Monday, October 19, 2009

Sign Painting DIY

This summer my mom fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning a cottage getaway. She bought a little cabin in the woods near a couple of lakes, and she and her husband have spent every free moment transforming it into a cozy retreat. When I first came to see it, I was awestruck by the handmade signage that homeowners put up at the intersection of the two neighborhood roads. Each taken by itself didn't amount to much, but as a collection they look really beautiful. For a housewarming gift I told my mom I would make her one to add to the group.

These signs direct visitors to the family homes
they've come to visit. My new addition is
the yellow one at the top left. My favorites
are "M/M" in blue and white (middle, left)
and "Ayers" in the fish shape (top right).

Photo by Mars Vilaubi

I already had the paint I wanted to use: some Old Fashioned Milk Paint. The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company ( reproduces the paints that were used in Colonial America in really incredible colors: vivid, rich hues that look like they've been filtered through a grey sky. Milk paint lays on very thin, with an unusual matte finish that almost looks more like a stain than a paint but with really rich pigment. As they note on their Web site, it is also biodegradable, with no VOCS, HAPs, or EPA-exempt solvents added. And they add, though it will spoil, just like whole milk, it is also as safe as drinking whole milk.

This is the second sign I made, for the entrance to the driveway.
Photo by Mars Vilaubi

For the body of the signs, we had some pine-board scraps that my husband Mars cut into the shapes I wanted. After applying the milk paint, I transferred the letters. To do this I printed the words out on the computer, then took a pin and made holes at every edge of every letter in approximately 3 mm increments. I taped the paper to the sign in the right position, then vigorously rubbed charcoal over the whole thing.

This photo shows the printed paper taped to the sign
before I've applied the charcoal. It would have been better
if I hadn't trimmed the paper so close to the letters and
the whole sign had been covered. The charcoal dust
tends to drift where you don't want it.

I removed the paper, and neat little charcoal dots appeared in the shapes of the letters, providing a template for me to use while painting.

Using these applied dots as my guidelines,
I painted on the letters with black house paint
and a simple art brush.

Though I was able to capture the historically based color of the milk paints, my choice was impractical on the level of durability. Since the signs will live outdoors, I decided I needed to coat them with spar varnish, which is very shiny and thick and took away the lovely matte finish and stainlike quality of the paint.

Alethea Morrison, Creative Director


Melanie Jolicoeur said...

This is a great way of doing a sign - I usually make a masking tape stencil and then spray paint the letters on over the background color, but next time I'm going to do it this way. Looks fantastic!

Dan O. Williams said...

I love this. My father used to make hand-painted signs and this is certainly something I'll be trying soon.

James C said...

I am a semi-retired sign painter, that came into the biz, before computers were used. Believe it or not, I have never heard of milk paint,hmmm. We used to make patterns for multiple signs. We used a pounce wheel to cut patterns. Then we would fill an old cotton sock with builders chalk and rub into the pattern while gently hitting the pattern to make the chalk come out.You can also use a pattern cutter like a seamstress would use, they will work, but not as effective as a real pouce wheel. I painted my first sign in 1958.