Autumn Breezes & Pumpkin Washes
A couple of Sunday mornings ago on my way to a new tutoring, riding down some windy roads on which I had never driven, I was given the opportunity to look up and see the beautiful canopy of trees in all their glory, lining my way. With all the wind and rain we have had these past few weeks, I felt privileged to still be able to catch them showing off in muted reds and bronzes, yellows and pumpkins, and a backdrop of shades of green. With the severe summer drought we had, I really thought that the leaves would just decide to continue dropping this year as they had prematurely done for lack of hydration and that we would probably be deprived of any color but some drab browns. Well we have been pleasantly surprised, and I have to say that this year I have seen some of the most spectacular colors in all my years, with fuchsias, yellows, and reds almost reaching a neon level in some areas. Since now they are past their prime, the colors witnessed that Sunday were more muted, and my mind immediately paralleled them to Mustard, Barn and Salem Red, and Bayberry (you can tell Old Fashioned Milk Paint is always on my mind) and how I could translate them to the little desk I was painting.
I found this little desk at a thrift store last year and loved its unique features: the front molding piece which retracts when the desk top is folded open, the breadboard desktop inside which pulls out, and the hidden drawer underneath. Sanding allowed the piece to shed the darkness of age and accumulated dirt and grime and revealed some really beautiful wood which I am thinking may be walnut or maple? There did not appear to be any remaining finish on it, perhaps there never was, so I knew that milk-painting would most likely not cause any sort of chipping which I did not wish for this piece.
The legs are my favorite part of this piece, as they are so beautifully turned. As I began their turn in sanding, I soon realized that I did not want to get in all the low points in the turning as it created such a nice contrast to the lightness revealed in the sanded high spots – a gorgeous natural shading appearing before my eyes. I immediately knew I could never paint these beauties and that a simple coat of Hope’s Tung Oil would do the trick of enhancing their inherent loveliness and to treat and preserve and further enrichen their natural wood color.
The desk top would have been a good candidate for keeping natural, but it did not want to give up its good number of unsightly dark streaks and splatters even upon sanding. This is where The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s Pumpkin would come to the rescue. I mixed it full-strength using a 50/50 ratio of paint powder to warm water. Using my trusty method of achieving a non-dragging first coat by dipping the very tips of my natural-bristle brush into water before dipping into the paint mixture, a beautifully-smooth even coat of milk-paint was applied. Once sufficiently dried after an hour, a second coat was applied.
It then hit me that simply painting the bottom section of the spindle legs would nicely tie-in the look with the solid top and provide a little bit of added interest.
What to do then with the body to transition from solid paint on the top to natural wood on the legs? A paint wash of course! This would allow the wood grain to be seen but would offer just a hint of the pumpkin color! Milk paint lends itself nicely to using it as a “stain” or wash because of its water base. I experimented with a mix of OFMP Driftwood and Pumpkin and kept adding little bits at a time, so my best “guestimate” is about a 60/40 mix of Pumpkin to Driftwood. I then added enough water so that the paint would flow easily and could be wiped down without any streaks of pure pigment.
Applying the wash needed to be quick, not allowing much of any “play” time because of the almost immediate drying time. Wiping back and forth to apply it just carries the pigment and dries out the water, so if there is too much pigment in the stain, the application drags, and with the evaporating water, there would again be just streaks of color. I definitely need to do some “stain/wash” sample boards to experiment with more exact measurements of paint and water and the resulting effects.
Here is a good shot of the pure pumpkin paint on the desk top against the pumpkin wash on the body.
This project has been a lesson in accepting subtleness. I say that because the photos clearly show a difference in the wood’s appearance when comparing the natural wood and the “stained” wood. However, I believe that after it was complete, someone viewing it may not notice any pumpkin color at all and think that it is just the natural wood. I guess this is OK because the overall blend from the desk’s top to bottom works for me.
The next step was decorative painting. Should I free-hand a design, or do I want something more structured for this piece? Because this piece had such tight lines and a limited surface, I decided to go with a stencil I had which reminded me of the swirling leaves that I love to see as cars kick them up while driving by or as autumn breezes make them dance. I knew I could also shade the stencil with the colors reflective of the leaves I had seen on my drive. The intricate stencil I chose is from Royal Design Studio and fit each half of the desk top perfectly – luck or fate??
As with other stenciling projects I have done, I mixed up very small batches of milk paint, in Bayberry Green, Mustard, Salem Red, and Barn Red. I used much less water when I use the paint for stenciling so as not to have it bleed under the stencil. I first used Bayberry green over the entire stencil. Then, I went back and stenciled certain areas with a mix of both of the reds, the mustard, and just a touch of Driftwood and Snow White to lighten it. I tried to shade as best I could in order to show more depth to the image, but this is definitely an area where I need a lot more practice!
The pull-out bread board writing surface did create another challenge for me. I knew from the start that since this desk was autumn-inspired, I wanted to add a quote to this surface and immediately found a quote from Emily Bronte that was absolutely perfect for what I envisioned: “Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”
I typed it in Word, printed it out, and then transferred it using good ol’ carbon paper. I had an oil-based black fine-line marker and proceeded to trace and fill in every letter and let it dry for a day. I loved the way it turned out….then disaster soon struck. Upon wiping the entire surface down with Tung Oil to seal everything, the lettering smudged badly. It continued to smudge and smear and yell at me, “What have you done with my beautiful words?!?!?”, despite all my efforts to wipe it down, dry it out, try wax, try different pens, try little wiping tools like tiny corners of cloths and Q-tips…. Oh my, I really did not want or have time to strip it down and re-do all that lettering. So I took a leap of faith and sanded with 400-grit paper…I sanded all that crazy smudginess and was still left with darkness between the letters. Sigh…. But Daddy Van’s All Natural Decorative Shadow Black Wax was in my arsenal, and I knew that if I applied it over the whole surface, the residual darkness which would now appear everywhere would look intentional. I know that wax can only be a last step, i.e. you cannot oil over wax, but you can wax over oil, and with a colored wax, it is best to apply a clear wax first in order to have better control with the darker wax. So I rubbed-in and buffed-off a coat of Daddy Van’s All Natural Beeswax and Lavender Furniture Polish (clear wax). I followed up with just a smidge of the Shadow Black, applying it over the entire surface, buffed it off….and then let it be. The subtleness of the result was again not my original plan, but sometimes letting things go is the right choice…at least for sanity’s sake! 😉
I had used Hope’s 100% Tung Oil for the legs as mentioned, and I did so for the body and top as well. I used a heavier coat that I worked-in to the paint for the top because I then like to sand it with 400-grit paper and wipe off the excess and sanding dust. This creates that satiny-smooth surface I love and which really seals in the painting and makes it look like part of the wood. After a couple of days I then waxed the top surface to give it a little bit more durability.
So there is my subtle pumpkin desk inspired by autumn leaves. I hope you enjoy the rest of your autumn and thank you for stopping by! I love to hear from you and write back to you, so don’t hesitate to comment below!
This post was sponsored by The Old Fashioned Milk Paint (OFMP) Company of Groton, Massachusetts. I discovered their company in September of 2015 while searching for an American manufacturer of milk paint. I can honestly say it was love at first phone call. I began using milk paint that month and have never stopped. Milk paint was the center around which this blog was built, and as I grow and learn about natural paints, my plan is to continue to keep it as the foundation of and constant contributor to my painting experiences. In July of 2016 I was honored to accept an invitation to be an OFMP Official Brand Blogger as part of their Ambassador/Blogger Outreach Program. Although I have received OFMP products at no cost for the completion of this post’s project, all opinions and gushing admiration for all its wonderful milk paint properties are my own.