., and there’s not much detail to work with.

  15. I have a question about some furniture that I received from a family member. I desperately want to paint and keep it but I am just so “paint dumb”. I am really getting a lot pf good information from your site and the tips you and your viewers are sharing. The furniture I recieved was used in a childs bedroom and while the furniture is wood, the tops of the furniture has a very slick material, I guess it is a laminate type material. Can chalk paint be used on that as well?

    • Hi, Laura. Here’s my husband’s response to your question 🙂 Some types of children’s furniture uses a highly polished and durable product called melamine. It is similar to what you see a lot of white shelves made from. You could handle this in two steps; you can do a little test spot with the chalk paint and see if it easily scratches off when dry. If so, you will want to prime the top with an oil-based primer (KILZ or Zinser 1-2-3) and then top coat with the chalk paint. The primer will bond to the slick top and give the chalk paint a nice surface to grip. If you’re really concerned about everything staying put, you could sand the top first, just lightly, to rough it up a bit.

      Good Luck!

  16. Ladies please…..MAKE YOUR OWN CHALK PAINT!!!! I have been chalk painting for years. I do lots of furniture that I sell and let me tell you, it’s a waste of money to buy chalk paint. I buy my paint from the “oops bin” at Home Depot and Lowes for dirt cheap, then I make my concoction with 1 cup of paint, 2 Tbsp. non-sanded grout and a little water. Make it to a regular paint consistency. As you paint it will start to thicken up. As it thickens up add a little more water as you go. Super easy and no one will know the difference! Good luck! 👍🏻

  17. I am painting a table and bamboo look chairs with Amy Howard’s Mollie Yellow. I don’t like the waxes (from a previous project), but want a tiny bit of sheen and protection. What do you suggest? Thank you.

  18. Do you have to put the wax on after you paint it?

    • Hi, Kris. Using wax is your choice. There are projects that I haven’t used the wax with because they were little craft projects or whatever. For big furniture projects I always use the wax for protection. If you use the clear wax you can’t see it but you can use the other waxes if you want a different finished look. Hope that helps!

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