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Different surfaces

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!

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!

Stunning red roses on fabric

Most of the projects I teach my students are painted in class on wood or MDF (medium density fibreboard).

Having said that, the beauty of what I teach in my decorative painting classes is that you can paint the same subject matter on many other different surfaces. The medium we use – acrylic paint – is very versatile and can be used to paint on canvas, metal, leather, fabric, even candles and plastic!

Today I had a class with a student who had a red piece of linen-like fabric on which she wanted to paint roses. When completed she would have the painted fabric fitted onto the cover of a tea-box which she will give to her sister for Christmas. I suggested really red roses and she loved the idea. Red is after all, very festive this time of year.

Really red roses on red linen

The finished painting was really very nice, bravo! I’m sure her sister will be very proud to receive such a nice piece of work, and for sure its going to be a family heirloom!

Painting on fabric is an easily learned skill, especially if you have painted the subject matter on a wooden item before.

Some things to note about painting on fabric are as follows:

Your fabric should, preferably, be “mounted” onto a piece of cardboard. This serves two purposes – firstly, your fabric won’t move around when you scrub your strokes, and secondly, the cardboard absorbs the paint that seeps through the fabric. I use masking tape and this is easily removed once the painting is completed.

As with painting on wood, you can trace your pattern onto your fabric using the regular transfer paper or if you prefer, the transfer paper specifically produced for fabrics. You would buy this in a haberdashery. Of course you can also free-hand a design onto your fabric using a water soluble pencil or fabric pencil.

Pattern hand-drawn and painting begins!

The brush is normally “scrubbed” into the fabric otherwise the paint doesn’t get transferred to the fabric – so you would need a flat or angle brush with stiffer bristles than those used for painting on wood.

With fabric medium, the paint is easily scrubbed into the fabric

Because I paint mainly with acrylic paint, I have never tried fabric paint to paint any of my designs on fabric. I simply use my acrylic paint with a fabric medium and it works out really great. I can use my favourite colours and apply my colour palettes to any of the projects I want to paint.

There are many different brands available on the market but I have used DecoArt Americana fabric medium as well as Jo Sonja’s textile medium and both convert acrylic paint into a fabric paint which easily penetrates and bonds with fabric. Both are permanent on the fabric once heat-set and the painted fabrics are hand-washable.

Once painted, your fabric needs to be heat set to create permanence. Heat setting also softens your painted fabric.

Its easy to have a go at fabric painting: all you need are your decorative painting instructions, a piece of fabric, an old shirt or T-shirt, you acrylic paints and some fabric medium and you’re all set!

Painting on a canvas

Sometime back, I developed a penchant for painting on canvas instead of the usual MDF or wood items I had been used to.

It all started one day when I realised that I didn’t have time to basecoat an MDF item to paint a new project in class with my students. I thought of painting on paper but I discovered canvas boards among my hoard of “paintable” items and that became the perfect surface!

Since then, I didn’t have any qualms about taking any decorative painting design and painting it on a canvas board or stretched canvas.

Roses on bin

For example, I had painted this MDF bin with a roses design and much later painted the same thing on a rectangular canvas board.

Roses on Canvasboard

I also encourage my students to have a go and some of them actually like it. Its good to paint on traditional surfaces like the canvas, for a change! LOL

Basecoating your canvas for decorative painting is a little different because the canvas surface is not smooth like the MDF or wood surfaces we’re used to. So you will find it quite a challenge to basecoat it with a brush and thick paint straight from the bottle or tube.

But there is an easy way – I use a small roller sponge and extra pressure. Basecoat once, dry with a hairdryer and then basecoat again and voila…its ready to take your decorative painting.

You’ll also finish in half the time because no sanding is required….that should make a lot of painters happy!

Painting your design is not much different once you get the hang of moving your brush around on the basecoated canvas surface. You will always feel the texture of the canvas but all the decorative painting techniques you’re used to will work on the canvas.

No worries. You just have to try it to find out.

So why not have a go?

You can paint anything your heart desires..

Nina has painted with me since 2004 and its always fun painting with her. She always paints with a purpose. Once she wanted to paint a plaque for her chef husband for his birthday, so I taught her how to faux finish a woodgrain on an MDF plaque then decoupaged the picture of a chef and wrote her husband’s name on it.

Another time, her husband had bought her a traditional Italian long-handled pizza board and she wanted to transform it into something for her home in Lebanon. I taught her an Austrian bridal painting design and the pizza board now hangs in her home welcoming her friends and family into her home.

The most creative project yet was a plate she painted for her son who wanted to give to his girlfriend. He chose the picture – two clown fish swimming among some coral – and the cutest caption… “If you’re a fish, I’m a fish”! That’s a project I’ll never forget. It was fun teaching her to paint that and she certainly had a lot of fun painting it.

This week Nina wanted to paint an ostrich egg which had been fitted with a light fixture. She wanted to give it as a gift to a girlfriend and later wanted to paint another egg for herself. That’s a great way to learn by the way – paint the same project two times! We brainstormed on the subject to paint and finally decided to paint a landscape. We chose a lighthouse design.

 Nina painting the background on her ostrich egg.

Painting on an egg can seem a daunting task because of its shape. You have to basically hold it all the time and keep turning it as you paint it.

How to hold an ostrich egg when painting it

There is a way to paint it without holding it and that is to place the egg in a soup dish lined with a folded face towel. But some students including Nina find holding the egg just fine.  Its really not that difficult once you get the hang of it.

Whatever the surface we paint on the painting technique remains the same.

For this lighthouse project we first painted the sky, followed by the sea then the foreground.

The completed ostrich egg project

Once that was completed, we painted the background trees and foreground trees, followed by the lighthouse and all its decoration. Lastly of course we paint other elements that complete the picture – in this case some trees and of course, seagulls.

This was a unique project and certainly a first in my Studio. But I’m sure other students will want to try their hand at this after seeing the finished piece.

Painting Ostrich Eggs

One of the most unique surfaces you can paint on are ostrich eggs. Yes, ostrich eggs!

Of course, first you need to prepare the egg – make a hole at the bottom end of the egg where there is a “soft spot”, empty the contents, clean the insides, dry, then seal the opening. You guessed it – not easy and certainly, not everyone will be successful in this endeavour or even wants to go through the trouble of doing all this!

Me? I’ve never done it although I was tempted once when I saw fresh ostrich eggs in a supermarket here. Its easier to buy ostrich eggs which have already been emptied and cleaned, sometimes even the hole has been sealed. This is what most people who want to paint ostrich eggs do. If you have access to fresh ostrich eggs and want to have a go at emptying one, I found a site here.

The first time I ever painted an ostrich egg was at a workshop with Vicki Nicholson in Kuala Lumpur almost 10 years ago. We painted her signature pastel roses.

It was quite an experience painting on the egg (and learning her roses of course!) I went on to paint a few more eggs with roses for a Christmas Bazaar here and they were grabbed in an instant!

I usually varnish ostrich eggs using a high gloss varnish because it looks like a high quality porcelain egg when finished.


Its a great conversation piece once its sitting on an ornate egg stand in your living room.

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If you already have an ostrich egg ready for painting, you only need to basecoat the egg and you should do this at least a week ahead so that the  paint is properly cured.

I use a shortcut to basecoat ostrich eggs by mixing Jo Sonja’s All Purpose Sealer with my paint in equal parts. I do three coats, no sanding required. You need to paint one side of the egg at a time, set it down to dry, then paint the other side.

So take your time and try and enjoy it because its worth the effort.

Note: If you are using the hairdryer to fast-dry your basecoat, DO NOT use the hot air selection. Make sure you use the “cool” selection.

Do you always have to paint roses on ostrich eggs? Of course not. We paint all sorts of things on ostrich eggs at my Studio. Today I had a class where we started painting a landscape on an ostrich egg and I think the finished product will be quite pretty.

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