What Is Chalk Paint?

Yes, it's different than chalkBOARD paint—here's what you need to know.

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Christopher Drake

No, it's not chalkboard paint, nor a sidewalk chalk substitute with which children can paint in the driveway: chalk paint is a versatile color treatment used by designers on furniture, fabric, and more. Though the substance now has many imitators, the original—Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan—is the invention of British artist Sloan, who developed the product when, while working as an artist three decades ago, she was frustrated with other options on the market.

"What was around at the time was either watercolor or temperas that would do one thing, either flat or watercolor, or there were household paints that were very, very strong or artist acrylics, also very strong," Sloan tells House Beautiful. "It was hard to work with them because some of them looked to plastic."

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Furniture chalk painted by Sloan.
Christopher Drake

So, she developed her own formula, mixing a trademarked concoction in a carefully curated selection of colors. Now, her chalk paint is a go-to resource for designers and DIYers alike. Who better, we figure, to answer all of our most pressing questions on the subject than its inventor herself. Read on for Sloan's expertise.

What makes chalk paint different from other paints?

The water-based product can be applied with no sanding or primer, making it an easy option for vintage pieces. Once the paint is applied, it's topped with a wax to give it its unique sheen.

How do I apply it?

After you've applied two coats of chalk paint (or one for a more distressed look), let the paint dry, then finish off with wax, using a wax brush, let dry, and buff with a cotton cloth. Or, for a more high-gloss look, you can top off your chalk paint with lacquer.

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Annie Sloan.
Harriet Matthews

What should I put it on?

One of the best things about chalk paint is that it will take to a wide range of surfaces. "It will stick to most everything," says Sloan. "Obviously, you can paint it on furniture, which is what I’ve become famous for. You can dye fabric with it and that’s really lovely. You can make curtains out of drop cloth, say, and dye them. If you have a faux brass chandelier, you can paint that. That’s one of my favorite things. You know when people have those big brick walls that are kind of orangey and really dated? You could paint that very easily, You can paint glass, on the bottom side, you can paint marble. There are some horrible old marble tables. You can paint those. You can paint plastic, not really cheap plastic, but better quality plastic."

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A lamp painted by artist Cressida Bell in Sloan’s chalk paint.
Tina Hillier

Can I mix colors?

Sloan's particular paint can also be easily lightened in tone, thanks to her own color formula: "Most colors are made with black in them, so when you add white, you get more gray coming out because black is a very strong color," she explains.

So there you have it. Looking to spruce up an old piece of furniture? Chalk paint might just be your new best friend. (See some inspiration from Sloan here.)

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