I’m a big fan of painted woodenware and have been experimenting for a while now with different recipes of homemade paint. The egg based tempera I used on my spindleback chair was lovely but takes several weeks to dry properly so I’ve been researching making milk paint. This is a soft paint that covers well and ages beautifully as the paint wears and develops a patina. Milk paint was traditionally made by souring the milk to separate out the curds which make the base for the paint however I’ve been looking for a simpler alternative which is easy to make up in small quantities. In the US powdered milk paint is available in various colours which are simply mixed up with water and this is what I want for my own work. I can then make up a dry batch with the colour I want and then mix up just the quantity needed knowing it will be the same shade each time.
The recipe I’ve been using is based on powdered milk paint which you buy in the supermarket along with bicarbonate of soda from the baking aisle. Lime is sometimes used but I prefer bicarbonate of soda as it’s safer, easy to buy in small quantities and some pigments are not compatible with lime. You can also use borax which is available in chemists and makes a good alternative to the bicarb.
Here’s my recipe:
- 4 parts milk powder
- 1 part bicarbonate of soda
- 1 part pigment
- 6 parts cold water
Simply mix the powders together then add the water and stir well. Leave the paint to sit for 1 hour then stir again and paint. Milk paint dries quickly so don’t hang around once you’ve started using it and be careful not go back over areas as you can wipe the paint back off making a mess. Despite it being touch dry in 15mins of so, if you’re painting on extra coats make sure you let the paint dry fully, ideally overnight, as again the paint will come off if it’s not properly cured. I’ve been using earth pigments as I like the colours and using natural pigments seems to fit better with milk paint though artist’s pigments will work and have some really vibrant colours which are appealing.
The sample in the photo is a piece of dry ash painted using red ochre pigment. You can see the difference between a single layer and two coats of paint. In the top corner I’ve painted over the red with black, a traditional combination for windsor chairs.
There’s still plenty more to learn about working with milk paints so if you’ve suggestions or advice, share them in the comments.