How to Paint a Chippy, Heavily Distressed Finish

Photo by Jacqueline Marque
 One of my favorite pieces of furniture is my sewing table in my guest room.  I discussed my inspiration for the color and the geust room here,  but never discussed the process.

The desk was the ideal candidate for painting;  it was perfect for my purpose, very sturdy and well made, and with a regrettable finish.  The legs were standard 90s fruitwood, and the top was in a contrasting, slightly damaged, mustard crackle finish.  All this added up to a piece I had no qualms about painting. 

Here's the desk before.  I sanded it lightly and wiped it with mineral spirits.  Because I was going for a heavily distressed look, I didn't bother to putty the small imperfections in the top.
Because I was planning to expose the stained finish through layers of paint, I did have to co-ordinate the top to the legs.  I covered the top with a standard faux bois finish (tutorial here), immulating a fruitwood finish with paint, layers of wood stain, and a graining tool.

It's now, after the initial prep is finished and before beginning the actual painting begins when you need to plan for your finished look.   With a real painted antique there are several aspects that give the finish that valued patina.  There is breakdown and fading of the paint, there's the build up of furniture polish, dirt, oil, candle smoke, etc.  There is crazing and cracking of the finish.  There is wear on edges and corners.  There can be physical damage--dings, worm wood holes, gouges, etc.   When you are making a "fauxtique,"   you need to decide which of these things you want to immolate.  I wanted actual chips in the finish (not just sanded edges), and a dark, stained patina suggesting years of wax and grime. 
I started with taping off sections of the stained finish.  I made sure they were irregular like chips in paint and on the places you would expect wear and trauma---at edges, at corners of drawers, around the handle.  You can also use wax, wood glue, putty, etc.  to shield these areas.  The idea is just to create a chip like barrier between the bare wood and the top coats of paint.

I then covered the table in a tinted adhesive primer.  It may look white in the picture, but in reality it was a pale, bluish gray.  I like to use tinted primer, because it serves as the primer and a base layer to contrast with the top coat, saving a step
I then sanded the stable with steel wool.  I like using steel wool, because the metal often reacts with paint finishes to great a burnished, streaky effect.
It was now ready for the greeen.  One thing that can happen to paint over time is an uneven breakdown of pigments, sometimes causing a streaky effect.  I like to make my materials work for me, so to help create this illusion of unstable color, I actually used a mixture of several different paints in the same pan that I purposedly did not mix.

After a couple of streaky coats: 

The nest step is yet more sanding, then time for the real fun.  First, the tape is removed, revealing your "chips."  I lightly sanded around each one to reveal more of the undercoat:
Once I was happy with the chippiness, it was time to add my layers of grime.  I used a light stain for overall color, and added a darker one in crevices and for depth.

Before the stain dried, I used mineral spirits to create water damage and splatters of stain for interest:  

And the finished product, in all it's chippy, dirty, distressed glory!!!

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