I just love the look of vintage french typography on furniture and wall plaques that I’m seeing everywhere right now! Have you seen furniture painted in that yummy chalk paint with it’s soft antique waxed surface? Wouldn’t you love to know how you can create that same look? I did and so I experimented and found ways to recreate that look and I wanted to share with you how I did it. I picked up a wooden frame box that we sell at Rogers Gardens and was inspired to not only recreate it with these finishes but also to use the box’s glass frame to make a shadowbox that shows off some small collected pieces to add to the vintage feel.
I’m going to show you how to create this look and with these techniques you can transform any item into a beautiful vintage looking French inspired piece of art.
You won’t believe how easy this is to do!
There are no special skills or tools required and you may already have many of the supplies on hand. If not they are all easily available at your nearest craft and hardware stores. Let’s get started!
You will need the following items to complete this project:
- Wood Frame Box – as seen in the “before” picture above, found at Rogers Gardens
- Blue Painters Tape (I prefer the type with the orange label on the inside of the roll, but any will work just as well)
- Sand paper in medium and fine grit
- Paint brushes – flat artists brushes in large and medium sizes (usually found together in inexpensive variety packs)
- White Gesso
- Black Chalkboard Paint (This is the paint that you use to make a chalkboard, NOT the same as CHALK paint*)
- Acrylic Craft paint or artists acrylic in the following colors – Black, Gray, Antique White, Burnt Umber (optional for antique glaze)
- Graphics of your choice for the transfers printed on a standard home printer (laser or inkjet will work)
- Graphic scrapbook paper, or any printed paper in design of your choice
- Mod Podge or Artists Soft Gel Matte Medium (found at art and craft stores)
- Matte Acrylic Varnish (found at art and craft stores)
- Soft Paste Wax (optional)
- Silicone Based Adhesive (for ephemera that needs an extra strong hold like keys)
- X-acto knife
- Metal straightedge or ruler
- Cutting Mat
*Chalk paint can be used for both the base and top coat colors. If you use it then you don’t need to prime the surface. Pick a charcoal gray and a soft, warm white as your colors. I chose not to use chalk paint because of the expense of each quart, I only needed a small amount, and because I knew I could create the same look with paint that is more easily available. ChalkBOARD paint can be bought at any hardware store and creates the same surface texture. Even through the craft paint layer. Weird, right?
Prep and Paint the Outside of the Box
- Using blue painters tape mask off the gold frame from the edge where it meets the box and up to completely cover the frame. Remove the glass and set aside.
- Lightly sand all exposed outside surfaces with a fine grit sandpaper.
- Prime with gesso or primer (unless using chalk paint in which no primer is needed) painting in one direction.
- Mix a small amount of black chalkboard paint with gray craft or artists acrylic to make a charcoal gray.
- Using the large brush paint an even coat over the outside of the box brushing in one direction and let dry. By painting in one direction you will create the smoothest surface.
- Sand lightly and apply one more light, even coat. Let dry.
- Apply a coat of the antique white craft paint over the charcoal gray paint. To cover the gray you will need at least 2-3 coats depending on your preference of coverage. Allow a bit of the gray to show through in a few small areas. The gray base coat will have a very matte texture and will want to grab onto the first antique white layer creating an uneven coat. Avoid this by watering the white down a little for a thin first coat followed by a normal coat after that. Let dry thoroughly, overnight preferably.
- Using the rough grit sandpaper with a light touch, scuff up the edges and corners for a worn appearance.
Prepare Transfer Images
- Choose images that you want to transfer onto your box. You can use any printable image. I found these amazing graphics at thegraphicsfairy.com.
- Download your images or scan if you have something in hand to use.
- Open in a photo editing software where you can scale the size and rotate (If you don’t have Photoshop you can use any default photo editing software your computer came with.) You want to flip any image with words to reverse (photo 1), otherwise when transferring, the words will read backwards. Size the image to fit the area you want the transfer to. Pick something long and skinny for the sides of the box, and more square for the top corners.
- Print out a few copies of each image (to have extra in case something happens to one)
- Cut out the image as close to the edges as possible.
Transfer Images onto the Box
- Coat the surface of the image with Mod Podge by brushing on an even layer with the medium flat brush (photo 2). Lightly place the image face down onto the surface and make any small adjustments on placement.
- Place a sheet of plastic over the entire area and burnish down with a plastic card or straight plastic edged item. Push out the bubbles and excess Mod Podge from the center out. Rub down to ensure contact of the entire image (photo 3).
- Remove the plastic and with a damp cloth gently wipe away the excess Mod Podge avoiding the transfer. Let dry for 24 hours or at least overnight.
- Gently moisten the entire image with a fingertip dipped in water. Slowly begin to rub the surface and you will find the paper will start to roll off. Use as little water as possible. Continue to rub off as much as the paper as possible, adding dabs of water as needed. Take your time and be careful not to rub down so far as to remove the image itself. If there is a little bit of paper fiber left on top, that is ok (photo 4).
- Once as much of the paper fiber has been removed as possible, brush an even coat of Matte Varnish over the entire surface. Let dry completely (photo 5).
- Using the fine grit sandpaper, gently sand over the image to create an aged look (photo 6). Re-coat with the varnish.
Optional Antique Glaze
I use the term “glaze” loosely. It is just watered down paint that dries very quickly, an actual glaze medium would slow down the drying time. If you are not used to blending or applying an antiquing method I recommend practicing a bit on a scrap of wood painted with the same layers of paint that was used on the box. Mix a bit of Raw Umber craft or acrylic paint with water to create a glaze. It should be the consistency of skim milk. Using a soft cloth, blot some of the glaze on the corners and blend out toward the center of the sides until you get the desired effect (photo 7). The glaze will darken while drying so if you find it is turning too dark, simply wet the cloth with water and lightly wipe off the glaze until it is to your liking.
Final Protective Coat
- Coat the entire piece with an even layer of the Matte Varnish (photo 8). Let dry.
- Apply a thin layer of paste wax, let sit for 10-15 minutes, buff to a shine.
Finishing the Frame
- Remove the masking tape that has been protecting the frame.
- Grab your blue tape and mask off the area of the box that surrounds the frame.
- Pick up a little bit of the gold craft paint with a small brush and blot over the exposed gold area of the frame (photo 9). You just want to add a little brightness to the overall frame, you’re not trying to cover every bit. Let dry.
- Coat the entire frame with a heavy layer of the White Gesso (photo 10). Working quickly use a soft cloth to wipe off the excess to reveal the gold underneath (photo 11). Remove as much of the Gesso as possible, you can always add more later but you can’t take it off once dry.
Finishing the Inside
- Measure the inside bottom of the box. Measure out the space on the graphic paper centering it on the patterned area you would most like to feature. For a perfect fit, use your cutting mat, Xacto knife and metal straight edge to cut out the square.
- Measure the sides and add ½” to the width and ¼” to the height. Cut out 2 sides and fold up all the edges except for the top ¼” using the straight edge as a guide. Test for fit and make any adjustments. Make 2 more sides but with the extra fold on the bottom edge only.
- Using Mod Podge or Gel Matte Medium brush the back of the first side to be fit in. The first and second pieces to apply would be the opposite sides with the three folded edges. The next pieces in would be the two with just the one folded edge. You will end up with all the walls covered and a flap on the bottom all the way around. The other flaps will have been covered while attaching in this order. Lastly brush Mod Podge* or Gel Matte Medium on the back of the square and glue onto the bottom being aware of which direction is “up” on the pattern. *If using Mod Podge, the paper may want to warp. That is ok, just keep smoothing it out until it holds flat. Let dry
- Cover all papered surfaces with a thin layer of Mod Podge or Matte Varnish. Let dry.
- Clean the glass thoroughly and replace into the frame. If you decide you would like to use the box with a picture in the frame use the original backing. If you want only a window attach the glass by using the silicone adhesive on the corners and placing in the original opening. Let dry overnight.
That’s it for Version 1. You now have a beautiful trinket box to put jewelry, keepsakes, or even just leave empty and display in a place of honor!
Version 2 – Shadowbox
If you feel more adventurous and like to wear your “Craftin’ Like A Boss” t-shirt while you work (or is that only me?) here are the steps you will take to create the shadowbox effect as seen in version 2.
You will need these additional supplies:
- Graphic Scrapbook Paper (your choice for the background of the shadowbox)
- Graphic Scrapbook Paper (in a coordinating pattern for the inside lid of the box, flip-side of the shadowbox)
- Mat board (the kind used for picture framing, found at a craft or art store)
- Charms and ephemera of your choice
- Weldbond White Glue (found near the mosaic tile supplies or glue section in most craft stores) or any other strong glue you like that works for paper.
- Small scraps of foam-core board, or just use extra Mat Board to cut, stack and glue small pieces together .
Create the base for the shadow box
You will first make a new lid for the inside which will be the base of the shadowbox.
- Measure the depth of the inset where the glass sits and width of each side and cut pieces out of the mat board. These will create the sides of the shadow box when the top is glued on. Try for fit in the long sides first then insert the short sides (photo 1). Label which side of the box will be the “top” and label the back of each piece of mat board top, bottom, left, right. Lay them out in the order they will touch edges.
- Measure the interior dimensions to the first inside lip of the box. Cut this size square out of a piece of mat board (photo 2). Notice the edges and how it fits leaving space for the box to close properly. This is the height to which the stays will hold the board flush to in a later step.
- Cut out the background for your shadow box out of the graphic paper for each piece of the mat board and adhere with Mod Podge or Gel Matte Medium (photo 3 & 4 shows how I laid out the pieces to keep track of how I wanted the pattern on the paper to line up once inside the box)
- Cut out the paper that will be on the inside of the box and adhere to the back of the mat board square which will look like this when done:
- Arrange your charms or ephemera in the manner that you would like to show through the window. Hold the box lid over it to check if everything is showing and is not touching the glass. Make adjustments as needed for a perfect fit.
- Once you are happy with the arrangement attach all items with Weldbond glue or the silicone adhesive (best for metal objects like keys) onto the matte board.
- Before the lid is glued in you must first attach stays to create a place to glue the matte board onto for a strong hold. Do this by cutting several pieces of the foam-core and stacking to fit the height from the bottom of the lid of the box to matte board so that the lid sits flush to the edge as mentioned in an earlier step. Glue the layers of the stacks together. Glue into the bottom of the lid spaced out equally. Let dry.
- Coat the tops of the stacks and the edges (lightly) of the mat board pieces in the center with Weldbond. Set your shadowbox in place and press onto the stays. Let dry overnight. You can place a book on top to hold it down firmly as it dries.
There you have it! I love how this turned out and I hope I have inspired you to try this and also to see what other furniture or accessories you can apply these techniques to. Here’s a few more close ups to get you fired up!