Chalk painting furniture and distressing is still a pretty huge deal for those who love DIY projects. This secret technique will save you time and money and is something I learned back when I was in college studying art. Hint…it doesn’t involve any chalky brand paint and doesn’t require any mixing or blending!
Check out my chalk painting furniture before and after. A before…
As you know, chalky paints can be expensive, and back when I was in college there was no such thing as ready-made. We made our own, but often if painting wood surfaces we started with THIS STUFF. Amazing…I don’t know if I’ve seen other DIYers use it but if you’re looking for a soft distressed surface that is similar to LIMEWASH, this could be for you! Did you read the post where I used a cruddy old dropcloth to make a summer beach painting? Dead giveaway on what this amazing stuff called gesso is intended for.
What is Gesso?
GESSO is made for painting on canvas. It’s a priming method to prep the canvas so the paint will adhere better to it and improves durability. It’s a combination of binders, and paint pigments and yes…it does contain calcium carbonate which is CHALK! You can find out more about gesso for artists in this article.
A little bit goes a long way and at under $20, it will last you a really long time with this technique.
How do you apply GESSO smoothly?
If you notice that there are some bumps that pop up after applying your GESSO, it’s no reason to fret. Just sand out the bumps (a sanding sponge or sanding block are total lifesaver options here!) and apply another coat of paint over the top.
How long should you let GESSO dry?
GESSO will dry within about 20 minutes of time. But you do want to let it rest for a while before trying to apply anything over the top of it. You also want to wait until the first coat of paint is completely dry before adding on a second coat of paint. And I always recommend using light coats and small brush strokes, to get a nice and even result.
What type of items can you paint with GESSO?
There are quite a few things that you can use GESSO with. Some of them are:
- and literally almost any surface!
This is what makes it such a popular choice for those that want to give new life to their old furniture and change the look of some of their home in an affordable DIY way. I particularly love using this painting method for those antique thrift store finds that have stunning hardware and knobs but can’t truly shine due to the dark-colored wood.
There’s nothing extra fancy when using this type of paint and painting technique. And it’s perfect to get even coverage when you want to paint wood furniture without chalk!
Here are my super simple steps:
Nothing fancy at all to this chalk painting furniture without chalk paint technique and here are my super simple steps:
Chalk Painting Furniture – Tips for painting with chalkboard paint
- Forget about tons of coats of primer! There is no need to prep your wood, similar to using chalky paints in a can. Just clean off any dust, grease, or overall grime with a rag if your piece has been sitting around for a while. If your piece has stains or needs wood filler, take that into consideration before you start this process.
- Grab a waxed finish paper plate or a throwaway plastic food storage container and squirt a tablespoon or so out.
- I used a small brush on these chairs and since I wasn’t painting the upholstery I grabbed a 1″ angled paint brush.
- Use a dry brush painting technique similar to what I talked about in my post on WHITEWASHING A FARMHOUSE TABLE. What that means is don’t wet your brush. Grab the gesso on the tip of your brush and drag it in the direction of the grain.
- Have a wet drop cloth on your hand and wipe the gesso down if you’ve put too much paint on any areas or clean up any drips. Once you start wiping down areas you will have some gesso on the rag, so keep that in mind. You’ll probably want to wet the rag again and squeeze out excess water as you continue your painting.
- A reader asked me if you can tint gesso and I’m updating to say YES! Just mix in a small amount of your favorite acrylic paint and try it out. Start with a small amount and add more gradually if you want a darker color.
Tips and Finishing
- As with any project (or photo styling), I recommend stepping back and taking a look at your progress. It’s amazing how you think something might look and then you stand back and get a totally different feel!
- This wood was pretty porous. I wouldn’t recommend this particular process for anything with lacquer or high-gloss glazes. If chalk painting those finishes you’d probably want to sand down with 220-grit sandpaper and use a thicker paint like the real deal.
- It took me 1/2 hour per chair to paint these and only one coat was required! They don’t need to be sealed since the gesso sinks in, but if you are using this on a tabletop or flat surface you can seal with THIS (my favorite furniture wax!) or THIS.
I like the new lighter look. The gesso used on top of the wood gives it a French grey tone. Perfect for my French country coastal modern crazy but it works at home!
Does chalk paint scratch easily?
Just like most paints, chalk paint is going to show scratches, etc. Just make certain that you’re careful with your surroundings and know that when you choose your paint. Since the furniture that I painted has a more rustic look and feel, I’m not worried about scratches, dings, or brush marks on them because it’s really not going to show anyway.
Will chalk paint stick to any surface?
This is the beauty of chalk paint! It’s made to stick to almost any surface! Some of the surfaces that you’ll see it on the most are:
- Types of Particle Boards
You name it. If it can stick to it, it’s going to. And this also gives you a great big option for decorating and painting even more things in your home with your chalk paint techniques and colors.
How long does chalk paint last?
Make certain that once you purchase your chalk paint, you start on those chalk paint furniture ideas or DIY projects as soon as possible. This is because your can of chalk paint is going to have a shelf-life of 1 year from the time that you bring it home and start.
And while you think that 1 year gives you plenty of time, we all know that life happens. So set aside a day or a weekend to knock out some of your simple chalk paint projects.
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Let me know if you have any questions on the chalk painting furniture technique (without chalky paint) in the comments and please share and pin for later!
Deborah Broughton says
I would love to try this on a very old sideboard in my breakfast area. It still has an old golden oak finish but no gloss finish. I may get some gesso and try it on a discret place like the back. The piece has a small oval mirror and barley twist legs. It holds most of my flower vases and pictures of all the grand kids. I have been meaning to get to this project for years! Is it possible to tint the gesso?
Good morning Deborah! Absolutely you can tint gesso and I just updated the post with your question to reflect the answer. Enjoy the process!
It’s great that you share budget ideas with so many people struggling these days.
I think that anyone can have a beautiful home on any budget. I’m so glad that you enjoy the tips!
Patty Green says
What a great idea! I have a clock case hanging on my living room wall that is wonderful, but the ugly mustardy color needs to be “taken down” just a bit. I didn’t want to paint it and wasn’t sure how to do it — but this seems like the perfect solution! Thank you Janet!
That’s kind of what I wanted to do with my chairs, just tone them down. As always, do a test area first Patty and thanks for stopping by!
This great and 8use gecko for aging pots. I ne er thought of doing this before. Thanks for the tip.
You just helped with a project I’m working on today or tomorrow
Enjoy the rest of your week
It does work for just about any surface! Enjoy your day as well Cindy!
Would it work on a polished dark wood surface? I’m dying to paint our Henredon dark wood dining room set but hoping I don’t need to sand all 10 chairs ?
You could use it on polished wood, much like chalk style paint. If I had to paint 10 chairs though I would use a sprayer which will make the job so much faster!
Herica Assilian says
Thanks… so I painted two chairs with chalk paint from Michaels but the finish is very rough and feels so dry to the touch. Do you recommend anything to make it more polished? I tried a wax finish also from Michaels but it didn’t help and made it more of a yellow color. What kind of sprayer would you recommend for the rest?
I didn’t recommend chalky paint, as it does give a rough finish. Without seeing it I’m really not sure, but maybe try painting over with a paint like this one: https://amzn.to/2DjYgxF
This looks great Janet! I like the whitewashed look! Do you have any posts on whitewashing a rock or brick fireplace? I have an old rock one that is an eyesore in my living room and it’s too expensive to tear out and start over. I loved this tutorial on the furniture!
Hi Jennifer! I don’t, but you can use diluted latex wall paint. I would experiment in a less noticeable area with it and start out only diluting slightly and add more water if needed. Wipe with a damp rag. Very similar to this technique!
Debbie Kirk says
Love it, looks soft and vintage. I have been using Gesso for years finally graduated to real chalky paints. I wanted that look before chalky paint was on the market and being an artist I thought, why not. Like they say “ necessity is the mother of invention.” Sort of my motto. If I can’t find what I need I just make it. Great job..
Thanks for chiming in Debbie and good to know you’re familiar with the process!
This looks beautiful. Did you use this technique on the dining table top in the final photo?
Diane, within the article is a link to the dining table DIY. It’s a slightly different technique and waxed for protection. Thanks for stopping by!
Betty Bashaw says
Hi Janet, I’ve been following you for quite a while on Home Style Saturdays. I love your teaching style, as well as your home style. I especially LOVE this post! I’ve been wanting to white wash or lime some pieces in my home … but the process has been a little intimidating. But “gesso” looks amazing. Thank You!
Hi Betty…I’m so happy to hear that you enjoy my posts and teaching style! Let me know how it goes if you do use the gesso process. Warmly, Janet
Shirley @Housepitality Designs says
Love it….a great DIY project that will make anyone feel confident that they can do it!!
The chairs look fantastic!
Barbara Chapman ~ French Ethereal says
I’ve used your technique for years but with just regular white paint! I didnt’ think about using gesso but now I will!! Thank you for the idea and tutorial, Janet. 🙂 Funny, this week I’ve been painting a little nightstand cabinet with chalk paint ~ wanted to try chalk paints and see how they look. Enjoying painting again!
Have a great rest of your week! Coming over from Style Showcase.
Thank you Barbara…hope you have a great upcoming weekend and have fun with your projects!
Do you think the Gesso technique would work on a metal chandelier?
Thank you for stopping by Manelle! Yes, it should work on a chandelier as well.
So, if I want to lighten a dark brown side table I can use this and it will be a creamy white?
Where do you purchase gesso?
The chairs are so pretty!
Suzette, I would try it on an inconspicuous part of the table first and see your results. Every piece of furniture will be different! I have the gesso linked within the post.
How do you think this would hold up on kitchen cabinets? I’ve got those ugly old oak cabinets from the early 90s that are screaming for a makeover. Tks!
Hi Janet, Awesome! What a novel idea! I’m wondering what do you think about using it on a piano? I have a small Wurlitzer that is that orangey-red honey tone Popular in the 70s. The color just grates on my nerves, but I’m not up for a massive undertaking. It’s too big to move around more than a little bit away from the wall and protect the floors etc. but he can go outside or anywhere! I’ve been mulling over attempting to paint it but I’m so worried about the delicate nature of the instrument and getting so close to the keys etc. with something that might slop on. “Mommy broke the piano,” is not the excuse my son needs to have for not practicing! Your thoughts? ?
I meant to say… so it can’t be moved outside or anywhere…
Thanks, anxiously awaiting your thoughts!
I think that if you move wood furniture outside you need a covered area and a fairly dry climate. We don’t have either of those here where I live so I haven’t really tried it.
Fabulous! I’m so looking forward to trying this method. Thanks for the inspiration ?
Your chairs are gorgeous! What material did you use to upholster the cushions/back?
Thank you Jenni! They came this way and that’s one of the cool things about my painting method. You can just use a small brush and no need to reupholster!
I’ve used white gesso for whitewashing and dry brushing for years and you can’t beat the effects you can achieve. It gives more depth and a natural beauty to the piece. I love the way you did your chairs! They came out beautiful. I didn’t know you could do this with hesso and not have to topcoat. Your tutorial is perfect and I don’t know how it took me so long to find your blog! I’m enjoying reading through your old posts. Thank you for addressing gesso . So many painting bloggers ignore this wonderful product and the multiple uses it has.
Hi Christie! It’s readers like you that truly make what I do worthwhile and I greatly appreciate you taking the time for such a thoughtful comment. I do love gesso and as a former art teacher I’ve used it for a variety of painting projects. I agree about the painting bloggers!
Cecilia from Georgia says
Hi Janet, I just saw this post on Pinterest when I searched for easy chalk paint ideas (I enjoy trying new techniques). This sure nailed it for me!! I ordered the gesso and can’t wait to try it! I hope it will update my 20 year old bar stools. I’m happy to be among your followers!
Hi Cecelia! I’m so happy to hear that you found me on Pinterest and are following the blog now! As a former art teacher I have used gesso for years for various projects. Have fun painting and reviving the barstools.
Pamela J Milligan says
Thank you Pamela…it’s easy and low cost!
Karen Faulkner says
I have only recently found you and so grateful for all your inspiration. My plan is to find discarded interesting pieces of decor to recycle with a fresh new look to resell for funding my favorite pet charity. I am absorbing all your great ideas!!! Thanks, Karen
Thank you for letting me know Karen and I’m excited for your plan!
Nana Diana says
I have used gesso for years but never in that application. I love the ‘weathered grey’ look it gives to those chairs.
Have a wonderful spring Thursday- thanks for the info!!! xo Diana
Feminine Belle says
I really love the details this paint brings out. Love the wood grain look, but then again I am a sucker for detail in wood work. I find it delightful as I noticed the flower on the wood as well. I would be the strange one looking at the chair and details while everyone else sits down. 🙂
Thank you for sharing this with us!
Nana Diana says
I think I lost my comment….anyway….thanks for the info–I love how the chairs turned out. They are perfect~ xo Diana
Marge Lobbes says
The gesso really works well. I used it on a french settee before I had it reupholstered in white. Love the results!
Heidi Webb says
I would suggest a blush color for your bedside tables. The color is still neutral and adds warmth.
That’s a great idea Heidi…thank you! xo
Patricia Allen says
Can you use this technique with oak kitchen cabinets.. new 1980 cabinets… ugly… in house buying
I love this idea. How do you think it would look with black painted wood? I have a piece that has black legs and want to lighten it up a bit.
Thank you Mary. I think you could give it a try on an area that is hidden first. That’s what I would do in this case.
Oh my Janet, I just shot a video yesterday that I’ll be posting soon on my Youtube chain about the exact same thing! What do they say about great minds….. ?? and telepathic too!
Take care. Catherine
Oh how fun that is! Thanks for stopping by the blog!
Barbara at Mantel and Table says
What a great idea Janet! I’ve never done any chalk painting, but it sounds like your way would be a whole lot easier – I’d love to try it! 🙂 Thanks!
Thanks Barb…enjoy your weekend!
your chairs are beautiful. So interesting that the white gesso on this wood has an antique gray look.
I have two long bookshelves I want to finish, new raw wood. Do you think your technique is good for raw wood?
Hi Tammie…you should be able to, but since I’m not there to see I’d suggest trying on an inconspicuous spot first
I just discovered your blog & have been devouring it every night after getting kids to bed. I want to paint my dining room set, but nervous about the size of such a project (table, 6 chairs & buffet). It has a very glossy finish on top that is worn down, making the tabletop sticky now. I’m trying to decide which technique is better for dining sets: this one or your post about painting furniture without chalk paint? *Side note* I’m nervous about trying to sand off the glossy coat as woukd be needed in the other technique, but also nervous about getting the right shade of paint without first priming to tone down the orangey-brown color of my table. Any insight for this novice would be very helpful ❤
Hi Debbie! Thank you for perusing the blog and I hope you sign up for the mailing list for more. As for your project, to be honest it sounds like something more advanced than a beginner perhaps should take on? If you sand lightly and then use an oil based primer first like Zinsser Cover Stain that should help. Then I’d use Benjamin Moore Advance (water base) for the top coats. No chalk paint…I’m not a fan!