Friday, March 2, 2007
Milk Paint Primer
To talk about milk paint, the first thing to address is the question "How can you paint that beautiful wood?!" The basic idea that gives the windsor it's flexibility and durability is that the woods are chosen for strength over beauty. By splitting the wood instead of sawing it, we ensure strength and a minimal amount of wave in the grain. Also, by choosing different woods for different parts, the painting brings it all together and draws attention to the silhouette, not the grain. It becomes a line drawing in 3-D. The beauty of milk paint is that when its done well, it holds tight enough to the wood that it can accentuate its "woodness" that invites the touch and guides the eye. I have been making unpainted chairs lately with cherry, butternut and oak. These chairs require a different design, because of the visual punch of the woodgrain, but that's for another time.
But back to milk paint. I describe milk paint to my clients as a thin layer of pigmented plaster. It really is just milk, lime and pigment. If you've ever tried to put a tack in a plaster wall, you know how tough plaster is! It effectively becomes limestone again. It is an incredibly easy paint to work with if you want the rough look of a primitive or aged piece. The problems come when you start asking more of the finish. One of my most revered adages is that you can't rush a finish, and it applies here. The companies that sell milk paint are expecting you to want the rough look, so the instructions that they include are geared towards that. I find the paint way too thick to use this way. A quick note about the different companies. I will mention the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company and the Real Milk Paint Company. I use the product from both companies depending on the desired color or result. If I want a layering of colors that I can burnish to a medium sheen, I use the Old Fashioned Milk Paint. Honestly, their product is not as easy to use or as tough a finish and their colors are not as subtle (my opinion) but there is one major advantage that has me using their product. Their paint isn't as tough, which means that it will burnish to a higher sheen and layer better. The Real Milk Paint Company produces the milk paint that we've all heard of, tough as nails and matte as construction paper. I love their colors, the peacock is truly gorgeous. But you can only burnish it to a low sheen and because it covers so well, layering and getting the mottled look is not easy. I used the Real Milk Paint Company when I want a single color and a softer sheen (also the Real Milk Paint Product will last for weeks once mixed). My mixing process is similar for both, though I've had many more issues with the Old Fashioned Paint.
I tend to mix the paint so that it is thin enough to filter through a cone shaped paper filter that you can get at the hardware store. I mix one part paint to 3 parts water and stir or shake it. One important note, different colors may take less water, such as yellows and blues. If you are starting out with milk paint, stick to the greens, reds and blacks. After mixing, let the paint sit for 1/2 hour or so (this is where the patience begins) and then mix again. Now let it sit another hour or so. You'll notice that the top has a foamy crust and the bottom a sludge. I don't want this, I want the creamy fine paint in the middle. So don't stir it up, just tilt the cup and watch as the fine paint slides out from under the crusty foam and pour it into the filter. Let the paint filter through as it will, maybe tap the filter but don't try to force the paint through. Yes, you are going to throw out a lot of paint, believe me, you don't want it. Now you should have a cup of premium paint that only needs thinning to desired consistency. I'll go into applying it next.