How to Paint Folk Art

By Elizabeth Vander Heide ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Palette paper
  • Paper towel
  • Container
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Large flat brush
  • Water-based varnish
  • Folk art pattern
  • Tracing paper
  • Graphite paper
  • Stylus
  • Medium-sized flat brush
  • Liner brush
A flat brush is used to create a float in Folk Art.

Creating folk art with paint is a great way to liven any room or boring space. Folk art uses bright colors and patterns along with specific brush stokes and techniques to create its signature look. Acrylic paint and a wooden object are transformed into a beautiful work of art to be proud of. Following the necessary steps and using the proper tools will ensure a successful folk art painting.

Set up a work area. Place a pad of palette paper beside your writing hand. Fold two sections of paper towel into quarters and tuck them under the upper left corner of the palette pad. Fill a container with room temperature water and place it near the upper right corner of the palette pad. Place the project to be painted directly in front of you as well as any acrylic paints. Lay paintbrushes to the left of the palette pad. Setting up a work station is important because everything in folk art is done in a strategic and planned way.

Prepare the piece of wood to be painted. Sand the project with fine-grit sandpaper ensuring you sand with the grain of the wood. Wipe the piece down with a tack cloth to remove any wood particles left from the sanding. Use a large flat brush to apply one coat of water-based varnish to the bare wood. Allow this surface to dry according to manufacturer's specifications. Paint the surface with two coats of acrylic paint in the color of your choice.

Select a pattern and trace it onto the project. Folk art patterns can be found in books and magazines in craft and hobby shops. The pattern may need to be enlarged using a projector, depending on the size of the piece you are painting. Trace the pattern with a piece of tracing paper and a pencil. Place a piece of graphite paper face down on your project. Tape the tracing paper with the image over the graphite paper. Re-trace the image using a stylus and firm, even pressure. When the papers are removed, the image will be imprinted on the project.

Base-coat all the individual parts or sections of the tole painting pattern. Choose a medium-sized flat brush and load it with paint. Paint each section by walking the brush back and forth within the section, ensuring to paint over any lines or ridges, smoothing out the coat of paint until it is very flat.

Side load a small flat brush to create a shadow or highlight by floating. Side loading and floating are key elements to folk art. Squeeze a small amount of a dark acrylic paint onto the palette paper. Dip the paintbrush into water and blot it on the paper towel, just enough to remove the shine. Pick up a small amount of paint in the upper left corner of the paintbrush. Paint out a small track of paint on the palette paper, working the paint into the brush as you go. This will create a gradual, soft blend of paint used for shadows. Paint in all the shadows on your project with a side loaded paintbrush. Each time you side load the brush for a stroke, repeat the process.

Add all details to the project using a liner brush and stylus. Thin out the paint with a small amount of water for fine lines and when signing your project.

About the Author

Elizabeth Vander Heide has been writing since 2003. She owns and operates a successful mural and hand-painted furniture business. In addition to art and decorative painting, she is an experienced hairstylist and makeup artist with a wealth of knowledge of the beauty industry. Vander Heide writes decorative painting instructions and seminar guides for professional tole painters. She studied at Cappa School of Hairstyling.