Preparing Your Carving for Paint

Finishing for Beginners / Get Started Carving

Preparing Your Carving for Paint

Choose the right technique for a perfect finish

by Vicki Rhodes
Carving by Dennis Thornton

This article was first published in issue 45 of Woodcarving Illustrated.

Many carvers paint their work with acrylic paints. Acrylic paints clean up with water while wet, dry quickly, and are waterproof when fully cured. For best results, and to ensure the longevity of your painted finish, seal your carving prior to painting.

Preparing for the Sealer

The surface of the carving must be smooth and clean before you apply the sealer. If you sand your work, be sure to work your way up to at least 220-grit sandpaper. Remove all of the sanding dust using a soft brush or short bursts of canned air. The canned air helps remove dust in hard-to-reach areas. Do not use a tack cloth. Tack cloths can leave a residue that interferes with sealers, paints, and stains.

Sealing Before a Paint Wash

A light sealer, such as Jo Sonja’s clear glaze medium, helps prevent thin washes of paint or stain from blotching. The glaze seals the wood slightly and allows the wood to absorb the stain or wash evenly. Apply the clear glaze to a piece of scrap wood and allow it to dry. Apply a thin wash of acrylic paint. If the surface does not absorb the thinned color, the glaze sealed the surface too much, making it slick. Mix one part glaze with one part Jo Sonja flow medium, apply it to the scrap, and test the sealed area with thinned paint. Softer woods will absorb the sealer easily and require a thick sealer, while harder woods require you to thin the sealer more.

Decide which sealing mixture you prefer and apply it to your carving. Allow the mixture to dry and brush your fingers over the sealed surface. If the sealer raises the grain, sand any rough spots with 220-grit sandpaper. Apply your paint washes or stain.

Sealing Before Opaque Paints

If you plan to use opaque paint to finish your carving, use a pallet knife to thoroughly mix one part Jo Sonja all-purpose sealer with two parts artist or background colors. You can use one color to apply a base coat to the entire carving or mix the sealer with different colors for the first coat in each area.

This method prepares the wood in one step and makes it easy to apply the final colors. Applying a base coat mixed with sealer is also useful if you plan to use a dry brush technique on the carving.

Whether you apply a single-color base coat or mix the sealer with various colors for different areas, apply the paint and sealer mixture with a brush. Make sure this initial coating is smooth. To make it easier to get a smooth coat, you can thin the mixture slightly with water and apply two thin coats.  If you do not allow the base coat to dry between applications, the paint may lift.

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