During the recent pandemic when most of us were hunkered down and trying to survive another day, staying at home was mandatory in many instances. So it was that I had to find something to keep busy or go stir crazy. Being an artist, I had an interest in getting back to my easel, paint, and canvas to fill up my days. What to do?
I retired some years ago and since then have worked at various jobs or been in business for myself. For example, I started out detailing yachts, opened a school teaching English to Latinos, exhibited my art in gallery shows, and began framing art works. The last endeavor was pretty easy. I bought my moldings cut to my dimensions. I just had to assemble the pieces, glue and nail them together and insert the art in the frame. Frame shops usually charge a 400% mark-up on framing jobs which is why I had to learn by myself how to do framing, albeit, somewhat basic frames. Cutting mats for watercolors and photos was tricky, but after a while I learned how to not over-cut which is essential for making a picture look professionally framed.
All of the above is prelude to how I drifted into do-it-yourself (DIY) rehabbing furniture these last nine months. I have always liked the look of painted furniture that’s done well. I don’t know who or how it got to started back in the 70’s when it was all the rage for DIYers. I have read that it sort of grew out of the graffiti art movement in NYC as practiced by Michel Basquiat and Keith Herring. Happily, it’s still going strong and if you look on YouTube there are many artisans sharing their expertise on painting fanciful furniture,
Maybe you have an old piece of furniture sitting around the house that you’ve been meaning to donate to Habitat. I’d bet that if you thought about it, you’d see that it could be transformed easily into an eye-popping item using the medium of paint and some elbow grease.
That’s essentially what I began to do when I was asked by the owner of Pickers’ Paradize (2106 Hwy 70E) to take home some of the battered pieces she found in a barn for resale. As I am familiar with woodworking, I jumped right in and took on the challenge of making these furniture pieces look whole again. There were some hurdles to get over for sure. Warped doors on cabinets, dresser drawers that won’t stay on the track, chairs with broken legs and spindles were a few of the obstacles, but not all that I had to deal with. What do you do with a rocking chair with no bottom rockers? You get a 2 x 4 and make them, DIY, of course.
It’s quite exciting to apply some paint to an old table and watch it come back to life again. Things that you might want to discard suddenly become keepsakes with pride of authorship so to speak. Sound inviting?
First off, painting furniture is not rocket science. There are things to know before starting so you don’t waste time or money buying the wrong materials. There are dozens of DIY type books online you can access through Google. I’ve bought some but I have a hard time staying awake reading them because I am a hands-on guy that wants to get the ball rolling asap. Nevertheless, they are good for a reference and usually have some easy first projects to help you out.
You don’t have to be gifted in the conceptualization process because there are literally thousands of painted furniture samples online to inspire you. I take tried and true ideas off the Internet all the time and modify them to suit the project at hand. You learn by doing as they say, so one must jump in and see what great creations you can make on your own. When I started, I didn’t know it was going to turn into a part-time business. Now, I am my own boss and can pick and choose how much time I want to dedicate to rehabbing. Fortunately, my sales are picking up and people are now asking me to do something whimsical (my specialty) with their old furniture.
I have on my plate right now, for instance, a request to do life size cut-outs of the Three Stooges and place them on a bench. I’ve already made chairs with Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and the four Beatles so the Three Stooges is a piece of cake. I have a friend that once wanted a couch built in the shape of a rhinoceros that opened and closed. He took the design to a cabinet maker and without batting an eye the guy said, “How soon do you want it?” When the craftsman delivered the rhino couch, he never said a word, unloaded it, and just drove away. “Incurious,” was how my friend described him. My work on the Three Stooges will be anything but incurious. I am excited to get started on it. When and if you start painting furniture, you’ll understand my point of view. It’s fun, man.
I have only skimmed the surface here talking about painted furniture so I expect there a lot of questions about the techniques one would like to know. Feel free to write and let me help turn you into the Keith Herring of painted furniture.
See you down the road.
By Jerry Scott