Painting tips: A Q&A with color and Chalk Paint creator Annie Sloan

Annie Sloan, who is famous for her Chalk Paint, is a British artist, color and paint expert and author of 26 books. Her Chalk Paint became a worldwide sensation due to its many uses, from furniture to other things in the home. She invented Chalk Paint due to a need for a paint which could be used to achieve myriad decorative effects—but that could be applied, left to dry, and waxed in one day. Annie lives and works in Oxford, England, with her husband, David, who runs the business.

Sloan joined writer Jura Koncius last week for The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I want to spruce up my home a bit, but I’m scared of too much color. Where do I start?A: Color is really important in a room because it brings joy. Think of the room and the wall colors as a neutral background, and find one color to introduce into the room, perhaps on a chest of drawers at one end and a chair on the other. Remember, you can paint lamp bases, too, for an extra pop of color. If you decide you don’t like your color choice, don’t worry: You can paint over it.

Q: How should I store partially used cans of paint? What’s their shelf life?

A: If you have leftover paint that you won’t use for a while, put a little bit of water on top (less than an inch), and seal the lid extremely well. I would say that it lasts for a year, but I have used paint that’s 15 years old. It’s really down to how it’s stored. Avoid letting the paint get too hot or cold. You can also mix in a little water if it gets too thick over time.

Q: How do you achieve a smooth finish with your paint?

A: Use the paint thinly and apply it with one of my Flat Brushes ( Add the smallest bit of water to the paint to make it easier to apply if necessary.

Annie Sloan advocates painting floors, like this bathroom design. The checkerboard floor was creating using Chalk Paint color Old Violet, which was also used on the tub. (Photo courtesy of Annie Sloan)

Q: I have off-white trim throughout my house. I want to paint my kitchen cabinets and wish I could do white. What do you recommend that won’t clash?

A: I would personally go for a light gray instead of trying to match colors.

Q: I’ve recently seen painted floors. I want to do this, but I have no idea where to begin. What should I know before I get started, and how should I choose a color?

A: Painting floors is brilliant, and the sky is the limit. I’ve had floors painted in every color possible. For a room without much light, such as a hallway, you can go for a really strong color. My hallway is Antibes Green from my Chalk Paint range, and the staircase is Barcelona Orange. In my bedroom, where I want it to be calming, I’ve got Old White on the floors, and the walls are Aubusson Blue and Versailles.

Q: Is there anything you don’t advise painting? I know your paint adheres to pretty much everything, but is there anything to stay away from?

A: I’ve had a couple of issues in the past with really oily teak, but other than that, the paint will adhere to pretty much anything, including laminate, glass and most plastics. Cheap plastics, however, are problematic, because they’re too oily and the paint either doesn’t stick at all or chips off easily. I’ve painted many Ikea pieces in my time, and I know lots of others who have, too. It’s a great way to make something that’s mass-produced your own. I do tend to stray away from painting real antiques, unless the piece is damaged beyond repair.

Q: What’s your favorite color combination? I love blues, but I never know what to match them with. How do you know which ones will look good combined?

A: I love blues with greens, browns and terracottas. Blue is an incredibly versatile color; it’s perfect right now because it’s calming. Blue works well with most colors, but it really depends on the hue. If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow rule, use a complementary hue. I suggest using complementary colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel, so blue with orange, green with red and purple with yellow. I know that sounds a little scary, but think of it as a blush pink with an olive, or an aubergine with a cream. I promise it will look great.

Q: What country or region, other than your own, has significantly influenced your color palette?

A: I think Swedish colors are a complete knockout. I love the colors used in the interiors there from the 18th century. Early on, I really loved early American colors, such as the reds found on barns. France has of course inspired me greatly. Everywhere I go, I find inspiration. Earlier this year, I went to India, and that has been very influential on the colors and patterns I’ve been using recently.

Q: I have a late 1800s foyer table with intricately carved areas, including the “skirt” border, the actual pedestal and the claw-footed legs. The top is inlaid marble. The carvings vary in design and depth. I want to paint this table in two different, layered Annie Sloan paints and perhaps use a light glaze for wiping off to really bring out details in the carvings. I wish to avoid filling up some of the shallower carvings with too much paint. Would I use the lighter-tint Chalk Paint first, then come back with the darker-tint paint and wipe off a bit, or vice versa? Should I use a light glaze or just wax when I’m done painting? This is an elegant table, and the carvings are intricate. I want to retain its elegance while making the beautiful carvings really stand out. I am leaving the marble top alone.

A: I can remember being scared of this myself, but I’ve found the solution is to use the paint thinly and spread it out. I would use a darker color underneath and the lighter color over it. You could use my White Wax, which will help to soften it and highlight the carvings, or my Gilding Wax to add a little gold or silver.

Q: I’m painting furniture for our toddler class, and I want to use primary colors. The walls are yellow. What colors do you recommend for a table, chairs and bookshelves? What finish would work best?

A: I think primary colors would be good, but you do need to add in some neutrals, and I would suggest using several blues and greens with the yellow to make sure it’s a bit more cohesive. You can use either Chalk Paint Wax or Lacquer to finish, but both will need time to cure (fully seal) over 10 to 14 days.

Q: I’m painting an antique hutch and have had to use three coats of an old white. The tannins on the piece seem to be persistent and are bleeding through the paint. Is there a preparation step I should have used to prevent this from happening?

A: This can happen occasionally, particularly with older pieces from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. As soon as I notice this happening, I use a clear shellac to block the stain. I then paint another coat of my paint over it, which solves the problem.

Q: Do I have to use wax after painting with Chalk Paint? Is there anything else I could use? What is the purpose of the clear wax?

A: I always advise finishing a piece with either Chalk Paint Wax or Chalk Paint Lacquer. This seals the paint and protects all of your beautiful handiwork. It also makes it wipeable and water-repellent. I personally love using wax to finish my pieces, as it gives a beautiful mellow finish. I can also adjust the overall look by adding a little Black or Dark Wax. I would always recommend Lacquer on floors.

Q: What is a good way to incorporate a bold color into my home without overwhelming it? I am afraid that doing an accent wall will just cut my room short visually. I am looking at Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue.

A: Chalk Paint can be used on walls and looks amazing; it creates a beautiful, velvet finish. I would use Napoleonic Blue or Aubusson Blue, which gives incredible depth and makes a room feel bigger.

Q: I have a slanted ceiling with a 12-foot-high wall behind my bed. I want to create a bold wall mural with stencils and paint. Do you have suggestions?

A: A simple geometric wall behind the bed would look brilliant. Have a look on Pinterest for inspiration. Two or three colors would work best. My bedroom at home is painted in Aubusson Blue, which I find incredibly calming, and it would make a good accent color.

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