milk paint

Like chalk paint, milk paint is an age-old mineral paint formed of chalk, earthy pigments and the casein that gives it its name. It is a pure, ecological paint I’ve encountered here in Canada, and comes in powdered form. I decided to try it out on the shopkeeper’s cabinet that I’d modified to fit a nook in my studio.

milk paint- algonquin powder-measure

Any paint lends itself to mixing to achieve just the right shade, but milk paint colour just begs to be played with, like the inks in the old lithography studios I used to print in. First I measured out 85 grams of Canadian Homestead House’s Algonquin.

milk paint-algonquin paint

Equal parts water went into the blender first, followed by the powder. I found it was critical to work quickly with a spatula to scrape down the sides. Be sure to blend it for at least five minutes. Shaking it in a jar doesn’t work so well, and pigments will appear grainy and mottled. Ask me how I know this. I do prefer doing things by hand whenever possible! Wash your blender and any tools thoroughly, immediately, as this paint dries quickly.

milk paint- coal powder

The same again of coal black. Being so simple in ingredients – so much so that I’ve heard that milk paint will go off! – I did think that the stuff wouldn’t smell like much. On the contrary, when mixed with water it smells out and out like any strapping, volatile can of paint. Once dry, there was hardly a whiff.

milk paint- coal paint

Blended, the black paint felt quite different from the brown, far thicker in texture, and asking for more water. Preparing milk paint feels more colour-theory-at-art-school than summer-job-as-student-painter. That alone has much to recommend it, if you’re an adventurous sort.

milk paint- mix

From there I began to mix the colour, adding a teaspoon of the black to darken and cool the brown, painting a swatch, letting it dry, mixing in another teaspoon, testing. If you plan to reproduce what you’re doing, for example to mix another batch as I needed to, it is a very clever practice to make notes of what you did.

milk paint- swatches

The first, plain swatch of algonquin went on to (a hidden spot on) the cabinet smoothly and promptly crackled over the orange stain as it dried, so I knew I’d need to use the binder wherever I didn’t want chippy paint! The shade I wanted appeared at about 5 teaspoons of the coal black paint mix to the half-bag amount of algonquin paint. After mixing in roughly half the amount again of the binder, I got to work painting the shopkeeper’s cabinet. About that – soon. If you missed me wrestling this oversized buffet-and-hutch into my studio nook with the assistance of a saw, crowbar, and vinegar, you can see it over here.

built-in cabinet

Perhaps you’ve been following my adventures in refitting a battered old buffet & hutch as a built-in cabinet. It is best to push off visions of failed DIY at these moments. People have, for the most part, always done it themselves, with as much skill as they could conjure. So, with the support of elders on the telephone, neighbours with tool-sheds, and the wisdom of the internet, I set off.


Having altered the top edge of the hutch, and the table-top of the buffet to fit the nook, I was quite baffled by glued-on, nailed down molding.


A friend helped lower the buffet onto its back. It rested there while I worked out where the nails were, and researched til I found a gem of information. A gem! Store this in your vault of useful facts:

Vinegar dissolves wood glue.

Much vinegary spraying, gentle if somewhat hopeless prying, spraying, prying and waiting ensued. No movement.


In the morning I took a saw to the front edge of the molding, cutting up close to the nails I’d mapped out. I had visions of hacksaws (to cut through nails) but I took one more crack at prying with a crow bar. Pretty please, oh wood glue vinaigrette.


Ta-ra! Success! The ever-so-pleasing shriek of nails extricated from wood.

clipping nails

These nails pulled out easily with pliers, but clipping them off is fine too. Oh, jump around for joy! Then, with friendly assistance, lift that very custom-fit hutch onto its modified buffet companion, and all slide into place;

fitted cabinet

A built in shopkeeper’s cabinet.

Pride. Joy. And there are further adventures in milk paint to come…

potter’s case

There’s a wonderful pottery studio deep in the highlands, down a winding road that leads through the woods. I’ve begun throwing pots on a wheel there every week. Clustering round the wood stove, sharing cups of tea with some lovely potters, is very good too. I’ve so craved this work since I studied in England. I want it to be a permanent, regular practice. So, I pulled out my beloved old travel case, battered and stained from years of art materials at school, and fixed it up as a pottery toolbox for my devotions to clay.

potter's case

Clay tools are such appealing things, and a vintage suitcase is just the thing to organise them. There’s something about claiming a spot for tools and materials that is so affirming of any endeavour. The writing desk makes the writer, and so on. I think so. Like hanging a musical instrument on the wall, it is a declaration of commitment.

potter's case

I find that I am better at keeping a thing tidy, and using it often, if I think it is beautiful. With a bit of leftover milk paint, I stained the fabric lining from a loud red to a quiet grey. No doubt it will all be pleasingly clay-spattered soon enough. The make-up mirror puts me in mind of train journeys and face powder. Perfect for checking one’s reflection after a muddy day on the wheel.

potter's case

I’ve tucked my plaster sprigs and stamps into a pocket of the new potter’s case, and a linen apron, given to me by a lovely English potter, folds neatly on top.

potter's case

Quite important to leave space for tea, and for tins filled with snacks! Look out for images of my ceramic work soon, here, on instagram and other friendly places – I’ll be stocking my own, new studio shop.