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Southern Decor - How to Paint on Wood

Updated on June 26, 2016
Cotton Boll Painting on Wood
Cotton Boll Painting on Wood | Source

Painting the Deep South

I was born and reared in the Deep South, in southern Georgia. Most native southerners are fiercely proud of their roots and heritage, and this feeling is often echoed in their home décor. In many southern homes, you’ll see the walls adorned with images of magnolia blooms, tobacco flowers, cotton bolls, vines of dried peanuts, chickens, or mules. Here in Dixie, we have a warm climate, and flowering plants, trees, and shrubs are abundant through much of the year. The natural beauty of flowers is often brought indoors as a type of art, in the form of paintings, sketches, sculptures, and wall hangings. As a southern artist, I enjoy painting the Deep South. I, along with my husband, who’s also an artist, have painted and sold many works. Until recently, we did almost all our paintings on canvas. Lately, however, I’ve started something new – painting on wood planks that have been stained and glazed to look like barn wood. The paintings are selling like crazy! We’re struggling to keep up with the orders. If you’d like to try your hand at painting on wood and creating your own southern décor or rustic décor, I’m sharing a few tips with you in this article.

Large Sunflower
Large Sunflower | Source

Wood Planks for Painting

We don’t use any special type of wood. We buy our lumber at our hometown Lowe’s. When going through the boards, hubby tries to choose the straightest ones. We don’t really mind the knots, as they add interest and character to rustic décor, in our opinions.

What size boards do we use? We use everything from 1 x 4’s to 1 x 12’s. We use a single 1 x 12 for our small paintings, usually cutting the board to twelve inches or more in length. When we use such a plank for painting, hubby adds two strips of 1 x 4 on the back to help prevent warping.

For larger paintings, we nail several sections on boards together, using two 1 x 4’s across the back in order to hold the planks together. Once all the boards are nailed in place, they’re sanded with a random orbital sander until they’re smooth. The smoother your painting surface is, the smoother the paint will go on.

Blue Daisy
Blue Daisy | Source
Pumpkin | Source

How to Make Barn Wood

If you study real barn wood that’s been exposed to years of weather, you’ll see that it isn’t just one color. It’s usually comprised of different shades of grey, black, and brown. To create this look, we first stain the sanded planks with Minwax stain. We most often use a medium to dark brown stain, like walnut or chestnut. We stain the back and edges, too.

When the stain is completely dry, I make my glaze. It’s easy to do! Just mix your paint – I use chalk paint – half-and-half with water. I use a small bottle with a cap for this purpose. Shake the contents well until it’s thoroughly blended. Typically, I use three different glaze colors to get a barnwood finish: dark grey, light grey, and black.

Using a large paintbrush, apply a coat of black glaze first. While it’s still wet, apply a coat of dark grey glaze over the black. Be sure to paint from one end of a plank to the other, in one motion. Try to keep your lines fairly straight. While the dark grey is still wet, brush on the light grey. Repeat the process until you’re satisfied with the look.

To add even more detail, wait until all the glaze is dry and use a dry-brush technique. Using a very dry brush, dip just the end in some very light grey paint. Thick paint works best for this purpose. Barely touch the brush and paint to the planks, in a forward motion. Experiment until you achieve a proper barn wood look. Allow your planks to dry completely.

Sunflower on Planks
Sunflower on Planks | Source

How to Paint on Wood

Painting on wood really isn’t a lot different than painting on canvas, but there are some subtle differences. For one thing, the colors and shades of the paints you choose might take on a slightly different color against the greys and blacks. Also, unless the wood surface is super smooth, you’ll be painting over little ridges and other surface imperfections. Furthermore, you might need several coats to completely cover the wood tones, but using thicker paint helps overcome this obstacle. For my barn wood paintings, I use artist’s acrylics and chalk paint. For an extra bold look, I outline my image with a black paint pen or with a permanent marker.

If you use water-based paints like I do, they might fade as they dry. Once you finish a section or a layer of paint, set the planks in a place where you can see the entire piece well. As it dries, you’ll be able to see where more paint and more details are needed. From my experience, the best way to get lots of details is to use lots of layers of different shades of paints. Decide where your light source is coming from, and highlight the areas where the light would fall. Don’t forget to add shadows, either.

Sealing your painting protects it and makes the colors more vibrant.
Sealing your painting protects it and makes the colors more vibrant. | Source

Sealing Your Plank Painting

When I sell a painting or get a commission for one, I always ask if the painting will hang indoors or outdoors. Even those that hang indoors will need to be sealed, and those that will be outdoors need to be moisture-proofed.

For indoor paintings, we use satin polyurethane, and for paintings going outdoors, we use spar urethane. Do not use water-based sealers! They might very well make your paint run or smear, even if it’s totally dry. If your paint is dry, applying an oil-based sealer won’t make it run. To apply the sealer, we use a large foam brush and make long, even strokes. Be sure not to leave behind any bubbles.

If your painting is for outdoors, you’ll need to seal every inch of the planks – back, front, and edges. We always seal the front first. That way, once the sealer is dry, we can turn it face-down without having to worry about messing up the painting. While the sealer is drying, make sure the painting is in a clean spot. Dust particles and other debris will immediately stick to the sealer.

Sealer really makes a big difference! Of course, it protects the work, but it does more than that. The sealer enhances the painted image by bringing out the colors, and it somehow seems to add depth.

For rustic decor, use a rope hanger.
For rustic decor, use a rope hanger. | Source

Hanging Your Painting

Once we have completed and sealed a painting, we give the buyer two choices when it comes to hangers. We either place two metal hangers on back, or we use a rustic rope hanger. If you use metal hangers, make sure to use ones that are strong enough to support the plank painting. The large ones I do are really heavy!

If you want rustic décor, you might prefer using a rope hanger. Simply drill two holes at the top of the planks and insert a section of rope. Tie a knot at both ends that are protruding through the holes. The rope makes for very easy hanging!

Starfish Painting on Wood
Starfish Painting on Wood | Source
Peacock Wall Art
Peacock Wall Art | Source
Large Hibiscus Painting
Large Hibiscus Painting | Source

Original Paintings for Sale

If you have some artistic talent, you might want to consider selling your work. Hubby and I enjoy a thriving business, and we enjoy filling orders. We mostly sell locally. We share our works on Facebook , on my home page and on my SouthofParis page, and include the prices of each painting depicted. We also sell paintings and other home décor in a local store. Just recently, I placed several of my paintings on Etsy. The name of my Etsy shop is South of Paris, or Southofparis.

When you first start selling paintings, be sure to keep your prices as low as possible. Offer a number of different subjects and styles, and you’ll quickly discover what people are looking for. That’s really the only way to identify your market. Believe me – you never know what’s going to catch on!

Don’t give up! If you don’t have any success selling your paintings, ask for some honest feedback from friends and family members. If you provide talent, creativity, and originality at a reasonable price, you’ll eventually find your niche.


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    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      3 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Arlene! I sell them in my Etsy shop: Southofparis.

    • Arleen Roja profile image

      Arleen Roja 

      3 years ago from Philippines

      The paintings are simple but stunning!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      These paintings on wood are very intriguing, Holle. I can see why buyers would be attracted to them. Thanks for the easy step by step explanations. I can see the beauty in painting flowers and such. Mules? Not so much. :)

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I love the paintings. You are truly creative.

    • Azure11 profile image

      Marian L 

      5 years ago from UK

      Great tutorial and lovely paintings - I've been meaning to do some painting on wood for ages and have some old floorboards that I wanted to use in my shed so I must get to it!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      5 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Love your colorful style they are beautiful. Wish you could paint a few guitars for me. We are stripping a 1950 down, and not sure what to do after that. I like all of your work.

    • Anna C Taylor profile image


      5 years ago from Around the World

      Thank you for this! It's exactly the kind of project I've been looking for.

      Also that sunflower painting is gorgeous!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It's great that your work is so popular and keeping you busy! Thanks much for sharing some delightful samples, and for the many tips you've included. It's like chatting with you in your studio. :) Though I like all you've displayed here, the cotton boll is distinctive for this type of art--a neat subject for anyone with a heart for things southern!

    • georgialgal1984 profile image

      Penny Pincher 

      5 years ago from United States

      What beautiful wall art you've made! I like them all and hope that your new business adventure will be successful! Take care and enjoy your day~ :)

    • CrisSp profile image


      5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Love this hub and all the artworks. Thanks for the tip. I'd love to try my hands on wood painting and perhaps add them to my collection and for selling as well. Great ideas! Perfect timing since I just opened my new Home Decor online store.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub, Holly. I loved those flower and plant designs on the wood, including the cotton and pumpkin. You're so talented with paint!

    • profile image

      Bob Bamberg 

      5 years ago

      Really good stuff, Holle, and the writing is clear and easy to follow. You done good, teach. Regards, Bob


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