You must have heard of the phrase "pride of craftsmanship" and
this applies to everything we do as decorative artists. Not just
the painting of a design, but all the steps that lead to the transformation
of an otherwise plain object into your "work of art". While
basecoating may seem like a very manual task, it is actually one
of the most important steps. A badly basecoated piece will not only
(sadly!) reduce the quality of your finished project - it also shortens
the life of your brushes.
What is a badly basecoated piece?
- Visible holes and dents on the surface
- Uneven thickness of paint - thick here and thin there
- Lumps, bumps and ridges on the surface
- Ridges at angles and corners
- Visible brush marks
- Finger prints!
- Visible brush hairs!
- Rough to the touch
- Impurities on the surface
- Not enough coats of paint - MDF is visible
- Sections left unpainted
- Hardware (hinges or catches) covered with paint
Most beginning decorative artists hate basecoating and some wish
they didn't have to do it at all! Well, there's only one way out
of it - don't treat it like a chore and learn to ENJOY it! To enjoy
it, you MUST learn how to do it right.
Take your time
Rule number one - never basecoat in a hurry. To enjoy something
is to take your time. Relax. Plan in advance of a project you want
to paint. Or well before a class you are attending. If you wait till
the night before a class to basecoat, you stress yourself unnecessarily!
Hurrying also means taking short cuts and sometimes being sloppy.
Being relaxed is the first step to enjoying something!
Prepare your work area and supplies
Lay out all the tools you need for basecoating a project. When you
have everything you need where you need them, you will also be more
relaxed. If you haven't laid out your supplies, you will be leaving
your loaded brush and partially painted surface to look for things
and they will start to dry. What do you need to do?
- Clear the space on your table of things you don't need
- Lay out all the things you need
- screwdriver (yes, screwdriver!)
- palette knife
- hairdryer - plug it in
- paper towels or tack cloth
- jar of water
- brush basin
- basecoat colour (do you have enough?)
- flow medium
- basecoating brush, foam brush or sponge roller
- small dish for basecoat colour or your wet palette (more
about this below)
- greaseproof paper
- wet-wipes to clean your hands if you get paint on them
- Give yourself room to work
- Postpone everything else! You really don't want to be interrupted
when you're basecoating..
Fill all holes and repair dents
Its very important that you check your wood or MDF surface for nail
holes or dents before you basecoat it. When buying woodfiller, choose
one that is suitable for indoors and outdoors and one that specifically
says "suitable for staining". To fill nail holes, apply
woodfiller using your metal palette knife. Don't just try to cover
the hole but start from the area surrounding the hole. Dry - you
can use a hairdryer for this. Once its completely dry, sand with
#600 grit sandpaper so that the filled area is flush with the surface.
Woodfiller shrinks when it dries so take a look and see if you need
to fill it again. Do so and repeat the drying and sanding. Wipe away
the dust using a dry paper towel and wipe only in one direction.
Use the right basecoating tools
The basic basecoating tool is a 1" flat brush. Smaller surfaces
may require a smaller brush - in general, use the biggest brush you
can for the surface you are basecoating.
If you haven't tried basecoating with a small sponge roller, you
should - it works wonders. Get a good quality 2" sponge roller
from a hardware store or decorative painting supplier. I enjoy basecoating
more when I basecoat using a sponge roller - its fast, paint is spread
evenly, no brush marks and certainly no ridges plus it gives an excellent
eggshell finish. I highly recommend basecoating with a sponge roller.
Of course its also great for large surfaces like trays etc. You may
not be able to use the roller for all woodpieces, e.g. a small box
or other item, and it certainly doesn't do corners very well - and
for these tasks you will still need to use your basecoating brush.
To seal or not to seal?
There are so many different views on whether you should apply sealer
to the surface before basecoating but I follow these simple
- If your surface is made of wood, apply one coat of acrylic sealer
IF you intend to stain the wood so that the wood accepts the stain
- It is not necessary to apply sealer to the wood if you intend
to basecoat it with paint. The two or three coats of paint you
apply will sufficiently seal the wood. Varnishing when you finish
project further seals the wood.
- If your surface is made of MDF, it is not necessary to seal it
before basecoating as the paint will do the job. Similarly, varnishing
when you finish your project further seals the item.
- If your project is meant to be placed outdoors and you won't be
varnishing it, seal the item and add sealer to all the paints you
are using to decorate the project.
- If you feel that you just MUST seal your surface, whether wood
or MDF, or if you don't know whether you intend to paint or stain
the wood, or whether you are placing the item indoors or outdoors,
then by all means, seal it.
Use the right paint consistency
If you're basecoating with a brush, you can usually use paint directly
from the bottle, jar or tube, but if you're basecoating with a roller
sponge, you need a thinner consistency of paint. I prefer to use
flow medium instead of water to thin the paint down because water
lightens the colour of your basecoat whereas flow medium doesn't.
Even if you're basecoating with a brush you'll find that the brush
moves better when you add a little flow medium to the paint. When
using flow medium, mix it with the basecoat colour using your palette
knife, not your brush.
Its disastrous to basecoat with paint that has been thinned down
too much! Read the instructions on the bottle of flow medium you
are using to get an idea of how much to mix with your paint.
Check to ensure that your paint is not lumpy. Make sure dried bits
of paint from the screw cap, bottle cover or rim has not fallen into
your paint puddle - this is how you get lumps in your basecoat. Remove
it from your puddle. If you notice it when you have applied the paint
on your piece, lift it with the corner of your brush and quickly
paint the section again to smoothen it.
Sand between coats
If you have applied sealer, sand the surface before you apply the
first layer of paint or stain. Sand after the first coat of paint
has dried and apply another coat. If you're satisfied with the result
and the coverage, stop here and do not sand anymore. If you need
to apply a third coat, sand again and then paint. Do not sand after
the third coat.
Why sand after every coat of paint? Because every time you apply
a water-based coat of paint on your surface it raises the grain -
that's what you feel when you run your fingers over the surface you
have just basecoated. Sanding between coats removes the roughness
of the previous coat and since you are painting on a smoother coat,
the next coat will be much more smooth than the one before. This
is why I paint three coats of paint regardless - by the third coat
- after sanding the first two coats, the surface is smooth yet has
sufficient tooth to paint on.
Remove all metal hardware
The worst thing you can do is to apply your basecoat paint over
hardware - such as hinges, catches etc - on a box! I advocate removing
all hinges and catches and keeping them in a safe place - preferably
some place you will remember!. I only fix them back after I varnish
the project. Some boxes come with the hinges or catches nailed on
instead of screwed on - you can't remove them. In this case, apply
masking tape over the hardware neatly and carefully basecoat the
area around the hardware.
Don't be lazy
and basecoat only the top of a plate, for example, and leave the
bottom bare, or paint the outside of a box and not
the inside and bottom! Its important that you basecoat every part
of your item because especially for MDF, the paint actually seals
the surface. MDF is "medium density fibreboard" so if you
haven't sealed it completely with paint, over time moisture will
fibreboard will expand. Goodbye, painted piece! If you're decorating
a wooden item, you need not basecoat the bottom or inside, if you
so wish, although I would suggest that as pride of craftsmanship,