For all my talk about painting my dollhouse, I never really discussed how to work with paint. Well, what I haven’t talked about is how to paint on wood. I’ve discussed the mistakes I’ve made, but I’ve never explored how to paint a miniature dollhouse the right way.
This is not that post, as I have no idea what I’m doing.
However, I have learned that acrylic paint is my preferred medium. Not the kind you use on a canvas. I’m not that kind of an artist. No, I’m talking about the crafty kind you use on a dollhouse or other minor art project.
In some respects, paint is paint is paint. But, when you’re using acrylic paints for wood crafts, suddenly, paint isn’t just paint. You have to understand the paint and the wood you’re painting to make sure you get exactly what you want.
Can I Use Acrylic Paint for Wood Crafts?
Oh, you need more information than that.
Yes, you can use acrylic paint for wood crafts. However, it’s not as simple as slapping some acrylic paint on some wood. You’ve got to prep the wood and be careful if you work with acrylic paints.
How to Use Acrylic Paint for Wood Crafts
There are two things you need to remember when using acrylic paint. Actually, there’s one thing you need to remember about using acrylic paints in general. That tip is specific to acrylic paint.
There are three (maybe four) things you need to do specifically when you use acrylic paint for wood crafts. These things are mostly about the wood, not the paint. Let’s start with those.
Prep the wood
Before you paint the wood, you should prep the wood.
There’s a part of me that says, well, duh! But, then again, I’ve been known to skip some wood prepping steps in the past, so, yeah, duh.
So, to prep the wood for acrylic paint, you should create a smooth and even wood surface. Sand the wood using 140 to 180 grit sandpaper. That’s somewhere between medium grit and fine grit. For the record, I’d recommend starting with medium-grit sandpaper for the first and even second pass at sanding, then finish with the fine-grit sandpaper.
Sand with the grain, not against it. For the record, I’ve never been great at figuring out the “grain” of anything. Seriously. Don’t ask me to carve your roast. It doesn’t end well.
But on wood, figuring out grain isn’t so bad. The easiest way to explain wood grain is to look at the wood and see which way the “lines” go. Here’s a picture:
Sand with the lines, not across them. Sanding across the lines creates more lines and more problems, which defeats the whole purpose of sanding!
You’re done sanding when the wood looks smooth and doesn’t have any “wood fuzz” (I made that term up) on it. Not sure? Take a rag and run it across the wood surface. If it snags somewhere, keep going. Otherwise, you could end up with something that looks like this:
If it doesn’t snag, you’re good, but keep wiping. You want to wipe up the sawdust and any other residue that’s on the wood. Otherwise, when you paint, you’ll end up with a “textured” finish. If that’s what you’re going for, great, but if not, wipe on!
That said, when it comes to dollhouses, the wood is generally pretty smooth, so you don’t have to worry about sanding. But always check the directions. Sometimes it recommends sanding specific pieces anyway. And, there’s a whole school of thought about how sanding makes the paint stick better to the wood.
For the record, I’ve done both, sanding and skipping it. I don’t notice much of a difference.
Prime or seal the wood
Next up, priming or sealing. I’m not going to rehash the merits of priming before painting (if you want to know more, check this out). However, I am going to quickly discuss the difference between priming and sealing.
When you prime something — wood, canvas, whatever — you’re creating a foundation layer of paint. That foundation layer helps the tinted paint stick to the wood. Technically, the tinted paint is sticking to the primer, and the primer is sticking to the wood, but you get the idea.
Sealer, on the other hand, protects whatever it is you’re sealing. So, in the case of wood, you’re sealing up, for example, the wood pores that most wood species have. This is important because if those pores remain open, they will suck up the paint when you apply it. That means your wood could warp due to the excess moisture. Or, the wood will suck up the color, and then you have to put another coat of paint on your wood.
Now, should you prime or seal? Or do both?
Well, when it comes to acrylic paint for wood crafts, the answer is probably both!
Most wood craft pieces are unfinished. They might be cut in a specific shape and even sanded down a bit, but they are unfinished. That means the pores are still open, and, as we just learned, open pores suck things up.
Though primer can help seal up pores, that’s not it’s main job. In fact, primer can (and often is) sucked up by wood pores, which could lead to warping problems. I guess, theoretically, it could also lead to the color being sucked up. Though, in that case, I guess you’d just end up with an uneven layer of primer.
So, what you should do is seal the wood, then prime it, then paint it.
I won’t judge you if you don’t. That’s a lot of paint (and I’ve never done all that). But, if you want something to last long-term, it might be worth it. And, of course, since the modern world likes to move fast (normally), there are combo primer/sealers out there to save you some time and paint layers.
Totally your call.
Once things are sanded, sealed, and primed (in that order), it’s time to paint.
I won’t go over how to paint with acrylics. I’ll just refer you to all of the Keeper’s House posts to learn what not to do when you paint with any medium.
However, this is the one acrylic paint specific tip when using acrylic paint for wood crafts:
Don’t let the acrylic paint dry on the paintbrush.
OK. Yes, I know this falls into the “duh” category again. Obviously, you don’t want any kind of paint to dry on your brush!
However, the thing about acrylics is that they dry quickly. Why?
I don’t know. I looked into this and couldn’t get very far. Part of the answer is “exposure to air.” That makes sense. Air does dry things. And, I also learned that acrylic paints dry faster in hot weather than cold weather. Sure. I get that.
But beyond that, I could figure out why so I’m going with: Space Wizards.
The key thing here is that acrylics dry quickly. So, you have to work quickly, use small amounts, or keep the paint damp while you work.
Working quickly I guess is a way to go if you can. I feel like when it comes to miniature dollhouses, though, slow and steady wins this race.
Using small amounts makes sense. I mean, we are talking miniature dollhouses, so sure, small amounts are logical.
Keeping the paint damp seems pretty easy, too. Keep the paintbrush wet by dipping it in a cup of water when you aren’t using them. I wouldn’t let the brush sit in the water, though. It’s bad for the bristles. Instead, dip the brush in the water, flick it off a bit, then let the brush rest on the edge of the cup (or something else).
If the acrylic paint does dry on the paintbrush, well, the brush is probably ruined. I’m sure there are ways to resurrect the brush, but personally, I’d chalk that up to a newbie mistake and move on with my life.
Seal the wood
Once you’re happy with the paint job, let it dry then seal the wood. Yes, again. A clear sealant will help protect the color and keep the paint from chipping.
Also, depending on the paint finish, acrylic paint has a slightly chalky finish. I know this personally from touching my Keeper’s House in progress. When I grab the outside of the house, it feels, well, chalky. Like there’s a powder on there, and it transfers to my hands.
And, when I say “transfers to my hands,” I don’t just mean the chalky feel.
So, yeah, a seal coat is probably a good idea.
For the record, I have not sealed my paint job yet. I think it needs another coat!
When you’re done painting, it’s clean up time!
Acrylic paints generally clean up with soap and water. To learn all about that, read my tips for cleaning up paintbrushes.
Pick Your Palette
Having used acrylic paint for my Keeper’s House project, I will say it does come in bright, intense colors. I love it. I haven’t checked it out, but I’m sure they come in muted colors, too, if that’s your thing.
So, who out there uses acrylic paint for wood crafts that are or are not a dollhouse? Am I missing anything? Let me know in the comments!