How to Distress Painted Items (Tipsy Tuesday #20}

Well, folks, it has been a long time since I did a Tipsy Tuesday post, and this one should probably be called Tipsy Wednesday. But in my defense, I am writing it on Tuesday. Winking smile  Sooo, wanna’ learn how to distress painted items? Or how I do it, anyway….


How to distress painted decor |


I’m sure there are many opinions on how to do this, so don’t get too upset if my opinion steps on your toes a bit. Smile Though I’m demonstrating on a decorative item, I use these same techniques for distressing furniture.

Step 1

First step, of course, is to paint the item if it isn’t already. I almost always prime, then paint. I wanted dark accents, so I primed with a gray primer, then spray painted with Rust-Oleum Heirloom White.


Prime then spray paint with Rust-Oleum Heirloom White |


Step 2

Where do you see details and curves that you’d like to enhance?

It’s all about the details, so to enhance curves, sand at the peak of the curve. For small pieces or tight spaces, you’ll have more control by using a small piece of sandpaper and rubbing in the desired spot with your thumb.


Choosing Areas to Distress |


Also lightly sand raised areas to accent the yummy details.

For flat areas, be very intentional about where you sand. This is where we may part ways in our techniques and opinions. I personally don’t like the random leopard spot technique of distressing. I generally don’t distress flat surfaces at all, or only lightly if it would be a natural wear area.

Sand at corners, which naturally get bumped and bruised.

Then, look at the edges much like you would look at setting up a pretty grouping of decorative items. In other words, don’t space your sanded areas at equal distances. Group your sanded spots sort of like you would group those decorative items- a couple of areas close together, then another spaced a little farther away. Also, try to sand an odd number of areas on each side. It’s just more pleasing to the eye to have 3 or 5 “enhanced” areas rather than 2 or 4, etc.


How to distress painted items |


Step back and see if there are other areas you’d like to highlight. It’s always a good idea to step back regularly to check your progress. Kind of like plucking your eyebrows- it’s easy to get carried away and cause a disaster if you don’t lean back and take a look at the overall effect.

Step 3

Ok, now it’s time to clean off the sanding dust and give your piece a protective coat. For small or intricate items like this, I use a spray acrylic, usually in a matte or satin finish. Since furniture will likely get more wear and tear, it’s a good idea to apply more than one coat of polyurethane or polycrylic.


How to Distress Decor |


You may notice that some distressed items just seem more attractive than others, but you can’t quite put your finger on why. It could be that the distressing was much more carefully planned than one might think.

So, think about how a piece would wear naturally and what details you would like to highlight. Then try these tips on how to distress painted items, and let me know what you think. Or do you like the spotted leopard look? It’s ok, we can still be friends. Smile



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  1. Christine says:

    Just catching up on blog posts and saw this. I thought I was the only one that didn’t like the “leopard effect.”
    And too much scraping doesn’t make it better.
    Nice piece!

  2. Weird! I had no idea there were design principles involved in this process. Did you figure them out yourself or get advice from an experienced practitioner?

    I’ve never seen this technique in any of the other decor projects on, the crafting/DIY community I’m part of. Would you consider joining and posting directions? I’m pretty sure at least five of us would rush off and try it immediately.

  3. Linda Hayes says:

    The proof is in the result. These easy to understand directions make perfect sense when I see the “before” and “after.” Now, that’s making it simple! Thanks.

  4. This came out Perfect!! You really are Talented I Love your work!!
    Thank You

  5. Such a pretty piece, Sheila! I think it takes me longer to distress a piece than it does to paint it up. : ) I try to take into account where it might wear naturally or what areas of detailing I want to stand out. I don’t distress too often, but sometimes there are pieces that just call out for it.

  6. Sheila, great tips, as always! Your pieces always have just the right amount of distressing! I love the iron work now!

  7. Great tip, my one and only attempt was a huge disaster and looked horrid! Yours always look lovely

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