Painting in the Dark

My (in)experience with chalk paint

We recently moved across the country from SF to NY. As always, new spaces require new configurations. My antique desk, a family heirloom I’ve had since childhood, has always been in my own private space. Years ago I painted it a bright pink which brightened up my office/closet in San Francisco. Here in NY, however, the desk ended up in our one and only bedroom.

Here’s where we started – pretty in pink

My husband wasn’t crazy about the pink, and I easily came around to the idea of finding a new color – one that would be pleasing for both of us and tie in better with the rest of our decor. I started researching “chalk” paint for antiques and found a lovely dark teal named Jitterbug from Country Chic Paint. 

Actually water- and clay-based, this paint produces a very matte (chalk-like) finish. Country Chic recommends using wax polish for protection and a subtle sheen. After watching several of their tutorials online, I purchased a DIY Starter Kit and a small jar of Jitterbug. 

I failed to notice that the small jar was only 4 ounces. My husband asked, “How are you going to cover a whole desk with that?” Good question. It was too late to change my order, so I figured I’d deal with what was on its way. 

I ordered this starter kit off the Country Chic Paint website

The starter kit arrived with three other sample jars (all 4 oz): Vanilla Frosting (white), Sunday Tea (light grey) and Elegance (light blue); a paint sponge, clear wax and antique wax. I’d also ordered the round wax brush. 

As much as I loved the rich color of Jitterbug, I worried that it would be too dark for our bedroom with its low light, dark wood floors and furniture. I got the idea to add Elegance (the light blue) to Jitterbug in a 2:1 ratio. I poured all of the Jitterbug into a glass measuring cup, then added half of the Elegance, for a total of 6 ounces of paint. 

Before tackling the desk, I tried my hand at a simpler project: a small unfinished farm table in my kitchen. I used Elegance for the top and Sunday Tea for the legs, two coats each. Then I wet-distressed according to instructions (with a wet rag two hours after painting) to rub away some of the paint. After 24 hours, I used the round brush to work in the clear wax and then buffed with cloth. 

Kitchen table painted in Elegance and Sunday Tea

Emboldened by my tiny table success (using less than half a paint jar), I was ready for the big desk job. Painting inside – due to small NY apartment – was no concern as this paint has very low VOCs and no smell. I propped the desk up to make the feet easier to paint, but didn’t even worry about using a drop cloth over the hardwood floors. The most challenging part was poor lighting in the bedroom. At least I felt like any potential mistakes would be hidden in low light. 

Knowing I was limited to 6 ounces, I started with the most visible parts first. Right away I noticed this was different from the kitchen table. While I didn’t consider the pink to be glossy, the chalk paint was not adhering well. So I quickly did a little sanding, then resumed painting. Desk drawers first, then front, then top. Let the first coat dry for two hours and reapplied. By this point, I knew all the most visible areas were well covered. The outside panels got two coats, the inside panels got one, and the back got none. Yep, the back of the desk has two pink panels bordered in teal – it’s very Miami Vice! 

Chalky view with pink showing through after first coat

Halfway through, I was missing the pop and polish of the pink. But once I buffed with wax and reassembled the hardware, I fell in love with this new look. It’s deep and soothing, and has its own pop and polish. Though I can’t say that the process was all smooth sailing. 

While I found the painting sponge easy to use, I made the mistake of closing it up in foil instead of washing between coats. This made my second application less than ideal (perhaps linty from dried paint or sponge deterioration). I was also afraid of that antique wax but determined to use it on the desk. 

I thought that the wax topcoat would hide imperfections, but it makes everything darker and therefore starker. I noticed this when using the clear wax on the kitchen table. So I cautiously started with the antique wax on the side panel of the desk (the side closest to the wall and therefore harder to see). It reminds me of dark shoe polish – you really have to use a lot of muscle to work the wax in. I saw some pink coming through as I’d used less paint on the sides. That’s ok, I thought, nobody’s going to see it in the dark. 

The biggest problem I had was with the desk top. I did a little distressing as with the kitchen table. There emerged a few pink spots that I didn’t care for; I tried reapplying dabs of paint with a q-tip but that only made it worse. The antique wax highlighted the trouble areas even more.  

Rather scary first attempt with the antique wax

In a swift and desperate move, I poured a few teaspoons of the Elegance into the empty Jitterbug jar and scraped the sides as much as I could to create some sort of tint. I crammed the big sponge into that tiny jar and began covering the top as best I could from front to back. I only made it halfway before things got streaky. 

Of course, I am not recommending this plan (non-plan) of action. Painting on top of wax is not advisable – ideally I should have rubbed with alcohol to remove the wax so that the paint has a better chance of staying put. But I was tired and sore and ready to be done. I took a chance and ended up with a happy accident. 

Antique wax on top/sides and clear wax on front

The top now has a ombré effect that looks like a moody sea. It is quite beautiful. This morning I timidly applied another layer of wax (clear wax this time) to the lighter paint area in hopes of protecting it from scratches. So far so good. If my serene seascape ends up falling apart, I can always order more paint and redo the top. But for now I’ll trust the ebb and flow and see how it goes. 

Look at this gorgeous teal beauty

All in all, I love the chalk paint and can’t wait to tackle my stained glass frames with Vanilla Frosting. Should be a piece of cake after the desk!

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