Chalk-based painting: Give that old piece of furniture new life

News-DemocratMarch 30, 2014 

Mary Hummert, artist and owner of Pairabelle's at 200 W. Main St. in Belleville, Ill., shows how to give a worn mirror a European patinaed look with a little chalk-based paint.


Mary Hummert likes everything about chalk-enhanced paint -- the ease with which it covers just about any surface, how fast it dries, its range of colors and, best of all, its results.

"I've been doing this for a long time," she said of painting furniture. "Pieces that used to take a week now take a few hours. I like the ease and quickness. The effect you can obtain with fossil paints rocks my world."

Sunday afternoon she shared her enthusiasm with three women who took a furniture painting class, Project Paintology, at her shop, Pairabelles, in downtown Belleville.

Each lugged a small piece of furniture through the store, crowded with examples of Mary's work -- a church pew painted red, a warm pink three-drawer chest with a raised cream stencil, a transformed soft gray china cabinet.

They set their pieces atop long work tables in a small studio, then began the art of transforming, using water-based van Gogh Fossil paint and surface techniques.

"There's no sanding, no priming," said Mary, 50, wearing a paint smock over her jeans. "You will get coverage with one coat."

And go home three hours later with an "upcycled" piece.

Fossil paint or chalk paint has been around since cave drawing. It was used in the Sistine Chapel. The versatile limestone-based organic van Gogh paint contains pigment and magnesium or calcium carbonate (chalk). It's similar to the popular Annie Sloan brand.

"Limestone is microscopic fossillzed seashells," said Mary. "You're actually painting with ancient sea urchins. You can use it outside or inside. You can paint metal, plastic, stone, brick or concrete.

"Look at photos from homes in Europe. You won't see chipping, flaking paint."

Mary offered tips such as: Paint at a 45-degree angle, work while the paint is wet and don't be skimpy, put on a nice thick coat.

Make a mistake? "Take a wet scrubby and it becomes an eraser."

"You will find your own technique," she said.

"Like I am all over the place," said Hattie Hayes, a retired nurse.

Erica Shoup, 29, a lover of brights, considered yellow to cover a shiny round wood end table she picked up for $12 at an O'Fallon antique store. She chose a soft brown shade called "Serenity" to match the colors in her house.

"I like that you can make it into your own piece," said Erica, who works in the insurance field. "I'll probably put it in my bedoom. It looks like a nice little end table."

Erica met Mary at O'Fallon's Strange Folk Festival where Mary had a booth of painted furniture. Erica liked the look and followed her on Facebook.

Now, she follows her in person.

"I came in and had never used the paint before. We talked about it. I bought two jars. I've painted three things already."

The class gave her a chance to pick up techniques.

"I'm always learning," said Erica. "There are so many awesome colors. I am a fan of the whole color palette."

Mary sells 25 van Gogh colors.

"You can water it down to do a color wash," said Mary. "You can marbleize or distress. If Erica wants to marbleize the top, I can teach her how."

Erica's favorite piece in the shop is the red pew Mary acquired from an abandoned church.

"It has got its flaws because of its age," said Mary. "I wanted more of a country look."

She painted the bench, $279, with milk-based Safe paint that has "a mind of its own," and produces an aged crackly shabby finish.

Mary, interested in antiques since she was a kid, has been rescuing furniture since she was in her 20s. She calls her painted pieces "upcycled home decor" and describes her style as "Old World European with a French Country influence."

She urges folks to give a new look to stuff they find on the side of the road or in grandma's basement.

"That's what you can do with this paint," she said. "I painted a plastic mirror frame from the 1970s. Nobody wanted it, but with this crazy paint, the metamorphosis is great.

"Get out there and rescue and save this stuff from landfills, It's part of the green movement."

Mary, who lives in St. Libory with her husband Dennis, has two daughters, Tori, 27, and Maggie, 18. She has worked as a legal assistant for 27 years.

She started selling furniture from a cottage behind her house in 1997. She had a shop in St. Libory and two in Okawville before opening Pairabelles in Belleville last August. (She found the word "Pairabelles" on an old tobacco tin, and liked it.)

Mary began using the van Gogh line of no-prep paint after its maker sent her a sample. She likes its smooth, buttery finish, and the natural beeswax used to seal, protect and add a bit of shine.

"After a 30-day cure time, it will never scrape off."

Hattie's project that day was a small vintage side table she painted a rich brown to cover an uneven gilding design.

"I want it to look aged, but a darker color," said Hattie, who worked 35 years in the operating room at Barnes Jewish. "My girlfriend was throwing it away. I said I will take it."

Hattie, of Belleville, rescues so much furniture that she has a trailer-full. She'll likely be back.

"My bedroom is Old World French Provencal with curves and stuff," she said. "I've got a spot where I hung a picture that I found. This side table will be perfect for underneath it -- and it was free."

Patti Haddick gave a fern stand a new look.

"I have had the piece for years," said Patti, director of home services at St. John's Community Care in Collinsville. "I don't remember where it came from.

"I used to tole paint. It kind of reminds me of the base coat for tole painting."

Her base color was Revenge Black, followed by Parisian Gray. Patti seemed like a natural, rubbing the stand's edges to distress the piece and let black show through where it would naturally wear.

"I'll put it either in the living room or kitchen," she said. "and I may put one of my orchids on it."

If you go:

What: Pairabelles, a shop that offers resurfaced furniture and home decor items, one-of-a-kind upcycled jewelry, purses and sculpture, painting classes and supplies.

Where: 200 W. Main, Belleville.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 pm. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Classes: Paintology, $50, a way to check out different finishes; Project Paintology, $75, include paints, finishing wax and Mary's expertise on how to redo a small piece of furniture. "You get classroom privileges," said Mary. "You get me for problems. 'Could I? Should I? Oh, my gosh, what did I do?'"

Paint supplies: van Gogh paints come in three sizes, 4 ounces for $12; 6 ounces for $18; and a quart for $40. Mary also sells other paint products.

Information: Call 618 977-5779 or email

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