In painting - Popular Woodworking Magazine

In painting

 In Arts & Mysteries Blog, Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

“In painting” is a term museum conservators use for touching up “losses”, areas now missing, from antique paintings or other objects. As far as I know, it isn’t typically done on furniture, but it is done occasionally. Conservators talk about “fills” for furniture. When carvings or bits fall off, they glue in patches or “fills”. Sometimes those fills are “in painted”.

I tried the technique on my chippendale chair. You may recall this chair from my articles in PW some time ago. Not sure if I mentioned at the time, but I had no plans for this project beyond the articles and my own personal learning experience. I also had no confidence that the project would turn out. Consequently, I used scrap lumber.

As you can see from this photo, the stock I used for the crest rail was just junk. It was a terrible piece of wood. It lacked color and the grain was open. I tried tinting it with dyes and stains, but it never really matched.

To some extent, because the grain is oriented perpendicular to the back splat, the light catches the wood differently and the crest rails always look a little bit different from the splats. But my chair is far beyond the norm.

Using artists’ oil paints and brushes, I dabbed vandyke brown, burnt and raw sienna at the crest rail straight from the tubes. I pounced color into the corners in clumps, building up a texture that reminded me of the original unrestored chair. 18th c servants may have wiped down woodwork regularly, applying various potions and tonics (possibly including beer?) to “clean”, “brighten”, or “shine” wood. But these servants were far from furniture conservators, so what they applied and how they applied it would typically be concentrated on the broader, flatter areas. Thus the concentration of gook in the corners and carvings.

This is where I am now. I haven’t applied any top coats. A spit coat of shellac and wax is my plan.

My goal was to reduce the contrast between the crest rail and adjoining joints. I’m happy with the color matches.

In this picture, I see lines that look like brush strokes. I’m not sure if they are brush strokes or scratches in my ground work. I can definitely see that on future carved projects I need to be much cleaner with my carving. Sharper tools and a little more experience will certainly help. This is exactly the reason why I used scrap wood for this project.


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Showing 5 comments
  • Adam Cherubini

    Thanks Mike! I was a little freaked out by the prospect of building one of these publicly. But I thought that being brutally honest and high-lighting rather than concealing my mistakes would be helpful.

    Naturally, whenever you try to teach someone, you (or at least I) always end up learning more than you plan. This chair continues to teach me stuff as I continue to mess with it. Someday, I may even sit in it!


  • Mike Dyer

    I followed your original articles with great interest. They were both educational and entertaining, and even .. dare I say it…enlightening.

    I was particularly interested in learning that these chairs may have often been the product of not one but a number of specialist craftsmen, working in completely different shops.

    So really, you took on a whole spectrum of specialties and shared your progress and frustrations – great series.

    Mike Dyer

  • Adam Cherubini

    I guess I’ve always heard these sorts of things, but I never actually thought to actually PAINT a piece of woodwork with oil paints. Sounds so extreme. But if you think about it, you can thin the paint and make a tinting glaze or whatever you want. The pigments are good, finely ground and color fast. Only downside is they are expensive. But I think it’s probably a good idea to keep a couple tubes handy.

  • John Preber

    I’ve always heard ‘Beat it to fit, paint it to match’.

  • Mike Siemsen

    We always said, "Putty and paint make it what it ain’t"

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