What Goes Into Custom Painted Furniture or Home Decor?
I had a client ask me one time:
"What goes into a piece when you do it?"
By the time I was done telling her, I was helping her pull her chin off the ground.
"But I thought you just found it and painted it?" she later replied
Most do not understand why we charge the prices that we do for our pieces, and I am going to try to shed some light on this because of this fore-mention misconception.
First of all, we do what we do because we have Passion for what we do.
It's not our "flavor of the month" moment.
For some, painting a couple of coats may be just fine for them. For the rest of us, it's about creating a relationship with the piece(s) you are working with because of this passion - or intense desire to create. As soon as you find them and bring them home, they become your adoptive children (move over kids I gave birth to - dinner's in the microwave!), that you must nurse, repair, bring back to life and to fruition. Only then you can begin the process of designing how its' going to look at the finish line.
Nursing a piece involves much more than cleaning and dusting it off. You literally begin to analyze and inspection each piece and section of that chair or table sitting in front of you. The tips of your fingers run over every grain, crack, and knot in the wood while memorize the place of every one…. with your eyes closed.
You also let the piece "speak" to you because it gives you an idea of what it wants to become. Once you do that, then you can begin to clean and dust it.
Then the process of repair begins. The pieces we mostly deal with are old. I don't care if the proper term for certain years is called "vintage"; that sucker is wood and it's been around the block quite a few times since the 70's or beyond. It's OLD!
She's banged up, wobbly, and a few pieces are broken because of neglect, but underneath she looks just like Cinderella to you.
Forming the relationship is everything. Then you begin to feel its' history and she begins to show you where you're going in the creative process.
When you have learned to form that kind of relationship with a piece - you can actually see how beautiful she is underneath all those years of abuse - then you know you're in the right business.
REPAIRING AND R&D - can take 1 day to a week depending on condition of the furniture.
Repairs are kind of like putting band aids, casts, stitches, or sometimes - major surgery, on your own kids. You hurt for it and you long to fix whatever is broken or scarred. When it comes to something major, you work through it like a heart surgeon does - slow, methodical, and patiently because one wrong slip and you could kill it!
You have a vast stash of products for every use at your hand.right stuff that you have pored hours on Google to research, ask questions about, and then research again - not to mention the time spent developing each compound to make sure it works "just the right way".
And you use each one of these products like that same heart surgeon - with care and patience.
During curing times of putty, glue, etc., you are carefully watching over your "baby" to make sure it's healing in just the right way. You literally fret over whether or not you have put the right support mechanisms on her to tighten her as the glue dries.
Suddenly, then, you watch as her wobbles disappear, deep scars are gone, her arms and legs are strong, and drawers/doors open and close on her with ease again. You smile to yourself cause you know now she's gonna make it. You still allow enough of her "wrinkles" to show through because that brings out her charm that you want to feature in the final result.
That piece of furniture is only 1/4 through the process of being finished though.
DESIGNING - 1 day to a week for yourself - a lot less if you're working this up for a client
Now you sit back and stare at her for a bit. How do you want her to look, or how does your client want you to make her look for them. Or how do you design it so it looks like your client did when you actually you did it but you don't want them to know that.
That's when you pull out your color swatches, pour through magazine clippings, research again every Google image you can get your hands on that resembles the "vintage, French, farm, royalty, chartreuse" search you're doing for that client who MUST have this look.
If you're doing the piece for yourself, you can be more relaxed about designing. When you're doing it for a client you are creating another relationship on a different level based on the back and flow of ideas, experience, style, gut instinct, and massive quantities of research. PLUS… you. are. on. a. deadline!
The pressure is on baby! Get. On. It!
I have a workbook that a draw scratch out in a design concepts. I try my best to draw my piece and then start piecing colors, stains, fabric, etc., in the book.
Doesn't mean I can't change along the way, but I have my basic design that I'm working from laid out already.
I'm already through a day after cleaning, minor repairs, designing the colors, ordering any knobs, pulls, wood onlays or embellishments that are needed before I ever lift a can of paint! That is what I call my prep work.
I think we are 1/2 through this process now.
Please don't think this is as simple as dipping a brush in the can and slap it on. If you have ever worked with Photoshop then you understand Layers. Everything about actually painting a piece is about layering. My kids will constantly tell me that a piece looks crappy at the very beginning.
I keep reminding them that it's a process of layering and then I go into explaining Photoshop for the 16th millionth time and then they get it….. again.
A minor breakdown of the process - which can and will be modified depending on the piece you are working on:
- There is sanding off of all the old layers- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Sometimes it literally involves a chisel and a hammer!
- There's the primer layer
- Then there's the base coat layer
- Then comes the process of adding 1-3 different colors in various layers and process to create a piece that looks like you just found it in a Parisian apartment that's been sitting idle for 100 years!
- Then there's staining or glazing or a combination of the two.
- Occasionally you may need to scrub candle wax all over a piece for a unique effect (the other effect is that you can't stand up straight afterwards for at least 24 hours!)
- Then there is distressing the piece. How much you do depends on if you are still conscious at this point.
- Then there is waxing or applying a few coats of a matt finish because some of us do have kids who are very deadly with crayons!
We're 3/4 of the way now! Well, kind of.
EXTRA DESIGNING - this can take 1 - 3 days depending on what is being done and how in-depth it is.
Sometimes you have to wait on the waxing/finishing part of the piece because you are still not finished yet. Waxing/finishes are always last when everything has been done. This is done during/right after painting
When it comes to hand painting and/or stenciling this is very detailed work that just doesn't magically appear because we "will" it too. Trust me, I've tried a few times during the middle of a migraine or my 8 year old's 5th meltdown of the afternoon. I made more bargains with God than I care to count during those times, but still isn't happening.
First and foremost here - I don't care if an image is stenciled or hand painted on a piece - BOTH are detailed and time consuming jobs worth every stinking penny one pays for them!
In addition, some do not understand the different positions is takes to hand paint a dresser or chest. I have become quite a contortionist because of this. It can become painful, but we do it
because we have passion for what we do!
Then there are the onlays, appliqués, or embellishments to add - these have to be done before the waxing/finishing process as well.
Let's not even mention the process we go through
if we are gold/silver leafing involved.
When the extra designing is done, and we've finished waxing/finishing our/your piece. Then quite possible, we can call this creation finished - 100% done. That is only if a final and thorough inspection is performed for anything that might have been overlooked. The time on this depends on how obsessive the artist is. For me, it's all the time until the piece leaves my shop.
WRAPPING THIS UP
When you purchase a piece made from a small business operator, you are getting WAY more than a couple of coats of paint on your furniture.
This is what you also get that is never mentioned in the price:
You are getting our heart and our souls into every piece we do.
You are getting our blood (yes, literally sometimes),
sweat, and tears in every nook and cranny of the piece.
You are getting our time, our energy, our devotion to your piece.
You are getting our love and passion for the broken and scarred baby you have brought to us,
or that we found discarded and thrown out on the side of the road,
or from a store somewhere being ignored in some corner because it wasn't "pretty" enough.
THESE we humbly give to you through the process of creation.
So what goes into that piece you've bought from us, or had us make for you is so much more than a couple of coats of paint. We do this because we love what we do and we love seeing your faces light up when you see what we have created for you. We do this because we can't stop thinking about doing it.
Because it is our way of life.
Please remember this when purchasing one of our babies, or thinking that we charge too much for what we do:
Thank you for taking the time to read this.