(Originally posted to Facebook on October 12th)
This vintage Ethan Allen cog table is probably the single most important piece I’ve ever done. And not for any of the reasons that you’d likely guess. Yes, it required a ton of repairs and a lot of work....but the timing of this piece and what it did to my heart and soul are why it will likely stick out to me for the rest of my career.
This was a custom refinish presented to me by my ex-husbands best friend. I accepted the job when life seemed to be running smoothly, family in tact, smiles on faces...and by the time the table was delivered to my home and work was to begin, my life was in absolute turmoil.
Here was a table, once beautiful, laying in front of me with a broken base, an unbalanced and unhinged exterior, blemishes too dramatic to ever hide from the world. And here was a girl who matched it perfectly. The first day it was in my possession, we sat on the floor together and shed so many tears. How would I ever repair the damage? The breaks were too lethal. The scars were too visible. We were weak. So incredibly weak.
I was told that trauma and heartache act as a roller coaster. The drops are incredibly steep in the beginning, gut wrenching, nauseating. But there are still ups amongst the downs, however few. As time goes on, as the ride continues, those ups become easier to climb, and the downs become less debilitating, and the calm between the two becomes more steady and more comfortable.
And so I started with the base. I cleaned her splinters, I sanded her rough edges, I drilled new, sometimes excruciating holes in her interior so I’d have space to add the dowels that would give her strength. I glued and bound and clamped her together....and I gave her time to heal. I puttied her wounds till they became invisible to passerbys, but still cast the tiniest shadow of her past to those who knew her best. And once the base was secure and capable of supporting her crown, I worked my way up. And then I got tired. So, so, tired. I wanted to be finished with the entire project and skip forward to the final reveal, the finished project where she could just smile again...so I cut corners and overlooked issues and skipped steps that were so incredibly crucial. And it showed. Her stained top was unevenly sanded, jumping from one grit to another without care or concern for the wounds left behind. And the stain made it obvious. In some places it soaked in like a sponge, becoming a dark, ugly mess...and in others it didn’t take at all, only showing her old self, her old scars, her old tones.
And so I began again. I stripped her down, and did the work the way I knew in my soul it needed to be done. I spent countless hours sanding her top, starting with the roughest, most damaging of grits....and slowly graduated through the ranks, getting her softer, more beautiful, with every pass. Never completely hiding her scars, but blending them into her new existence and letting them guide her path, but not shape her destiny.
When I finished this table, we shed more tears together. She was strong, oh my god was she strong. But she wasn’t new. And she never would be. She had structure and reinforcements and a newfound beauty amongst the blemishes. She could function, and she could flourish. And she did.
My work has always been a reflection of my soul, an outlet for my emotions, a diary of my state. I can show you pieces that are blended and wild and adventurous and I can map out the emotional turmoil I was enduring. I can show you pieces that are clean and sleek and rigid, and point out the events that led me to need structure. And I can show you pauses. Weeks where I haven’t picked up a brush. Weeks where it seemed crippling to put art on canvas. And that’s not something to be ashamed of. I haven’t been painting lately. Not at all. And that’s ok. I have been writing a lot, however. Filling notebooks with rambles that the world will never see. And that’s ok, too.
But today I stumbled upon these photos and I took a moment to be grateful...for the ability to let my soul out here and there, to be able to connect with a piece of furniture and allow its healing to guide my own. And this one did in so many ways. I’m thankful for the roller coaster, I’m thankful for the scars, and I’m thankful for anyone who crosses my path who can appreciate them without judgement.
Find your outlet, do the repairs, shed the tears....but always look back with grace and gratitude. Find the beauty in your scars and be proud of the ride. You’re still buckled in and that is monumental.
Which Top Coat Should I Pick!?!?!
You did your homework and picked out a rockstar paint product, you went above and beyond completing your prep work, you painted that furniture up in the most gorgeous color….now it’s time to protect your work. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint (like most chalk style paints) is extremely porous. While that is awesome for adhesion purposes because it’s going to stick to most things, it also means most things are gonna stick to it...so you’ve gotta protect it! You’ve got four options with Wise Owl when it comes to clear coating your paint: salve, wax, hemp seed oil, or varnish. Which is best? What sets them apart? Which should you choose? Let’s jump in…
Furniture Salve: Gives a smooth, water resistant finish, that is strong enough to hold up to average wear and tear. Super easy to apply (brush or wipe on, lightly wipe off excess). Contains hemp seed oil, which adds to its durability, but can cause slight yellowing over white paint. Has a million additional uses beyond painted furniture. Comes in seven scents.
Wax: Comes in three options- natural hemp wax, clear wax, and colored wax. The hemp wax is a beeswax base with hemp seed oil which provides additional durability. It has a slight yellow color due to the hemp addition, so it may cause yellowing to white paints. The clear wax is actually our furniture salve formula with no hemp seed oil and no essential oils. It is clear so it will not alter your paint colors, and it is food grade so it is perfect for cutting boards, butcher blocks, and cheese boards. The colored wax has a hemp seed oil base that currently comes in black or black walnut. It can be used as a sealant over an entire piece, or as an accent color to create depth and dimension. It also works great as a stain alternative on raw wood.
Hemp Seed Oil: Comes in a liquid form that is easy to apply and provides a durable, water resistant finish that rivals many polyurethanes. Food safe formula, perfect for cutting boards and butcher blocks. Provides a true matte finish, which is perfect if you love the look of chalk style paint! Can be used to wet sand your paint to a velvety soft finish and goes beautifully over raw or stained wood.
Varnish: Comes in matte and satin options. Is water proof when fully cured, outdoor grade, and incredibly durable. Made with crystal clear resins (as opposed to most top coats that utilize amber resins) so it is chemically incapable of yellowing your paint over time. It is our only water based top coat, but provides an industrial strength finish, suitable for high traffic areas, floors, and cabinets.
Have you tried any of them? Or all four? Do you have a favorite?? In my painting classes, we primarily stick with furniture salve because it is so easy to apply and doesn’t require extended dry time, so students can take their piece home with them at the end of the class. But for my business practices, I varnish every single piece to ensure the highest level of durability possible. (Although, I typically salve as well because its just so amazing and gives a clean, soft look.)
Coming up soon, we will break down each of the four options individually, going over ingredients, application processes, and tips & tricks to getting a perfect finish. Stay tuned!!
Want to know the key to getting perfect coverage, seamless blending, and a flawless finish? Let’s chat…
(This post is specifically about the chalk line, not the One Hour Enamel. That series of posts is coming soon! Before you paint, you’ll need to properly assess your piece and prep accordingly. I’ve done a full series on prepping, priming, and the reasons behind choosing Wise Owl...check the categories over to the right to catch up!)
-First things, first. You need paint. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint currently comes in 67 highly pigmented, off the charts, gorgeous colors...with a new seasonal launch of 9 additional options coming in just a few days! This isn’t your grandma’s paint line...yes, we’ve got plenty of neutrals, grays, off whites, and beiges...but there’s also every shade of blue you can fathom, hot raspberry pinks, neon yellows, deep jewels, and chameleon colors that defy pigmenting logic. If you like to experiment, the colors mix beautifully and expand your options indefinitely. So, figure out what direction you want to take your project, snag a beautiful color, and jump in. (Quick tip...once you get your paint, you may notice little black metal tabs securing the lid. Grab a small flat head screw driver or even your car key and pry the tab off, twisting from the inside of the can outward to remove. I’ll drop a video down below if you want to see it in action!)
-Give your paint a quick stir and pour it into a separate container. Wise Owl is made completely from scratch (it’s not a box store brand of latex paint with chalk additives poured in), so the minerals and chalk are incorporated from the very beginning of the manufacturing process and truly become part of the grind. This means you won’t have that sediment of minerals sinking to the bottom of your paint can like you’ll see with lots of brands...which means less stirring is required, shelf life is extended, and it helps immensely with self leveling. Give it a quick stir just to be extra sure everything is fully incorporated after shipping and then pour some into a separate container. Because Wise Owl doesn’t have the harsh chemicals and preservatives in it like the more toxic brands, it can be somewhat sensitive to bacteria and contaminants. So, instead of dipping a paint brush into your paint and risking contaminating the entire pint with potential ick that was on your brush (even just minerals from your tap water from the last time you rinsed your brush), pour some off into a separate container and keep the remainder of your pint pure.
-Get a good brush and soak it in water before using. You know I love Cling On. Like, I love, love, love them and will never go back to another brand. I’m going to do an entire post just about how amazing they are, but for the purposes of today’s chat, I’ll sum it up quickly...The Cling On brushes are made with synthetic bristles, attached with concrete resin so you will never deal with shedding. They are made with DuPont filaments, which means your paint will glide off the bristles with ease and clean up in a jiffy (just suspend the bristles in clean water and watch the paint fall right out!). And if you use the brush damp (not dripping! Soak it for an hour before your first use, and then squeeze all the excess water out) it will drastically help with the self leveling properties of the paint and give you a flawless finish.
-Once your piece is properly prepped, you’ve picked your color, and you’ve got a good quality brush, jump in with paint. With the chalk synthesis paint, your coverage will be amazing in just one to two coats...but I personally PREFER to do multiple, thinner coats, for a couple reasons. First, is dry time. The paint dries incredibly fast, which is awesome because it means you can complete your project in less time….but if you lay your paint on too thick, it can cause issues. Let’s say you apply one super thick coat instead of two thin ones. The surface area of your paint will be in contact with the air around it and dry faster than the underlayer that is adhering to your furniture. As the lower portion dries, the moisture will be released THROUGH the already dried upper layer and can cause quite a bit of crackling. Sometimes this is awesome, but if you are like me and prefer a sleek, modern, finish...this is a total headache. So be sure that your first coat is nice and thin, even, and has ample dry time before hitting it with a second coat. (Typically I suggest 4-6 hours between coats, but that can vary a bit depending on your temperature, humidity, and thickness of coats). The second reason I prefer two thinner coats is because it creates better adhesion. That first thin coat won’t necessarily be the prettiest (I call it the awkward teenage stage), but it will adhere much stronger than a thicker coat can….and that means the longevity and strength of your work will be drastically improved. Plus, it makes that second coat go on like a dream and the beauty of it over that first ugly coat is extra satisfying.
-Assess your work between coats. The paint is self leveling and because of that, nine times out of ten, I don’t need to do any additional work to smooth out my finish between coats. On occasion, if you find a brush stroke, a fuzzy stuck to your paint, or some other blemish, approach it before moving further. You can easily sand your paint to a smooth finish with fine sandpaper, but for most situations, a quick swipe with a baby wipe will actually do the trick without damaging your paint or causing any discoloring. The moisture in the wipe will reactivate the paint and allow it to smooth over, move around where needed, and level out again while drying. If you are blending colors, a quick light spritz with water is all you need to open up the dry time once again and allow the paint to blend flawlessly. (This is hugely thanks to the clay aspects of the paint, making it a dream to blend). You’ve got a decent window to play with (about 24 hours) before the paint starts the curing process...so within that window, you can easily reactivate the paint and adjust anything needed.
-Once you are satisfied with your coverage (typically two coats, on very rare occasion you may need three especially if using oranges or reds which are notorious for being tricky), allow it to dry completely (4 hours before waxing or salving, 24 hours before varnishing if you are worried about tannin bleed thru) and then apply a top coat. We will dive into all the ins and outs of Wise Owl top coats in a future post, but here is a quick run down: You’ve got three options - salve, wax, or varnish. Decide how much durability you need, how much water resistance your piece requires, the sheen you’d prefer, and how much dry time you can allow and then pick your weapon. The paint itself cures in 28 days and will actually provide a fairly durable level of protection all on its own. But due to its porous nature, I HIGHLY recommend protecting it further with a clear coat.
-Sit back and look at what you just created. It really is that simple. For me, prep work takes far longer than paint time, no matter how crazy of a finish I’m going for. The paint makes the work a piece of cake, as long as you give it a good surface to adhere to. When painting with Wise Owl, the hardest part is picking a color. And don’t ever forget...it’s just paint. If you aren’t thrilled, you can fix it. Spray some water on it and blend that bad boy up, or just paint right over it. Nothing is locked in until the paint cures so don’t let the nerves take over just yet.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-Pick your color
-Pour your paint into a second container to avoid contamination
-Get a good brush and dampen it
-Paint two thin coats, with ample dry time in between
-Add a clear coat to protect your finish
Up next? We’ll talk about all the options for clear coating your work. Why Wise Owl top coats are the best of the best, which option is best for every scenario, and how to properly apply for the best results.
And as always, if you have questions about the products, would like a custom color consultation, need a partner for trouble shooting...send me a note! That's what I'm here for! And if you are ready to jump in, click the "Shop" tab at the top of the page to swing and snag all your goodies. Every order ships for just five bucks, and every fifty dollars you spend gets you entered into my monthly drawing to win some cash to use on more paint!
(Originally posted to Facebook on September 27)
I’ve had to write two self bios this week...and while that feels uncomfortably strange, even for this girl who writes about pretty personal shit on a regular basis, it made me realize it’s been a really long time since I actually introduced myself here. I think the last time I did this, I had a few hundred people following along and most of them were already my friends and knew far more about me than I could fit in a few paragraphs. There’ve been quite a few new faces around lately and I’m going to step outside my little box and say hello....
So, uh, hello. 😘 I’m Sam...I’m the owner, designer, builder, and artist behind The Copper Elm. I have lived around the world, but for quite a few years have called Colorado my home. I’ve got two shops here, one in the incredible RiNo District of Denver and one in my quaint little town of Castle Rock. I sell paint (Wise Owl 💗🦉💗), refinished furniture, repurposed home decor, and odds and ends that I find beautiful, fascinating, or both.
I have a passion for teaching, but was recently told by a student/friend/human being that I admire incredibly that my teaching skills play a far second to my mentoring skills....and that was probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever received in this business. I get a rush from selling my own furniture but it doesn’t even compare to the thrill when one of my friends or clients sells a piece of theirs. I love nothing more than watching and (if I’m lucky enough) helping someone see their true potential, unlock their hidden artistic talents, and become the creative person they always dreamed they could.
My life is absolutely centered around the most important person on earth...my four year old son. He’s a spit fire, smarter than I can handle, funnier than he thinks, and cuter than anything in my world. He’s the reason I created this business and the reason I continue every single day. I’m a work from home mom who wakes up every morning and hustles from dawn to dusk so that I can support this teeny family of ours and watch him grow on the daily.
I’m a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve and that gets me into more trouble than anything else. (Well, besides maybe my mouth...that gets me into quite a bit of trouble too....) I love incredibly hard, even when people don’t deserve it. I’m one that forgives easily, and instead of harboring anger, I tend to put all my emotions back into helping those who hurt me. Often times, that leaves me with very little left for myself and that’s something I’m working on...
I’m in my mid thirties and it’s beginning to show in all the best ways. Ive got wrinkles near my eyes because when I laugh, I laugh with my entire soul and it tends to contort my face in ways that don’t show up so cute in photos. I’ve got scars on my body from the things I’ve conquered, and I wear them with pride because they remind me just how much I have survived and just how much more I can endure. I spent a lot of years apologizing for who I was, conforming to what others found to be appealing, and hiding behind lies that made me more attractive to the world. I’ve spent the last twelve months of my life changing that. I was hurt in ways that are somewhat unimaginable, even to myself, and they’ve taught me such a great deal about where I truly stand on this earth. If I love, I say so. If I’m hurt, I say so. If I feel indifferent, I walk away. It’s incredibly cliche, but life is too short to hold back and so, I don’t.
This is me. I’m just a girl trying to do something good in this world, hoping to find some folks to do that good with, while having a few good drinks and a lot of good laughs along the way....
If you’d care to share, I’d love to be formally introduced...who are you? Where are you? Are your wrinkles from smiles or frowns? Do you drink whiskey or wine (I switch back and forth depending on the day)? What brings you here?
Who’s ready to paint?? We’ve talked about priming your furniture, we’ve talked about what IS in Wise Owl paint and what so amazingly is NOT, we’ve talked about the two awesome badass chicks that run this incredible company...and it’s ALMOST time to dip that brush in and have some fun, but first, a necessity….
Let’s talk about that awful four letter word that we all despise: PREP.
Prep work is a beast that most of us hate to tackle, and plenty of folks skip altogether. But if you want your beautiful paint job to last...prep work is a non negotiable. I don’t care what any paint brand tells you, you NEED to prep. (And yes, I am fully prepared to receive major backlash for saying this, and I don’t care...I’m unwavering when it comes to prep work. Period.) Depending on the condition of your furniture, your prep work can vary quite a bit. You might get away with 20 minutes of light cleaning or it might take a whole week of work. You need to assess your surface, come up with a game plan, and jump in.
There are four main steps of prep work: Cleaning, Repairs, Sanding, Priming. Some projects require all 4, some are fine with just 1. You can never do TOO MUCH prepping, but you sure can cut corners and pay for it later. If in doubt, go above and beyond. It’ll make your painting a million times better, I promise. Let’s break these steps down and get to it…
-Cleaning: This is the one prep step that is absolutely necessary, NO MATTER WHAT. Dirt, grime, grease, oils, residue, cobwebs…they all can cause major headaches with your paint (the finish, the adhesion, the durability, etc). If you are dealing with a brand new piece of furniture, straight from the factory, made entirely of raw wood, with no sap, no splintering, no issues what so ever...you can likely get away with a dusting. But just about every other scenario will require some sort of actual cleaning products. Depending on how dirty your piece is, you may go the gentle route with warm water and some dish soap or a little more hardcore with an all purpose cleaner (I have two major preferences: LA’s Totally Awesome Cleaner from the dollar store - cheap, tough, but super stinky and not eco friendly or Whip-It from Walmart/Sam’s Club/Amazon - plant based, strong enough to eat straight through paint, eco friendly and non toxic). If your piece has a wax coating or was previously cleaned with Pledge or a similar furniture polish, you’ll want to grab Mineral Spirits and a scrubby pad or even better, steel wool...get to scrubbing and that top coat will melt away. If your piece has a somewhat shiny finish, a good deglosser can help dull it and give your furniture a little more tooth for your paint to stick to. I personally try to stay away from harsh cleaners like TSP. TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) is actually banned in plenty of states, thanks to its crazy dangerous nature. It can cause difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, vision loss, and skin irritation. It can lead to oxygen depletion in water sources (so think twice before washing it down the drain) and if used to encapsulate lead based paint, it’ll do a good job of converting that lead dust into lead phosphate, which is great for removal...and awful at the same time because lead phosphate is a possible carcinogen. I just steer clear.
No matter what your approach, it’s important to get your furniture in the cleanest shape possible…..and then wash it one more time. Yep, I know, I know. But you need one more quick cleaning with plain water to get any possible cleaning product residue off before you move forward. So give it one last rinse before moving on.
***One more little tip about cleaning. A lot of folks choose to clean as a LAST prep step after they do repairs and sand. I completely understand that you’ll have to clean that sanding dust, wood glue residue, etc off in a bit anyway, so cleaning twice seems stupid. But if you sand BEFORE cleaning, you can actually cause more issues in the long run. Let’s say your furniture was cleaned with Pledge. If you don’t remove the Pledge first, and just jump right in with your palm sander, the heat and pressure from your sander can actually melt the wax coating on the furniture and push it further INTO your wood. This means you’ll have a much harder time removing that coating later, and dare I say, it may never come up. Clean twice and save yourself the stress.***
-Repairs: Now is the time to fix any defects. Starting with the absolute basics, give your piece a little push...is it wobbly? Are the legs all sturdy or do they need their bolts and screws tightened down? If you have a little give, tighten that bad boy up. I’m a huge fan of wood glue and brad nails to reinforce sides, backings, etc. If the veneer is lifting, inject a little glue under the surface and clamp, clamp, clamp. If the sides are pulling away, glue it, tie it all down with ratchet straps, and throw some nails in to lock it up. For major separation, I prefer to drill holes and glue in dowels for extra durability and strength. (I love this kit! Its five bucks and comes with a drill bit, guard, and dowels so everything will fit perfectly) If you’ve got chips or divots in your wood or veneer, fill with wood putty or bondo (I prefer the automotive bondo, and actually skip the wood bondo.). Pull your drawers out and tighten all the slides down with a screw driver (If they are broken, replace them now before you start painting! You can get replacement kits at any hardware store). If you have missing details, trim, feet, etc...make a mold of the existing pieces and match it up! You don’t want to glue trim on AFTER you’ve finished painting, so take the time to get it in proper shape now!
-Sanding: This is step that may or may not be necessary, depending on what you are dealing with. You may need to sand for two main scenarios...smoothing it out and roughing it up. If your piece has splintered edges, scratches, or imperfections, you can sand it all smooth to create an even canvas for your paint. If your piece is super slick and shiny, sanding can rough it up and give your paint more tooth to grip on to. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is really adhesive, but it won’t stick to a high lacquered surface, so scuff it up, make it ugly, and give your paint a fighting chance. Start with a rougher grit sandpaper and gradually work your way up to a finer finish. You don’t want to just attack a dresser with 80 grit and walk away...you’ll have a super rough, damaged surface, and it’ll show through your paint finish. Work up to a 220 grit to get a smooth surface that still has enough grip for your paint. (If I’m planning to stain instead of paint, I prefer to go all the way up to 400 grit for the most even surface.)
-Priming: I did an entire series of posts about priming (I’ll link them down below), but the main thoughts are this...If you are worried about tannins or stains bleeding through your paint job, prime. If you are worried that your paint won’t stick to a slick surface, prime. If you are painting a super dark piece bright white, prime. If your furniture stinks, prime. If you are painting with enamel, prime. If you are in doubt, prime. Wise Owl Primer is a piece of cake to work with...its water based and low vocs...it goes on just like paint and will give you the best chance at a quality finish.
I hate seeing posts that make major assumptions, saying that your piece just needs a quick cleaning before you can paint. Each piece of furniture is different and each will require different levels of prep work. For me personally, I tend to go a little above and beyond with my prep work because I sell my pieces professionally and I NEED them to last the long haul. Take the extra time to properly prep your piece, no matter which brand of paint you are using, and you’ll have a far better experience painting, guaranteed.
And as always, if you are in doubt, send me a picture!!! I’m happy to look over your piece, assess it as much as possible, and come up with a game plan to get it in the right condition before you pick up your paint brush.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-Clean your piece no matter what
-Repair any damages or blemishes before you start painting
-Sand to smooth rough areas and rough up smooth areas
-When in doubt, prime!
Next up…..we gonna paint, baby!
(This post contains a couple affiliate links. These links don't cost you a single penny, but they help pay my bills. As always, I absolutely stand behind the products I recommend!)
We’ve talked about what’s NOT in Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint, so now, let’s talk about what IS. What makes it so stellar? What benefits does it have over paint from a big box store? Why would you want to give it a try??
So first...what is it? You’ve likely heard the term “Chalk Paint”, and for most folks, that’s a blanket term that describes a pretty large group of paint….its fairly adhesive, dries to a chalky finish, and distresses with ease. But that term is actually trademarked by a pretty major paint brand in the industry. Yup, no other brands can actually use the term...which is why everyone else has a “chalk style” or “chalky finish” or in the case of WO, a “chalk synthesis”. So why “synthesis”? Because they’ve taken the best parts of mineral (chalk, which is a form of limestone), clay, and acrylic paints and combined them to create one rockstar product. But let’s break down some of those rockstar components, one by one….
-Adhesion: Wise Owl, on a molecular level, is incredibly porous. What does that mean to you? Most importantly, it means its going to stick to most surfaces, with little prep work required. Take note, I said “little”...you all KNOW I don’t believe in skipping prep work. But lots of pieces are ready to paint after a good cleaning. (Yes, you NEED to clean!!! Do not even think about painting over those cobwebs, no matter what any paint company tells you. Once your surface is super clean, give it one more wipe down with plain water to be sure you’ve got all the cleaning chemicals off! If your piece has a somewhat slick surface or has obvious scratches, give it a quick sanding to smooth out imperfections and give the wood a little more tooth for the paint to grip onto. If it’s super slick, then grab some primer for your best chance at adhesion. I can’t recommend Wise Owl primer enough...it’s the bee’s knees, for sure).
-Self Leveling: One of the biggest headaches in the painting world is trying to avoid brush marks/strokes. If you are using a natural bristle brush and a super thick or super runny paint, that headache just got even worse. Not with Wise Owl...it actually levels out beautifully as it dries. No ridges, no lumps and bumps, no frustrations. If you combine the self leveling paint with a damp Cling On brush?? Oh, baby, then you get that flawless finish that you’ve been striving for. It won’t matter if you are a seasoned pro or you’re picking up a brush for the first time, you’ll get a smooth, enviable finish every time.
-Water Based and Water Activated: The paint dries fairly fast, but thanks to its water based nature, it can be reactivated with a spritz of water, a damp brush, or even a baby wipe. As long as you approach it before the paint has begun curing (so within the first day or so) you can use a little bit of water to distress your finish, blend paint colors, remove drips, etc. Any imperfections or mistakes can be cleaned up with just a touch of water….and cleaning up any actual messes is a total dream. I am the sloppiest painter on earth, and when I’m finished with a paint job, I usually have paint all the way up to my elbows. A quick wipe down with a baby wipe is all I need to get every bit of paint off.
-Made From Scratch: All paint is most definitely not created equal. Did you know that a ton of paint brands actually use big box store brand paint and simply throw in a few additives and call it their own recipe? Why is this a big deal? Well, first, if they are using latex paint as a base, it likely contains crystalline silicates which can be extremely dangerous if inhaled (scroll back to my post about what is NOT in Wise Owl for a full rundown on this!). And second, when minerals are added into a premixed paint, they will never be flawlessly incorporated. Creating a recipe from scratch insures that all the components are evenly distributed and will stay that way. This extends the paint’s shelf life and also drastically aids in that self leveling aspect we just chatted about!
-Acrylic Binder: Paint needs a binder to help with adhesion and provide strength and durability. A lot of brands use a latex binder in their recipes, while Wise Owl chooses acrylic binders. The acrylic gives your paint a stronger finish that distresses beautifully. Distressing a latex based paint can lead to quite a few frustrations as the paint rolls and gums up under the friction of the sandpaper.
-Heavily Pigmented: Wise Owl doesn’t cut corners when it comes to pigments. They choose high quality, heavily saturated pigments which means your project will be completed in fewer coats. Most colors will see full coverage in just one to two coats. A pint of paint doesn’t look like much, but it will cover an average of 75-80 square feet. I can finish a decent sized dresser with just one pint.
When you combine all of these benefits, with all of the incredible lengths Wise Owl has taken to avoid causing harm to its users or the environment, and then throw in the two outstandingly talented and intelligent women that run this company….you’ve got a pretty damn stellar paint. Period.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-It will stick to most surfaces with minimal prep work
-It self levels so you’ll look like a pro
-You can reactivate the paint with water to correct imperfections and blend colors
-Its made from scratch so all the particles are fully incorporated and won’t separate
-It has a strong acrylic binder that promotes adhesion
-High quality pigments mean less coats to achieve full coverage
Next up??? We’ll break down the painting process, step by step, to fully transform your furniture with Wise Owl! Stay tuned
So your piece is prepped and now you are ready to paint….but why choose Wise Owl Paint??
Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is single handedly the easiest paint I’ve ever worked with. I’ve pushed it to its limits, and have only been able to truly mess it up once. Yup, once. (I’ll fill ya in on that big ‘womp womp’ moment soon, I promise!) It glides on like butter, self levels like a dream, and blends like nobody’s business. Add in the fact that it’s one of the most eco friendly paints on the market….and you’ve got a winner. We’re going to dive into all the incredible colors, the application process, and trouble shooting soon, but today I want to chat a bit about what actually makes the paint so impressive on an environmental standpoint.
I get asked quite often, “What’s in this paint that makes it so special?” but a far more important question to ask is “What’s NOT in this paint?” So, while the things that are IN the paint are impressive, today, let’s break down the things that are MISSING in Wise Owl Paint:
VOCs: You’ve heard the term, but do you know what it means? Volatile Organic Compounds. This is regulated by the EPA….but their decisions on what can be classified as a VOC is actually kind of ridiculous. In short, VOCs are compounds that cause or contribute to smog, which is why the EPA is involved. But in humans, they’ve been linked to everything from mild skin, nose, mouth, and throat irritation….all the way up to damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. VOCs can also leach out of your painted furniture long after you’ve finished painting. Some studies show off gassing for up to six months, and others are now saying that number is closer to five years. So painting a piece with a high VOC paint can actually cause damage for far longer than the time it takes you to paint! (So if you are painting furniture for other people, you can actually be putting your customers at risk) The problem with the EPA’s classification of VOCs is that it leaves A LOT of dangerous chemicals off the list. So simply finding a paint that is low or no VOCs is not enough!! You need to dig in and ask more questions to see what other dangers are lurking in your paint. (Also, be sure to question if the paint base AND the colorants are both ZERO VOC...there have been claims of companies advertising that their paint is Zero VOCs, because their base doesn’t contain any, while their colorants actually contain high levels.)
Crystalline Silicates: These are tiny crystals found in MANY paints on the market. When crystalline silicates stay in the paint, they don’t actually cause much of a risk. But if you distress that painted furniture, that’s when it becomes a major concern. Crystalline silicates become airborne when sanding...and these itty bitty microscopic bits get drawn into your respiratory system and cause SERIOUS and PERMANENT damage. Imagine tiny shards of glass scratching the inner lining of your lungs, and then scars forming to heal the damage. Sound familiar?? Probably because it’s similar to the damage caused by asbestos. Yup, that crazy crap that you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole?? Does the same damage as that paint dust you are breathing in. This is typically a non issue when painting walls...because you typically don’t sand them. But if you like to sand your paint between coats or distress your finishes...you are putting yourself at risk!
Ammonia: Paint needs a preservative (called a ‘biocide’) to extend its shelf life. One of the cheapest, and most readily available biocides added to water based paint is….ammonia. Have you ever opened a gallon of latex paint and gotten that nose hair burning stench, also known as “fresh paint smell”? Yup, that would be thanks to the ammonia. Ammonia stinks. Bad. Low levels of ammonia can cause irritation to the nose, eyes, and throat...high levels can have a dangerous effect on the respiratory system and can even cause blindness. Typical levels used to preserve paint can cause asthma issues and migraines. The much safer alternative to ammonia costs around ten times the price, which is why tons of companies take the cheaper route. Wise Owl refuses to sacrifice the health of its consumers just to save a few bucks. So, yes, the paint may cost a bit more than the latex paint you buy at a big box store….but there’s a damn good reason. (And one more tidbit since we are talking about stinky paint….just because your paint doesn’t smell, doesn’t necessarily mean its non toxic. Lots of paint companies are now adding MASKING AGENTS to cover up the stench, making you think it’s safe to use indoors...so ask questions!!!)
Formaldehyde: This is an embalming agent and one of the most effective preservatives on the market. Unfortunately, it can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, allergies, asthma flare ups, nose and throat irritation….and even cancer. But, it does a darn good job of preventing the infection and growth of microorganisms, so paint companies add it to their mixture to extend their paint’s shelf life and avoid growth issues. Once again, this is a strong NO from Wise Owl. The risks far outweigh the benefits.
Ethylene Glycol: Anti-Freeze. Yup. Thanks to its low freezing point, ethylene glycol is commonly added to paint to prevent it from freezing. When exposed to skin, it can cause mild irritation, and when inhaled at high levels, it can cause irritation of the upper respiratory tract and mucous membranes. The real danger though? The real danger lies in ingesting ethylene glycol. Yes, we all know you shouldn’t eat paint, right? But what if you’ve got small kiddos or pets in your home? Ingestion of ethylene glycol produces similar effects of ethanol (alcohol) intoxication...dizziness, depression, nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, coma and brain damage. Keeping it out of our paint is the safe choice...but it does put the paint at a higher risk of freezing! So, you stay safe, but you need to be a little more cautious of where you store your paint in the winter months!
So, those are the big dangers that are NOT present in Wise Owl’s chalk synthesis paint. Next up, we’ll discuss what is IN the paint, what makes it so fantastic, and the science behind why it rocks. (Yes, more science, and I won’t apologize for boring you....having a paint company owned by an environmental scientist is no small thaaang and should be truly honored and discussed! And so we shall!) Stay tuned!!
Too Long, Didn’t Read: (Yep, I see you!!! 😆)
Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint contains NONE of the nasty stuff-
VOCs - compounds that contribute to smog and pose all sorts of health risks
Crystalline Silicates - airborne crystals that if inhaled can cause irreversible lung damage
Ammonia - cheap preservative in paint that triggers asthma attacks and migraines
Formaldehyde - preservative that prevents the growth of microorganisms, but causes cancer
Ethylene Glycol - Anti-freeze agent that can cause intoxication like symptoms
Last week we talked about primer...this week, it's all about paint, baby! You all know I'm a huge fan of Wise Owl Paint, so much so that I joined their team 💜🦉. But, what makes it so amazing? What makes it better than other paints? What makes it different than paint you can buy at the big box stores? This week, we are going to jump in and not just brag about how great it is....but what actually MAKES it great. (Hint: Its science)
But today? Today, I’d like to introduce you to the women behind the brand. Because I feel it’s just about impossible to truly pay homage to the products without giving you a peek behind the curtain. Knowing the women of Wise Owl, their background, their passions, and their drive...it gives everything else a purpose. This is not a company run by women who just wanted to make pretty paint. It’s not a company that was founded on a simple goal of financial freedom. It’s not just another paint line...not...even...close.
Without further ado:
Karen...The owner, creator, CEO, and the big beautiful brains behind the products. Karen is a scientist. And not in the “oh cute, she likes science” kinda way. She’s an actual environmental scientist with a focus on forestry. Growing up, Karen’s mom rehabilitated wild animals, specifically birds of prey (starting to see where the company name came from, huh??), so being aware of how our actions impact the world around us was ingrained at a young age. As an adult, she saw first hand how the products we use can negatively affect not just our environment, but the wildlife she was raised to protect….and she decided to build an entire career on reversing that impact. She has a beautiful talent of explaining things that are incredibly complex in a manner that simply makes sense to the masses, without ever making you feel less intelligent. She’s yet to ever fail me when I’ve asked her why a product works the way it does, what specific ingredients bring to the table, or to break down the science behind a concept. She’s the smartest gal I know, and yet you just want to hang out and have a beer with her….and to me? That’s probably the best personality trait a person can have.
Erin...The COO, runner of daily operations, artist, wrangler of retailers and all our chaos, and all around badass. Erin spent a large chunk of her adult life working in the finance industry with Merrill Lynch in Chicago (yep, she’s no dummy either), but her true passion was always art. She’s got the knowledge and insight needed to run a hugely successful business, but also sees the world in a constantly evolving series of color pallets. She is an absolutely rare breed of human that has a mathematically inclined mind, combined with insane artistic talent...she blows away theories that people are either right brain or left brain dominant, because this girl fires on all cylinders at all times. (Bonus fact: She also has an INCREDIBLE singing voice, like, she was actually a competitive vocalist, and she has the dirtiest sense of humor I’ve found besides my own).
These two women have been friends for over twenty years and their perfectly balanced relationship is a key part to the success of this company. They have the same vision for Wise Owl, but both bring separate, but equally integral, talents to the table. Years ago, they saw a need for change in the paint industry. There were plenty of professional grade paints. There were plenty of eco friendly paints. But there were no products on the market that were BOTH. They knew there was a need for a top quality product that wouldn’t sacrifice our health or the environment. And so, Wise Owl was born. First, in Karen’s kitchen…paint being poured into mason jars and sold on social media...and eventually, being produced under the eye of our very own chemist at a paint manufacturer that has been in business for over a century and has won awards for their dedication to creating green products.
This is not your average paint company. And these are not your average women. If you’ve ever wondered WHY I so proudly represent Wise Owl, these two women are it. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this company, but even more importantly, I’m incredibly honored to call both of them my friends. They embody what it means to be strong, independent, successful women, both in business and in life. And we can always use more of that.
We've talked about WHY you should prime, we've talked about WHEN you should prime, and we've talked about WHICH primer you should choose....but HOW should you apply it??
This comes down to your comfort and personal preferences....and also a little dependent on the piece of furniture you are tackling. To apply primer, you've got three main options and each have pros. Let's break 'em down....
-Brush: With a shellac or oil based primer, you typically want to grab a cheapo brush because getting the product out of the bristles is such a pain in the butt that you'll likely just toss the brush in the trash. Not the case here! Because Wise Owl Primer is a water based product, it washes out of brushes beautifully. (Just be sure to wash it as soon as you are done working...it dries fast and insanely tough so its not gonna budge if you wait too long!). I prefer a synthetic brush for primer, specifically my good old Cling Ons. The brush you choose will be determined by your project. If you are priming something with lots of curves, spindles, or details, pick a round brush. If your project is mostly flat areas like a large dresser, go with a flat brush. And if you've got a combo, or you only want to get one brush for all projects...get an oval, its the best of both worlds. When brushing on primer, be sure your brush is DRY first! With our chalk style paint, we recommend using a damp brush...but that is not the case here. Watering down your primer with a damp brush can effect its durability, adhesion, and stain blocking abilities...so stick with a dry brush for best results.
-Roller: For primer, I personally prefer a 4" high density foam roller. It provides nice light coats, even distribution, and little bubbling. If you do experience some bubbles or inconsistencies, lightly drag a brush over your freshly rolled primer and it'll even things out and pop any possible bubbles. I aim to apply long even strips of primer running the length of my piece. Working in 4" sections, roll from one end of the area to the other, and then back over again once or twice. Anything more than that isn't usually necessary and can actually start pulling your previous coat back up. The primer dries really fast, so its best to apply it and then step back and let it do its job!
-Sprayer: Yup, you can spray this primer too! For most sprayers, it doesn't even need to be diluted. If for some reason, you are finding that its too thick for your sprayer, it can be diluted, but no more than 10%. Adding too much water to it can drastically reduce its durability, adhesion, and blocking powers....so leave it as is for best results! Be sure to allow 4-6 hours between coats. This can be hard if you are spraying because it will likely dry a bit faster. But if you are using the primer for stain block purposes, its best to follow the recoat times to let it do its job to the fullest!
Can you use a foam brush? Sure, but get the higher quality ones because the super cheap foam brushes tend to fall apart and that's a bummer in the middle of a big job. Even with a quality foam brush, I still prefer my Cling Ons....I feel that they work better with the self leveling properties of the primer.
Can you use your old throw away brushes? Absolutely...but you'll probably want to give your primer a quick sanding to get rid of all the brush marks. And who really wants more steps? Just use a good brush and you'll save yourself a ton of time!
Can you just pour the primer on the furniture and hope for the best? No, no you can't. 😆
Whichever approach you choose, be sure to STIRRRRRR the primer really well! Make sure its fully incorporated to get the best results. Apply two coats for full coverage, and allow them to dry 4-6 hours in between. If you are worried about bleed thru, its also super important to wait 24 hours AFTER you are finished painting before you top coat! You don't want your varnish reactivating everything and having those tannins jump up and ruin your day.
Oh and one more quick tip....if you are experiencing tannin bleed thru, don't be alarmed if your primer turns yellow. Give it 6 hours to dry and then apply a second coat. Often times, the second coat will turn yellow as well, but then when it fully dries it will be amazing at blocking in further stains. So just because the primer looks like tannins have made their way through to the surface, doesn't mean its not doing its job. If you are in doubt, paint a small test area and see how it holds up. I've seen a few projects require 3 coats of primer, but its really rare!
I think that just about wraps up our little tour of primer. You've learned the how, why, when, and what....now its time to get your hands dirty! (Just be sure to wash them right away...primer likes to stick around!...extra side note, if you do let the primer dry on your skin, massage it with a little olive oil and it'll come right off) Is there anything we missed? Any questions about primer that weren't covered? Let me know!!
(This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links (for the sprayer and the rollers). When you make purchases through these links, you don't pay any extra, but I get a small kickback for the referral and that helps keep this lil website afloat! Thank you so much for supporting a small business!)
If you've been around here for any length of time, you've likely heard me preach about prep work. For me, its an absolute non-negotiable. I've talked to y'all at length about stripping old paint, sanding, cleaning (you KNOW I don't believe in painting over cobwebs...yuuuuuuuck).....but what about priming? Do you know when and why you should prime? A few days ago I broke down the different color options in Wise Owl primer...but how do you know you even need it and what does it do?
Primer is used for two main reasons: Stain blocking & adhesion. There are plenty of products on the market that can help with one or the other, but finding one product that does both AND is low VOCs and water based? Sign me up! But first, let's break things down and decide if you NEED primer...
*Wise Owl Primer*
-Stain Blocking: There are actually quite a few stains that can creep up through your paint and cause you all sorts of trouble, but the most frustrating can be tannins. Tannins are a substance derived from the acids inside plants. They serve all sorts of benefits in nature (particularly in fruit trees...if you bite into unripened fruit and get that pucker face, dry tongue, and acidic flavor, that's the tannins doing their job to deter you from eating the fruit before its ripe), they have been used for generations to tan animal hides, provide astringents needed in medicine, and even play a large roll in that glass of red wine you might be sipping (they leach out from the wooden barrels the wine is stored in and play a huge part in the flavoring and chemical breakdown of your fav cabernet). They also are used in many dyes and tints. Have you ever seen a body of water surrounded by mangrove trees? Chances are, that water has a brown tint, similar to tea....that's because tree roots are essentially steeping in the water, leaching tannins out of the bark, changing the color of the water. This is essential for plant life...but can be an absolute headache when painting furniture. When painting, particularly with water based products, tannins can bleed through your finishes and cause staining that is far from attractive. Sometimes, the tannins show up right away, but other times, they don’t appear until you add your last coat of varnish, or even worse, a few months later. This is particularly common in cherry, mahogany, and deeply tinted woods...those tannins show up in the form of ugly yellow streaks in your painting surface. Using a high quality, stain blocking primer can save HOURS of work by locking in all those tannins, stains, oils, and discolorations before you apply that first coat of paint. For optimal stain blocking abilities, apply TWO coats, and allow 4-6 hours to dry in between. After you’ve painted, be sure to wait 24 hours before adding a top coat!! When using a water based varnish, you can actually reactivate your water based paint, and reopen the pore space, allowing room for those tannins to leak back through. Waiting a solid day will give your paint enough time to begin the curing process and will help lock those tannins in beneath the primer.
-Adhesion: If you are painting an old, dry, rough antique...you’ll likely have zero issues with your paint sticking to the surface. (Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is super porous so its going to stick to most surfaces with ease! If you are using the One Hour Enamel...its best to prime first! It’s incredibly tough, but not quite as adhesive as the chalk line, so primer helps a ton!) But what if your piece has a lacquered finish? What if it’s laminate, glass, ceramic, or even metal? Some surfaces are just too slick for paint to grip on to. You can give it a go with some sand paper to rough up the surface and give your piece a little tooth, but lots of times that isn’t an option. If your piece has lots of intricate details...the idea of somehow sanding them can be super daunting. For lots of projects, you can skip the heavy sanding and instead give it one quick scuff up and then prime instead. The primer will stick to just about all surfaces. (Be sure the surface is clean though!! Kitchen cabinets that have 10 years of bacon grease coated on them? Ain’t nothin gonna stick to that!) Do 2 coats of primer, with 4 hours of dry time in between, and you’re ready to paint! If a surface is super slick, I let the primer dry overnight to get the best possible adhesion before I jump into painting.
If in doubt….prime!! The primer is water based, low VOCs, washes out of brushes easily (wash as soon as you are done priming though! It dries incredibly tough!), and goes on just as easily as paint. It’s far better to prime when you don’t HAVE to than to skip priming and regret it later. If you are contemplating priming for adhesion issues, but you aren’t 100% sure you need to….paint a little 2”x2” section, let it dry for an hour, and then give it a little scratch with your finger nail. Does the paint peel off or scratch right up? You need to prime! (If it just leaves a white chalky scratch mark, you are totally fine! Go ahead and paint!)
Keep in mind...these are just the two most common reasons you’ll need primer. The list is longer though, and each project is different! Have a dresser that smells like years of cigarette smoking? Prime that baby and lock that stink in. Painting a dark oak table bright white?? Prime and save yourself coats and coats of paint! And as always, if you have any questions or you have a project that is stumping you….reach out! I’m always happy to do consultations to discuss your project and figure out the best plan of attack. These consults are always free of charge and customized to your particular project. Get one on one help choosing your prep steps, the perfect color combination, and the appropriate top coat, so you’re piece ends up exactly as you hoped!
Too long, didn't read? (Yeah, I see you! 😆) :
*Painting mahogany or cherry wood and using a light color: PRIME
*Painting slick surfaces: PRIME
*Painting something stinky: PRIME
*Not sure that your paint will adhere and you are on the fence about using primer: TEST IT (paint a 2x2" square and scratch it an hour later...if it scratches, you need to prep more!)