Accentuate Carving with Color
Creative use of milk paint gives textured surfaces
Synopsis: Carver Michael Cullen uses milk paint to give the textured surfaces of his furniture new dimensions and patterns. Learn how he uses the paint, burnishing, and topcoats to highlight the different surfaces of his carved pieces, from a simple burnished look to a two- or three-toned mottled look.
from Fine Woodworking #221
The majority of my carving ends up under several coats of milk paint. This may seem strange to woodworkers used to “bringing out the natural beauty of the wood,” but adding color to a carving is one of best ways to highlight the design and to define the pattern (see master class, p. 84).
Because wood grain is a pattern in itself, there is always the potential for it either to compete with the carved pattern or to wholly overwhelm it. What I like best about milk paint is how it combines with the wood to form more of a patina than an opaque coating. It doesn’t obliterate the grain; it merely tones it down so that the carved pattern can take center stage.
In addition, the paint and my method of burnishing the high points add a sense of depth to the carving, creating subtle highlights in the piece with the changes of hue between the surface and background.
Several coats of one color and a clear topcoat: Make sure the carving is free of dust and that any non-carved surface due to be painted is well-prepped. The paint tends to highlight imperfections, so remove any machine marks. I buy my paint from The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company (milkpaint.com). The color selection, inspired by colonial New England, is excellent and foolproof. It’s virtually impossible to create a bad combination.
Use inexpensive brushes because the lime in the paint is hard on bristles.