A style of colorful folk art, tole painting first appeared in America on inexpensive metal housewares such as serving trays, teapots, canisters and other functional pieces. Themes often include floral, stars and stripes, animals and geometric shapes, and a combination of these motifs can create a narrative and sense of whimsy. Today's tole painters make their canvases out of any kind of common object—wood or metal—and work at all levels of ability. Professional tole painters might intimidate beginners with their practiced brush strokes, but anyone can produce a tole style with a set of acrylic paints, chisel brushes and plastic templates for perfect shaping.
Start with a plain wooden birdhouse from a craft store, farmer's market or make one yourself. Choose a theme such as shabby chic, Americana, Pennsylvania Dutch or 1950s geometric and use its parameters when selecting a color palette and templates. If you are going for a cottage look, for example, you'll want to work with neutral tones and floral or botanical shapes. Make sure to buy enough paint to provide a range of color choices as you work.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Tools & Materials
Outdoor acrylic paints
Sheet of paper
Folk art design templates
Small foam paint roller
5-10 disposable plates (or professional paint palette)
Work table covering
8-10 ounces water
Small can of polyurethane (optional)
Step 1: Use the Paint Roller and Unpack Brushes
Choose a base color and use the foam roller to completely cover the birdhouse. Use the paintbrush to reach into narrow areas and edges. While the house is drying, unpack your brush set and arrange the brushes in the workspace. Place the sponge, water and paper towels nearby.
Step 2: Pour Acrylic Paint and Test Blend on Paper
Choose a template and apply it to the house, using the ruler for perfect alignment. If working with plastic templates, you might be able to stick them in place individually. You can also use a pencil to draw in the design. Once the design is in place, pour two shades of the same color of paint, one lighter than the other, onto a disposable plate. For example, you might pair a mint green with a grass green or a baby pink with a deep rose. The two shades should not intersect, but should sit closely together. Select a chisel brush (one with a flat end) and dip one corner in the darker shade and the other corner in the lighter shade. Test the blend by drawing a straight line on the sheet of paper.
Step 3: Allow Template to Dry
Fill in the areas of the template that require the color blend you just created, curving the brush slightly to reveal the gradient. Make sure to cover the shape completely, dabbing in cracks and corners. Allow a few minutes to dry before carefully removing the template. Clean the brush or choose a new brush and repeat the process with a new blend, filling in all template shapes.
Step 4: Distress the Edges
If desired, use a wide flat chisel brush and a paint blend to age or distress the edges of the object. Keep the brush dry and use pressure to work the pigment into the wood, combining colors in a spontaneous manner. Keep the distressing lighter on the edges than on corners.
Step 5: Add Embellishments and Allow Time to Dry
Use a small pointed brush to perfect the edges of your design and add specks inside flowers. Add any remaining design features such as subtle border patterns, scoll embellishments, or text. Add your name and date on the bottom edge of the birdhouse. Let the house dry overnight and consider an application of one to two coats of polyurethane before hanging it outdoors.
Now that you’ve provided your neighborhood birds with a charming new home, try tole painting on plaques, footstools, garden ornaments and flower pots. No one will tole paint exactly like you, so every piece you make is a truly unique work of folk art.