Remember the 2nd chapter in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? The whitewashing scene? Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors of all time; his wit and humor are unmatched. And because he’s such a great author, I used to be intimidated to try whitewashing anything (yet I love the look of it)! After all, if Tom was so adamantly against having to whitewash that fence, it surely must be a pain, right?
Wrong! Whitewashing is one of the simplest techniques for a faux aged or weathered look that I know of. One of the things I love about art is that no rule is unbendable; there’s no formula for creating something beautiful. Sometimes it just happens. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And that is never more true than when you’re whitewashing something, in my opinion.
What you need:
A plastic bowl (or something else to put your paint in)
White paint (I used leftover white latex paint)
Wood or a piece of furniture or something to whitewash (make sure your wood or furniture has been sanded if it’s not already raw)
What you do:
In the bowl, mix about 1 part paint to 1-2 parts water. If you want to see more of the wood showing through, use closer to 2 parts water in the mixture. I used a 1:2 ratio so the wood and texture would really show through. You want a very runny consistency, about like milk.
My “something to whitewash” is a 4-plank piece of fence that I’m using for my sign at the space I’m leasing at the antique mall. (You can read more about that here.) This particular piece of of fence was 7 planks across, so I had my hubby cut it into 2 sections. The other 3 planks piece I’ll use for another sign eventually.
All you need to do is paint your runny, milky onto your wood in sections. I painted plank-by-plank. Don’t worry about getting the paint into every nook and cranny. If you’re going for a weathered look, you don’t want it looking too perfect, do you? That also means you don’t have to worry about getting the paint on evenly. It can be a bit splotchy. If you tend to get it a little perfect, however, later you can use sandpaper to add some character back onto the piece by distressing it.
After painting your wood or large section of furniture, use your dry cloth rag to gently wipe off any excess paint, in the direction of the wood grain. Paint again. You can wipe with the cloth again, paint again and wipe if you’d like, it just depends how your piece is evolving. Some wood will absorb more paint and you may need to do several coats. My fence section just needing a coat of paint, a wipe-down and another coat of paint. Then I let it dry completely.
That’s it. Depending on what kind of look you’re going for, you may want to run over your piece with several coats of polyurethane or leave it as it is. For my sign, I’m continuing the project with some wording (The Cantaloupe Crate) and I’m not going to coat it with anything, even at the end. I want this sign to look specifically weathered, distressed and a little bit unfinished. I’ll probably rough it up a little more after the wording is dry and call it good.
I’ll be posting the finished sign in a few days!
Happy whitewashing and remember, don’t be afraid to make your technique your own. Add a layer of gray stain, sand in between coats of thinned out paint, do what works. This is a very forgiving method, so feel free to experiment until you achieve something that suits your taste!