As a self-confessed upcycling addict, my house is awash with painted furniture, half-finished projects and magazine clippings showing just how to get that shabby-chic affect. My obsession started – as many do – due to lack of finances! I wanted the gorgeous interiors that I saw in my glossy mags, but without a spare thousand to splurge, I was going to have to find another way to get them. Not one to do things by half, my first project was a French Dresser, which was transformed from an old-fashioned mahogany eyesore into a stylish white centrepiece displaying photo frames of all the family. I was hooked!
It will come as no surprise to learn then, that I’m a big fan of Underneath The Arches on Princes Street in Perth City Centre. What you might not know is that as well as selling gorgeous pieces of already upcycled furniture, and quirky bric-a-brac, they also do Annie Sloane Chalk Painting workshops – which is exactly what took me down there at in my best dungarees, at 10am on Sunday morning.
I fully expected to be led into a workshop with sandpaper, furniture, and lots of tools and aids that I’d be completely unfamiliar with. However, any preconceived ideas I had went right out of the window when I was welcomed by Sally and Lou, and a table adorned with colour charts, task boards, tea cups and biscuits. How, I wondered aloud with my fellow students, were we going to recycle anything in such a small space?!
For those of you who don’t know, Annie Sloan is one of the world’s most respected paint and colour experts, and since the nineties has been a household name in interior design circles. For a keen amateur like me, she is the queen bee of chalk paint so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered both Sally and Lou had been trained by my idol!
I should probably point out though, that as much as I’ve read about Annie’s work, I’ve never actually used the product. So when Sally asked if any of us had experience of working with chalk paint, I felt as though I was going to be trailing behind the others. However, from a fellow student who had used it a lot, right down to little old me, the mix of ability was hugely varied. Coupled with the warm welcome we received, this was really comforting and steadied my painter’s nerves.
We start on the first board which has a square of cream paint on it; next to this we were instructed to paint a square of English Yellow (very in season by the way!). Head down, painting studiously, all I could hear was Sally’s voice – “more paint… more paint… layer it on”. I was squirming, thinking that I was committing the ultimate sin in painting. I had always thought that the way to go was thin layers and time to dry, and being a bit of a know-it- all-upcycler (or so I thought) I was convinced that my thick layer of lumpy yellow would never be ready in time. Sally reassured me that it would, and we moved ahead to discuss the finish...
When Sally announced that this would be a dark wax, we were less than enthusiastic about it - dark wax over English Yellow would surely ruin the look, right? Well, I was to be surprised on two counts! Firstly, the paint had dried (!) and secondly, after applying a layer of dark wax our boards looked as though they’d been at war with a tub of shoe polish! To make matters more bizarre, Sally’s next instruction was to apply clear wax - yes you heard correctly - clear wax, all over it. By now we were all glancing sideways at one another, the collective thought surely being - “This woman is unhinged!”
Clear wax over dark wax over yellow – what was going on? Well, upcyclers, I’ll tell you – ‘technique’ was going on! To our amazement, the wax blended with the colour and the transformation into a shabby chic antique yellow was instant. We all held up our work enthusiastically, ogling each other’s in admiration.
In between hands-on painting we learned more about using different colours, paint techniques – I now have a new job for my trusty hairdryer! - and design tricks such as decoupage, gold leaf and stencilling. Sally is a fantastic tutor and I was secretly surprised at just how much I was getting out of her workshop – and, of course, at just how amazing the paint is!
Ahhh – the paint! The paint is designed for anyone and everyone to use; its low odour and quick drying. You can start a piece of furniture in the morning and have a beautiful new look back in its original place by afternoon. And one of the biggest selling points about it is that you can use it on anything without preparation.
It was this little fact that brought out my inner child, and led me to quiz Sally like a three year old who has just discovered the word ‘Why’.
“Wood?” – Yes Hannah.
“Glass?” – Yes Hannah.
“Plastic?” – Yes Hannah.
“Fabric? I bet you can’t use it on fabric!” - YES Hannah, YOU CAN!
If I was a fan before, I am now completely in awe of this miracle paint that you can literally use on anything… ANYTHING! We have a look at some of Annie’s work, and the huge array of wonderful ideas she has had over the years - from kitchens to cushions, soft furnishings to simple art, this paint is my new best friend!
As the class drew to an end, I was feeling super excited about all that I had learned - I want to stay in my new-found world of paint forever! And I’m not the only one; my fellow workshop buddy asked for tips on upcycling her kitchen – quite the jump from a yellow board I think you’ll agree. We were all bustling around the pots, chatting about colour and projects – that kitchen is going to be a bold blue and red - and buying up paint to try out when we got home.
I left giddy, head bursting with ideas and now fully signed up to the Annie Sloan superfan club – all I can say is, look out #TeamSmallCity, if you sit still long enough I may test out the ‘paints on anything’ theory!
Check out the Underneath The Arches Facebook page for upcoming workshops and events. You can buy Annie Sloan paint in the shop from Monday to Saturday, 10.30am to 5pm.
Hannah was offered a place on the course free of charge, in return for a review. It is Small City policy to print only true and honest accounts of our experiences and we reserve the right to do this regardless of payment.
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