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Turning something tired into a conversation piece

You can paint on anything, everybody knows that. And “anything” can be turned into “something” – an heirloom piece or a conversation piece, with careful flicks of a brush or two, and a bit of paint.

Today my girls were painting hydrangea in class and I thought to myself, I will paint hydrangea on the cover of this very interesting tired old thing I had. I sometimes paint an item in class instead of just demonstrating on a painted board and so the plan was to paint on this thing in class. But since the girls were busy painting their leaves, we did not start on the hydrangea today so the thing remained empty.

It was a very interesting thing – an hors d’oeuvres tray actually – which I bought many many years ago in Malaysia. Or was it Dubai? Anyway, I love blue and white and whenever I saw something blue and white, I would buy it. This hors d’oeuvres tray was a round container with a cover, and it had a short pedestal with ball-bearings – it turned like a carousel. Outside it was sort of veneered with a basket weave.

My hors d'oeuvres tray with cover

Inside the container were five little blue and white china dishes, a square one in the middle and four almost boat-shaped ones that fit snugly around the centre dish. It was really handy, not just for hors d’oeuvres but also for sauces, nuts and the like. I have to say that I hardly used it because I was afraid the dishes would break. It was more a decorative piece. One day one of the dishes broke. Then another one chipped. One fell down…and piece by piece I lost my blue and white. It broke my heart because there was no way I could replace them. At the end I only had one piece of the blue and white boat-shaped pieces left and the tray became somewhat of a white elephant.

Only one blue and white dish left

I really did not know what to use the now empty-round-box-with-cover-which-turned and the dark brown basket weave was so bland. One day I “improved” it by slip-slapping a lighter brown and gold all over the box and its cover. It looked much better but I still did not know what to do with it. It just stayed in the kitchen and I kept knick knacks in it. It stayed that way for a couple of years until I took it into the studio yesterday.

As I tidied up after class today I saw my tired little box and was reminded that I was going to paint it so I decided there and then to start painting it. Tired or not. I quickly penciled in the hydrangea ovals and the leaves and sat down to paint.

Painting on a basket weave is not quite the same as painting on a smooth, basecoated surface. I had to use a slightly stiffer brush and much more paint than usual but it worked really well. I finished the leaves in just over five minutes and was really pleased with how it looked on the dark brown basket weave surface – I had always painted hydrangea AND taught hydrangea on a light background such as cream, pastel blues, greens and pinks and wondered how it would look on a dark background. I think the box will look splendid!

In go the leaves..

I decided to paint three different colours of hydrangea on the cover of my box and started with whitish-greenish ones, then bluish-purplish and finally tri-coloured pinkish-purplish-greenish! I loved how they turned out.

Three different colours of hydrangea

They really brightened up my tired old ex-hors d’oeuvres tray and the transformation took less than an hour! I’m really pleased with it.


Suddenly my old box no longer looks tired but in its stead, colourful and fresh. Certainly it was going to be my new conversation piece and perhaps an heirloom, who knows.

My new conversation piece

But for sure, I still don’t know what to use it for. Any ideas?

Ostrich eggs for sale!

Some time back I wrote about painting on ostrich eggs. I haven’t painted another egg in a while but a couple of students had been asking me if I had any to sell. I didn’t – I only had one egg left and I had basecoated it….just waiting to be painted.

I honestly haven’t found a source from which to buy ostrich eggs in Kuwait! The last time I bought them was in a shop I found by accident in Sharjah when we lived in Dubai.

Recently, I saw some eggs and jumped when I thought I could stock up on my supplies of these unique surfaces to paint.

Ostrich eggs

There was only one problem: I was in a supermarket and these were in the deli section. They were fresh ostrich eggs!

Since I had never emptied a fresh ostrich egg before, I didn’t buy them, of course. I will just keep looking to find pre-prepared ostrich eggs LOL

But I found this video that shows how to do it in 3 simple steps:

1. drill it open on the pointed end of the egg
2. use a long stick (like a chopstick) to break the yolk and mix the contents
3. put a straw in the egg and blow the contents into a bowl


Then you need to fill it up slowly with tap water and clean the internal egg a few times. Leave it to dry and voila, you have an egg to paint!

Painting IKEA items

Its the new year and I hope that many new painters join us in the world of decorative painting this year! May you have a truly wondrous painting journey wherever you are.. :-)

I saw yesterday that IKEA Kuwait was having one of its sales again! Ever since I started decorative painting, IKEA has been a great source of paintable items. I have many items in my collection that were once plain (and cheap!) household items from IKEA.

One of the items is a metal watering can which I basecoated a dark brown and painted an English Canalboat design on it. It has become one of my favourite paintings and I have to say also a favourite among my students!

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I had not seen these metal watering cans in IKEA for some time but check out the sale and see if they still have them – if you are tired of painting on wood, they’re very easy to paint.

An IKEA watering can

IKEA watering cans

Before you start basecoating though, just make sure you wipe it with a slightly damp cloth to clean off any dust. You don’t need to sand these watering cans because from my experience they have enough “tooth” to accept the paint. In case they are too smooth and don’t have “tooth”, however, use a piece of sandpaper and quickly sand it in a circular motion to give it some “tooth” and wipe it clean with a dry cloth.

I have basecoated metal items like these using good quality acrylic paints which have a built-in sealer directly from the bottle or tube and they do turn out alright but the best practise is to mix your paint with a sealer. I use Jo Sonja’s All Purpose Sealer and mix about 20% sealer and 80% acrylic paint and basecoat my item using 1” brush. I use a slip-slap motion and smoothing motion and make sure I cover the entire item. I don’t paint the insides.

After basecoating, you need to leave it to cure for some time. The longer the better, otherwise the paint can get scratched off. If the basecoat is not properly cured the paint doesn’t adhere permanently. Its easy to get a scratch on the item with your nails – accidentally of course. I have had worse nightmares then scratching them though. Once, I washed a painted item and the paint along with whatever design I had decorated it with, became a bubble, then wrinkled…it was a mess. Later it just peeled off! Just try to imagine it. So my advise is if you want to paint these metal items, basecoat a few items at a time and leave them somewhere safe (from cats and kids LOL) to cure. Sometimes I have left them to cure for a month.

The just before I want to paint the item, I give it another coat of paint, dry it with a hairdryer, cool it, then another coat, dry and cool and I’m ready to decorate it. Its the first coat that’s important to cure.

I love painting on metal because I don’t need to sand after basecoating. Unlike sanding basecoated wood – sanding a basecoated metal item can and will remove the paint.

So, have fun shopping for a nice, cheap watering can at the IKEA sale and paint something pretty on it!

French folk art at the Lille Christmas market

Its always nice travelling during the festive season. One year we were in France on a road trip and we stopped at a Christmas market in Lille. It was very cold yet when we stumbled on the market, I didn’t mind taking my time walking around looking at the Christmassy wares on sale.

One of the stalls I found was a peinture d’art folklorique stall. The artist had put up for sale a large collection of painted work, every one of them painted simply on an off-white background.

Christmas market at Lille 2

Many of them were painted with various fruits motifs – apples, cherries, lemons. Some were painted with lavender and others with more rustic motifs such as chicken! Christmas market at Lille 1

There were also pansies and I saw a nice teapot painted with a lavender garden. Very quaint!

Christmas market at Lille 4

The artist had painted on various types of surfaces too. Many of them were enamel or other metal objects and they were everyday kitchen items like teapots and coffee pots, jugs and colanders.

Christmas market at Lille 5

This ordinary metal colander has been painted with pansies and turned into a lamp shade!

The artist was very creative with these everyday kitchen items turning them into clocks and light shades! This jelly bowl clock for example, was decorated with cherries and Roman numerals!

Christmas market at Lille 6

And how about this great kitchen clock?

The artist was obviously very talented at turning everyday objects into useful items for a rustic kitchen as she also took a simple garden shovel and turned it into a clock!Christmas market at Lille 3

There were other items like letter boxes, organisers and bread boxes which were made of wood and I loved every single one of them! Unfortunately I had to stop myself buying any because I simply did not have space in our luggage… :-(

The folk art paintings I saw at this Christmas market stall just goes to show that decorative painting is a very simple and rewarding pursuit – you don’t need to do anything complicated to turn simple everyday items into beautiful items to treasure.

Just pick a colour scheme, a simple motif and paint away!

Fearless little painters

I was going through my photos the other day and came across this one taken after a decorative painting workshop held with 7 to 9-year-olds during a “Winter Camp” for girls in Kuwait.

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My proud fearless little painters!

Every single one of them finished their project which was a plaque for their room.

This was the first time I ever agreed to teach the art of decorative painting to children and to be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be! LOL I have to give them credit though – they taught me a lot about patience and perseverance. None of them complained that it was difficult or that they couldn’t do it. They were truly fearless!

I knew that their span of attention would be short so I kept the class very short too. I was really happy that everyone was able to finish their painting in the two hours! At the end of the class, a few of them came up to me and asked me when the next class was…unfortunately I had to turn down a request to hold regular classes there because of the unsuitable timings.

Still, I have to say that I was fortunate to be able to introduce them to the art. And I know they really enjoyed the experience.

Roses day at the studio

One of the students at today’s roses class was my 12 year-old little Kuwaiti painter. Last week she painted her first project – this plaque of sunflowers with the words “Welcome to our Chalet”.

Sunflowers Plaque

I thought it was an amazing piece of work for a 12-year old. And it was her first ever attempt at decorative painting too. It just goes to show that anyone can paint, given the right tools and some right proper instruction! :-)

She was so sweet that first day she came. She told her aunt, one of my regular painters (and a good one too!) who had brought her as a summer treat, that it was the happiest day of her life! It made me teary.

After that project she said that she wanted to learn roses and I agreed to let her join the class with other adult students. She chose a little trinket box which she wants to give her mom as a gift. Shhhhh!

Today she came for the class and did as well as any student could do in one of my roses class! Bravo, little painter..

At the end of the class she took out a little ziploc bag filled with shells and said “I collected these for you at our Chalet in Khairan over the weekend!”. That was super sweet of her. I told her that I actually collected seashells and would make it a point to collect a couple of seashells wherever I was to add to my collection. And I would add these seashells she gave me.

But I joked that I would paint a rose on one of the shells and show it to her at the next class. So after everyone left, instead of cleaning up, I used the paint I had on my wet palette and painted a rose on one of the small shells with my smallest angle brush!

A rose on a seashell 
It wasn’t the smallest rose I had ever painted but it was the first time I ever painted on a seashell. I certainly had a lot of fun doing it!

Art while travelling

While most people have just only upped and left on their summer vacations this year, I have been AND come back! Back to hot and dusty Kuwait and to my studio.

Anyway, this post is not about painting while travelling – its about the art I deliberately try to see while travelling or sometimes, serendipitously bump into.

Many years ago, while on a trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, my dear husband, knowing my passion for decorative painting and especially the folk art of various European origins, planned a trip to Hindeloopen.

The Dutch town of Hindeloopen is one of eleven cities in Friesland and is a quaint little place with lots of wooden bridges over tiny canals. It was pretty as a picture and simply lovely to walk around in.

Bridge over a small canal A canal view in Hindeloopen

Every now and then you will end up in a narrow street and then suddenly you are confronted with a beautiful canal view, a monument to remind you of the glorious past of Hindeloopen, someone’s lovely garden, a painted door or a whole street of shops with wondrous displays of traditional art also called Hindeloopen.
 Sign outside Harmen Zweed's Hindeloopen shop

THAT was why hubby brought me here.

The hindeloopen form of folk art originated with the Maritime community of Hindeloopen. During bad weather when there was no fish to sell, fishermen and sailors alike took to painting to pass the time and make some money. Through trade with their neighbours in Norway, especially, Hindeloopen sailors would bring home painted artefacts in other traditional styles such as the Baroque style of Norwegian Rosemaling. Over time, these “imported” traditional art pieces influenced the development of the Hindeloopen community’s own painting style into what we see today.

A beautiful painted Hindeloopen door 
The town of Hindeloopen is a haven for the traditional folk artist – there is a large number of studios of very talented Hindeloopen artists and for the souvenir collection a warehouse of painted objects in the hindeloopen style!

We discovered that, traditionally, it was the men of the village who painted while the women and wives ran the business. The lady we met, Jenny, was very conversant in the art although it was not her but her husband who painted.

Jenny Zweed pointing out the details on her husband's work

She explained that there were ten colours traditionally used in the traditional Hindeloopen style of painting. And there were at least two different ways of painting the highlights which created different looks of the final painting. The predominant floral motifs were the Dog Rose, Star Flower and Carnation. Tulips were also quite common.

Two ways of painting Hindeloopen highlights 
I bought a lovely tray painted by the meister Harmen Zweed himself. What I really wanted was the tilt-top table…but it wasn’t practical as I had to take it back to Kuwait by plane!

Harmen Zweed tray which I bought

Before saying goodbye to Hindeloopen, we visited the Hindeloopen museum to find out more about its painting heritage. The Museum Hidde Nijland Foundation was located in the Town Hall (circa 1683) and housed an enthralling collection of colourful tines, bowls, and cupboards, furniture and even staircases for wall-beds, dating back to the 17th and 18th Century. There was a whole blue and white wall with floral and bird motifs. I was mesmerised by the detail and  passionate handiwork of the artist. No photos though as photography was prohibited. :-(

The Hindeloopen Museum

I personally love painting in the Hindeloopen style and I think its a painting technique that stretches you to develop and perfect your comma strokes. Its one of those techniques that, after painting a few pieces, your comma strokes seem to come out effortlessly!

Simple Hindeloopen on Malaysian clogs

Repetitive two-tone Hindeloopen

I’m really glad hubby arranged that trip to Hindeloopen. Not only did I get to see the little historic town, and enjoy its scenic beauty, I also learnt first-hand about its origins and saw the original work of its talented artists. It was truly memorable!

Tulip Day

I never knew but it seems that the 13th of May is Tulip Day! So I shall remember to wish everyone a Happy Tulip Day every 13th May from now :-)

Tulip motifs are fairly common in the world of decorative painting and you can find them in the traditional folk art of Hindeloopen, Bauernmalerei, Rosemaling, and even Zhostovo as well as in the contemporary style of decorative painting.

Stylised tulips I painted on a Rosemaling plaque

Multi-loaded tulips in the style of Bauernmalerei 

It is said that…

…the tulip is one of the world’s most easily recognized and loved flowers. The meanings of tulips coupled with the immediately identifiable shape of their colorful blooms make them a comfortable flower choice. They are not too elegant, too romantic, too big, too small, or too bright; the tulip is always just right.

The meaning of tulips is generally perfect love. Like many flowers, different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, while purple symbolizes royalty. The meaning of yellow tulips has evolved somewhat, from once representing hopeless love to now being a common expression for cheerful thoughts and sunshine. White tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Variegated tulips, once among the most popular varieties due to their striking color patterns, represent beautiful eyes.

By coincidence I just finished a tulips class painted in the contemporary style. It was the second project for another student of mine from Egypt. But it wasn’t red, purple, yellow or white tulips!

It was pink.

Pink tulips bouquet 

In traditional folk art the stylised tulips would for the most part be painted with a round brush and the technique used would be strokework. These contemporary tulips were painted using a filbert brush which allows us to blend the strokes and achieve the soft colours and a variegated look of a tulip.

We had a lot of fun painting these lovely spring flowers..Happy Tulip Day!

Perfecting those strokes

Many many years ago when I first started decorative painting, all I wanted to do was perfect my comma strokes. I would even venture to say that I was “obsessive” about it. I must have painted hundreds and thousands of it on reams and reams of white and black art paper! I got the feeling that my brushes didn’t particularly like being used to paint on paper so I spoiled many brushes during this phase of my painting journey!

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with practising on paper. Its just not the best surface to practise on.

Paper or cardboard is an absorbent surface and so your paint behaves in a different way when you paint on it. You get to practise your strokes but the surface is different from the surface you will paint on. The better thing to do is quickly give it a coat of acrylic paint, dry it then practise on it. It loses the absorbency and it feels like you’re painting on your basecoated project. Its closer to painting on the real thing.

Better still, get a rectangular piece of thin MDF – e.g. the thickness you might use for a placemat – and basecoat both sides. I used to basecoat one with a black background and one with a white background. Later I started basecoating a couple with my favourite background colour (or flavour of the month!) and used them as my practise board.

The good thing about these MDF boards are that they are reusable. When I’m done practising on any of the boards, I just basecoat over it and voila, I have a fresh practise board. You can just keep doing this over and over again.

Of course if you want to keep your practise strokes as a keepsake or for future reference, the basecoated paper (or cardboard) is a better option.

At that time I also discovered Loew-Cornell Brush-Up Paper at my friend’s decorative painting studio and shop in Singapore. I thought it was a very unique product – its made of a specially-coated paper and you only need a brush and water to use it.

 Loew-Cornell Brush-up Paper

To practise on it, just dip your round brush, or any brush you want to practise with, in CLEAN water, remove the excess water by dabbing the brush twice on a piece of paper towel, then stroke away! You will see the strokes you’re painting on the paper. After a while, the water evaporates and you have all that space to practise on again. No traces or markings are left on the paper, unless of course you have used dirty water where you’ve say, washed your brush in. Just make sure you use clean tap water every time.

 Practising strokework on the Brush-up Paper

You get one piece in a pack and it measures 9” by 13”. I really treasured my brush-up paper! I pasted it on  a piece of cardboard so that it doesn’t spoil at the corners and its still in perfect condition this very day!

You can order the Brush-up Paper from any painting supply store on the internet.

Artezan students in Kuwait can purchase it at the studio. They’re only KD1.750 each. Hurry because I don’t have that many in stock!

Painting on alternative backgrounds

Most decorative painting projects look amazing even on a plain background but sometimes its nice to do something to the background BEFORE painting on it.

There are many alternatives to a plain background. You can create a faux finish such as a marbled background or a smoked background. You can even crackle the background and then paint on it.

There is only one rule. You must base-coat the item you want to paint and leave it to cure for at least a week. In fact, the longer the better safer.


If we work on it immediately after basecoating there is a chance that the still drying basecoat paint will lift-off as we do our special effects. Its not so risky if you’re creating a smoked background but its very risky if you’re creating a background that requires you use masking tape, for example, to create stripes.

And, depending on the kind of background you create, you should again leave it to cure for another week.

A crackled background, for example, is very delicate to paint on unless the crackle has been allowed to dry thoroughly. Once I wanted to paint on a background I had crackled and I left it to cure for almost a month.

Recently I wanted to paint a gift for a friend who was leaving Kuwait and I thought I had a lot of time. I wanted to paint her a dainty plaque of roses on a striped background and had also decided to write “Home is where the heart is” on it. Suddenly her departure date was brought forward almost three weeks and I had to hurry to paint her something. I panicked and wondered if I had to cancel my idea because I would not have time to basecoat a plaque and let it cure before striping it.

Thankfully, I discovered I had a few base-coated items among my hoard which included two plaques. They have probably been there a year…obviously I never got round to painting them. Sometimes procrastination does pay! LOL

So I was able to stripe the background without any mishaps! I completed one plaque for my friend and I liked it so much, especially since the quotation was poignant for me too, that I decided to paint another for myself.

Two striped plaques

Striping is easy – the only meticulous part is the preparation. The part where you measure and mask the areas to create the stripes. But that time is an investment.

Masking for stripes

Once that is done, and you’ve made sure there will be no seepage, you paint the stripes, and that part is easy.

Its important not to use a hairdryer when you finish painting the stripes. Firstly, the hairdryer “melts” the masking tape glue which can be messy to remove from your basecoat, and secondly, its better to slowly and carefully remove the masking tape immediately after you paint the stripes because you can use a damp flat brush and clean up any seepage.

Which way to stripe? Paint the coloured basecoat first then paint the white stripes? Or paint a white basecoat then paint the coloured stripes?

I have done it both ways and I have to say, I prefer the first method – paint a coloured basecoat then stripe it white because the stripe looks “softer”. You should try both ways and see which suits you. There is no wrong or right here.

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