Sunday, October 26, 2008

Painting a Mailbox

A mailbox with a painted design can be the finishing touch to the outside of your home. A decorative statement about the occupant(s). You may be green-fingered and like designs of vegetables, herbs, or roses to echo the ones around your front door. Animal lovers may have a family pet or a wild animal decorating their mailbox.

Whatever the theme it can be fun and certainly adds to the "curb-appeal" of your home. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist there are many stencils available today that will help you have a stylishly painted mailbox in no time. Just a few craft paints, protective coating, a brush and a little time is all it takes. If you like flowers, a simple daisy design is easy enough for most people to paint free-hand; just a round centre and a simple brushstroke for each petal.

When I paint my mailboxes I prefer to use water based paints and sealants. I use acrylic artist or craft paints as I protect my designs with a clear acrylic top coat. Though, you can buy acrylic paints now specifically for outdoor use. I love to paint animals and as they are not inclined to sit still for the hours it takes me to paint them, I rely on photos as well as making sketches from life.

This is a photo of Lucy, Charlie's walking partner. I painted her in a couple of poses onto a mailbox for my friend. She is a miniature schnauzer, absolutely full of energy and into chasing anything that moves - given half the chance.
I use metal mailboxes that come pre-painted, usually in a white or black finish. Though I did paint a different base colour at one customer's request.

First I make sure the surface is clean and grease free. I lightly rub the surface where I am going to paint the design with very fine sand paper, just enough to slightly dull the sheen. I then transfer my design onto the mailbox. I do this in either of two ways:
(a) sketch my design on paper, scotch tape this to the mailbox in the position I want it to be. Then I hold a piece of transfer paper between the sketch and the box and trace around the outline with a pencil or cocktail stick. Or, (b) draw the design on free hand. To do this I use a stick of charcoal if on white, a white conte crayon or chalk if on a dark surface.
Transfer paper is available in different colours from most craft/art stores, so there are types for both light and dark backgrounds.

Once my design is transferred I then start the fun part! Building up my design using several layers of paint. The first couple just mask in the basic shapes as you can see here.
Then I paint a couple of layers of the base colours. I build up the paint in thin layers as I don't want thick bumpy/impasto effects that might cause the paint to peel.

To make the fur realistic takes several layers and lots of brushstrokes. I try to build up evenly over the whole image. Here a few dark layers on the head are painted and I have started the lighter layers of the body. I continue layering, referring to my reference photos until I am satisfied I have a true likeness. I usually leave well alone for a couple of hours and then come back for another look, maybe the next day! I then check it out with fresh eyes. If I am happy with the painting the mailbox is ready for the next stage.

I usually leave the paint to dry for a whole day before spraying with a protective top coat. I spray the whole of the mailbox with at least six coats of clear gloss UV resistant acrylic top coat. There are several good ones available from craft/art or even hardware stores. I tend to use Krylon or Rustoleum brands.

Before I start preparing to paint I remove the flag that comes with the box if it is already attached and replace after the outer coat is thoroughly dry. I usually allow at least twenty four hours drying time. As you can see above, the result is a unique and beautiful mailbox with just a little time and work.
I painted Lucy on the other side of the mailbox in her "what's over there?" stance. If you like my painting of Lucy you can see more paintings of animals on my decorative hand painted mailboxes page.

Your mailbox will keep looking good for a long time with just a little aftercare. Once the outer protective coat is dry, a little clear car wax will add another layer to protect against weathering. Periodically the box can be gently washed with soap and water to remove surface grime and bird droppings. A spray of acrylic sealer at least once a year will prolong the life and good condition of the artwork. The occasional coat of car wax will add further protection.
If this article has been of interest or help to you, tell your friends!


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