No surprise but I’m officially obsessed with using chalk paint to achieve a French Clay or Terracotta finish on, oh–everything. It starts with DIY French Clay or Terracotta pots. But the possibilities with this paint technique are endless!
Anyone else out there with DIY or crafty Pinterest Pins they’ve Pinned ages ago and never actually attempted? I think that’s part of why I’ve been loving Pinterest since, like, 2011. It’s not a to-do list; it’s a “this would be cool to try sometime” collection of ideas. Well. I finally had the opportunity to try out a paint technique I Pinned a few years ago.
Let me start with the Inspo Pin. It’s from Josie and Sally, the enchanting sisters behind Iron Orchid Designs (IOD). These two gals are so genuine, funny, and creative–and they’ve got their own line of products! Which of course are absolutely GREAT and can help level up the pieces of any crafty DIY soul. They did a (hilarious and informative) tutorial video on “HOW TO TURN A $7 PLASTIC CONTAINER INTO A FRENCH CLAY POT!” that looked so…well, realistic…I knew at some point I was going to try it. Who doesn’t want that look for less?!
Once you see how easy and beautiful this finish is, you are going to kick yourself for not trying the DIY Terracotta Pot thing sooner.
At least, that’s how I feel!
I did start out with this paint technique on a planter. Two, actually! One was a heavy ceramic, one was a cheap plastic pot that some radishes came in. (No. The radishes did not do great in our raised deck planter.)
I hit up our local Annie Sloan Chalk Paint mecca, 317 Home for the paint colors I would need–and also walked out with the air-dry clay and a beautiful mold too. Guess who’s clay and mold? IOD!!! I am beyond thrilled that Becky and her magical 317 Home shop also now carry the IOD sisters’ products. (You gals need to bring back the snowflake mold!!)
The planter pots turned out so well I didn’t stop there! The too-fake looking pumpkins got the French Clay treatment. Then I got really bold and decided to paint chargers for the Thanksgiving table this year! You guys. I am seriously IN LOVE with how they turned out.
Real Quick: French Clay vs Terracotta
Clay is an earthy material that contains fine particles of hydrous aluminum silicates and other minerals while terracotta refers to a type of easily accessible earthenware clay that has rich red and orange hues due to a high amount of iron oxide. Terra-cotta is an Italian term that means “baked earth” and is clay that gets modeled and fired. I did ONE kick-ass candle holder for my sister that is in the more orangey tone of Southwest-style DIY terracotta pots. And I will figure out the paint formula and do a post or an addendum for this as well.
“French” clay would suggest it’s been dug up in France–this clay tends to be more brown than the orangey Italian/Southwest US terracotta. In their original paint recipe, the French Clay turned out a wee more brown than I personally liked–so I upped the “iron” via Primer Red. If you want their original “recipe” we may need to reach out–I just noticed the link is broken on their website at the time of this post.
What’s the white stuff that builds up on clay and terracotta pots? Glad you asked! From blog Actual Botanical:
Mineral buildup, also known as efflorescence, is a white, powdery substance that forms on the surface of clay plant pots. It is caused by the accumulation of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and salts, that are present in the water used to water your plants, as well as the soil.
We’re not trying to wait for that to happen however. We will fake it with the paint! Ready?!
Alrighty. That’s my intro. Let’s get into this DIY! As hinted at above, I tweaked the original IOD paint formula. But definitely watch their video to get a feel for this paint technique! I am going to get my DIY painting on my Instagram highlights. Eventually. I swear.
Supplies for DIY French Clay-Terracotta pots
- Item to paint. Planter pots, pumpkins, charger plates, vases. . .literally anything
- Annie Sloan Chalk Paint: Honfleur, Barcelona Orange, Primer Red, Old White
- Container to mix the paint. I used a plastic Cool Whip container b/c it has a lid
- Container to create a paint wash
- Mini whisk to mix the paint (or a fork, but I’m telling you, this is the perfect reason to buy those adorable mini whisks)
- Round dense bristle brush – I love Annie Sloan’s chalk paint brushes in small or medium
- OR if you’re doing a smaller item like the pumpkins – an artist’s brush in a good size for your piece. I used a smaller brush for the white-washing
- lint-free cotton cloth or for a lighter touch, cheesecloth (I had some from a project with the Rustoleum paint kit)
- Mister bottle of water (in case you need it for blending out the white wash)
Mix Your French Clay Paint
- 2 parts Honfleur
- 2 parts Barcelona Orange
- 2.5 parts Primer Red
I used 1/2 Cup each Honfleur and Barcelona Orange and 3/4 Cup Primer Red and had plenty of leftover “French Clay” after 2 coats on 8 chargers and 4 small pumpkins.
Mix your character-building White Paint Wash
I actually do this mixing after I’ve finished painting all my pieces to French Clay perfection. Otherwise, the mix can thicken up and you’ll have to add more water. Start with a 50/50 Old White paint to water. You want a consistency of “heavy cream” or, if you want it more subtle, thinner.
Make sure you’ve prepped your piece by cleaning it! Chalk paint technically doesn’t require any primer coat and I tend to take full advantage since I’m kind of lazy like that. (On the other hand, I’m pretty obsessive about using something to seal my pieces so. . .let’s just say I put in the work where it’s absolutely required, haha.)
Paint a nice first coat with your beautiful French Clay paint. Let it dry. Chalk paint doesn’t take long to dry–another reason I love it! You will likely need at least 2 coats of paint. The goal here is to make it look like CLAY, not a painted piece, so vary your paint strokes so they aren’t obviously paint strokes.
When you’re happy with the way the paint is looking, let it dry completely. This can be a couple hours or the next day, depending on your schedule. When you’re ready for this next step, mix up your white wash.
Use a CLEAN paint brush for your white wash. This step is really a choose-your-own-adventure kind of process; you can do a little white to highlight top, bottom, or decorative elements (moulds like those on my planters, or raised design like those on my charger plates). Keep a mister of water handy in case the paint dries too quickly and you need just a light touch of mist to get it moving. I had the best success misting the cloth before blotting. Misting the chargers tended to bring up the french clay paint too. Sometimes this looked good tho! So again. Play with the technique until you get the look you like!
Get your cloth completely wet, then squeeze as much of the water out. If you watched the IOD tutorial, I am agreeing with this technique, it worked well for me too even with the cheesecloth. You want it to be wet enough to pick up the white paint and spread it around, but not so wet it’s pulling the paint completely up. . .and you definitely don’t want to be pulling the French clay paint up too much or it’s gonna start looking. . .well. . .muddy.
The real trick is to get a few lines or a splotch or whatever of white paint on the surface quickly. Then, while the paint is still pretty wet, dab-dab-dab at it to blur out the edges and make it look like that naturally occurring efflorescence buildup!
I started taking that initial dab of white paint that I picked up back down in a different area, blotting it a bit, then going back to the original spot and dabbing at and around it until I was happy with the look.
That’s really it! I swear once you get going, these DIY terracotta pots (or French Clay whatever items!) are so fun and easy. And the end results are BEAUTIFUL! For the planters and the charger plates I use a clear matte spray poly to seal (see photo). I didn’t bother with the pumpkins. They’re just little decor pieces that get the occasional dusting with a soft cloth or feather duster.
BONUS DIY: Adding dimension and charm with decor molds to your DIY French Clay – Terracotta pots. . .or whatever piece you fancy!
I mentioned the decor molds earlier and for the first planter pots I painted, I also added some beautiful accents with decor molds and air-dry clay! If you watch the IOD tutorial, they tell you how to add character with these molds.
- Silicon Decor Mold – any style you love. IOD makes beautiful and durable molds
- Air-dry clay – IOD’s works really well and dries quickly
- Corn Starch to dust the molds and avoid sticking if you use clay
- Small clean paint brush to brush corn starch into mold
- Glue: multi-surface glue or outdoor-appropriate glue if object will be outside
- cheap Chip brush or small brush for painting over the final product. Something less dense because they are kind of delicate and you don’t want to go too hard when painting
- Palette knife (or even an old cake frosting spatula)
Use a small dry paint brush to get corn starch uniformly into the decor mold. This will keep the clay from sticking.
Knead a piece of air-dry clay in your hands to get it softer and more pliable.
Look at the basic shape of the mold you are using. Is it circular, square, long and thin, or curved? Make the piece of air-dry clay you want to use in the mold close to the same shape. For a ball or square, place the clay into the middle of the mold. Press in the middle and work the air-dry clay outwards to the edges of the mold shape.
For a long, thin piece, roll the air-dry clay out into a coil the length of the mold. Place the coil from one end to the other of the silicon mold. Starting at one end, push the clay into the crevices of the mold until you know the entire surface of the air-dry clay is in total contact with the mold.
Use the edge of a palette knife or small spatula to remove excess clay. Think of this as skimming the edge of a spatula across the top of a cake to make the frosting smooth. You want the excess clay removed from the edges and a flat back for the pieces so they adhere evenly to whatever surface you’re putting them on!
Allow the air-dry clay to sit in the mold for a few minutes so it has time to firm up slightly.
Flip the mold over so the clay is laying on your work surface. Slowly bend back a section of the mold and watch for the clay piece to start lifting from the mold. With your other hand or palette knife/spatula, gently (very gently) help release the air-dry clay from the mold. Turn the clay piece over so it lays flat on the work surface, and allow it to dry a little longer. If you are putting it on a curved surface (like the DIY terracotta pots!) it’s helpful if it is still a bit pliable.
Air-dry clay shrinks as it dries. If your piece does not readily release from the mold, let it dry a few more minutes in the mold, so you reduce the risk of damaging the piece.
When you’re ready, get some glue onto the flat back of the decor piece. I like to do lines and spread around with my finger. Gently lay it where you want it and very gently press around on it to ensure even adhesion. Let the clay dry on the piece a bit before you start painting. We all know I’m impatient, so I did like the IOD gals in their video and got my pretty molded clay pieces glued on and barely waited 20 mins before laying on some paint. When you do paint, use a less dense bristle to help you paint more gently on the clay.
Since the clay shrinks as it dries, it can crack a bit but I actually love this look for this project! It helps with the aged and vintage vibes! A little imperfection is just adding to the character.
Whatever you are using these clay pieces on, you really want to use a sealer. I like the spray version because I feel like it gets into all the little nooks and crannies best, but you could brush on a seal coat too.