Distressed picture frames are a popular staple of rustic decor, and they are easy to replicate inexpensively with chalk paint. You can readily find distressed white frames, but you can add a fun accent color to any room with a few simple steps. This yellow picture frame was part of a pair and had been a dark, dreary brown. The lighter yellow hue (Lemon Cream by The Spruce Best Home chalky finish paint) is more cheerful and works well with a farmhouse style or rustic decor home. Chalk paint is a good option for most frames without much prep. Solid wood frames are the easiest to distress and will work best.
What Is Chalk Paint?
Chalky-finish paint resembles a surface covered in chalk, giving items a flat, matte-looking appearance. It is different from chalkboard paint; you can't write on it as you can with chalkboard paint. This latex-based paint cleans up with water instead of mineral spirits.
If you looking to buy frames for this project, look for solid wood frames instead of a veneer. If the frame you want to use is damaged, apply some wood filler, and give it a light sanding before proceeding.
Remove the current contents of the frame. However, if the item inside the frame is aged and protected by the frame, leave it inside. You'll need to add a step for masking the frame with painter's tape.
Prepare the work area or table by draping newspapers, contractor's paper, or dropcloths. Paint splatter and spills are inevitable, so protect your flooring, furniture, and workspace from unnecessary cleaning jobs. Before you get started, you may need to mix your paint with water, depending on the type of chalk paint you choose. Follow the instructions and work to get a medium consistency. Paint consistency is a personal preference, but you don't want chalk paint too thin or too thick. Experiment with a consistency that works best for you.
If you are using an old picture frame dated from before 1978, and you need to sand off old paint, there is a chance the frame was painted using lead paint. Wear a respirator (N95 mask) to prevent the inhalation of lead particles.
Equipment / Tools
- Sanding block (fine- and medium-grit)
- Clean rag
- Putty knife (optional)
- Angle paintbrush (optional)
- Respirator (optional)
- Picture frame
- Chalky finish paint (We used The Spruce Best Home chalky finish paint in Lemon Cream)
- Sealing wax
- Wood filler (optional)
- Painter's tape (optional)
Gather All the Materials
It's easiest to start a project with all tools and materials at the ready. It's a bummer when you start a project, establish a good pace, and realize you're out of a material or missing a tool; it disrupts your workflow and adds a lot of time to the project as you go out to the hardware store.
Remove the Glass and Artwork
If possible, carefully remove the glass and artwork from the frame. Don't rush this step. If it's too risky to remove the fragile glass or delicate contents, keep the contents or artwork inside. Use painter's tape to tape off the glass if you aren't removing the contents, and use an artist's brush or smaller paintbrush (1-inch angle brush) when painting the edge where the frame meets the glass.
Old wavy glass breaks and chips easily and can cut you if you're not careful.
Prepare and Clean the Frame
If the frame has peeling paint, use a medium grit sanding block to remove the peeling sections. A light sanding all over the frame is the best way to smooth out minor scratches. Paint adheres best to a slightly roughed-up surface. If the wood has large divots or scratches, use wood filler and the putty knife to fill in those spots. Allow the putty to dry thoroughly and give the area a gentle sanding to smooth it out.
To clean the frame, use a damp cloth to wipe down the wood, removing the sanding dust. If necessary, you can use a mild, wood-safe cleanser. Make sure the frame is completely dry before painting.
Apply the First Coat of Paint
Paint on a thin, even coat of chalk paint. Let it dry completely before proceeding.
Look for Drips Before Applying Another Coat
Clean up any paint drips before they dry. The edges are especially prone to dripping paint. Minimize this by painting on thinner coats and wiping any excess paint away right away. After you paint the first coat, wait a few minutes and look closely for drips. Some drips might take a few minutes before they form. If you accidentally let paint drips dry, scrape away the drip as soon as you notice it, and start again. Once you have a smooth surface, allow each coat to dry completely.
Distressing the Picture Frame
If you want to distress the picture frame and give it an antique or more rustic feel, this step is essential. If you like how your picture frame looks with a solid coat of chalk paint, then skip this step.
Use a sanding block to scuff away the top coat of chalk paint lightly. The point is to show some of the wood grain or natural wood color underneath. No two frames will look alike, but if you want the aging to look natural, sand the corners and edges.
The grit of the sandpaper doesn't matter as much as the technique—start lightly and add or more or less pressure depending on your desired result. In this example, this is a 120-grit sanding block.
Use a Wax Sealant to Protect the Finish
Chalk paint is prone to smudging and scuffing if it is not sealed with wax or some other protective finish. Since most frames hang on a wall without being touched, you could get away without a wax sealer, but it works wonders for colors, making them look more saturated, and distressing will look more defined.
Use a clean, lint-free rag and rub some wax into the grain using circular motions to apply the wax finish. Some finishes won't require a lot of sealing wax, and some pieces will need more. Use your best judgment to make sure the entire surface is covered. Once it's dry, get another rag and buff the surface to give it a smooth satin finish.
Mount the Frame
Once the wax dries and it's been buffed, it's done. Mount the frame and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The bright, yellow hue draws your eye to the art it encases; it lightens up the room, and makes a statement.
How to Keep Paint Looking Fresh
To maintain the look of the chalky finish, reapply sealing wax as needed. You can age the frames even more by applying a dark sealing wax after the clear sealing wax layer. If you decide you want to change the color completely, sand down the paint to the wood and apply a new chalky finish color by repeating the steps in this tutorial.