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A Clueless Fool's Guide to Upcycling: Another 5 Tips for Getting Stuck In

Written by a genuine clueless fool

Have you ever been riding on a bit of a high due to an unexpected success, gotten a bit too big for your boots and then fallen flat on your face because your overconfidence persuaded you to try something WAY beyond your skill level? Those of you who read my last post will know that I am VERY much guilty of this. I clearly do not learn from my mistakes. You, however, can... with more of my top tips.

Welcome back, children, to the wonderful world of my attempts at… UPCYCLING.

So, you've got your tools. You've got your paint. You've hopefully chosen somewhere sensible to destroy whatever poor unfortunate furniture you've chosen. What next?

Buckle up, get your paint-protective hazmat suit on, and get ready for some SERIOUS cleaning up of paint spillages... you're in for a wild ride, young padwan.

Tip 1: Cover your surfaces with something appropriate

Talking of paint spillages. This is actually quite a sensible one. You don’t want to get paint all over your walls or carpets (ok, it's going to happen anyway, but you'll want to keep it to a minimum), so make sure you cover them with something appropriate. By appropriate, I mean:

  1. Not something porous, like old bedsheets, that will let the paint sink through to the carpet anyhow. This would make the entire thing POINTLESS. I made this mistake a few years ago while decorating my little girl’s bedroom, and I still have nightmares about removing those dark blue footprints from her cream carpet.

  2. Something you can fix down so that it won’t just become an extra trip hazard in your obstacle course of paint tins, bits of chair legs and discarded brushes.

  3. Something that won’t leave its own imprint on your project. Nothing that will cause clouds of fluff or dust to stick to your wet paint, and nothing that will stick to your project and cause you to have to sand it down and start all over again.

Contrary to many wannabe decorators out there, I would NOT recommend newspaper as a suitable protective surface for your painting area. One accidental touch of it on your project, like an ill-timed gust of wind, and the newspaper print will cement itself to your white glossy paint. Who wants an imprint of Suella Braverman’s face on their table? Not me, that’s for sure. You’ll need another five coats of paint to cover up her evil stare, and that’s just a waste.

I recommend a nice bit of tarpaulin, or one of those cheap disposable plastic tablecloths you get at kids’ parties. I’m not a fan of plastic, but this is the sort of thing you can use over and over again, and the environment will thank you for all the nasty chemicals you WON’T have to use getting paint marks off everything in your living room afterwards.

Tip 2: Keep it slimline

Thin layers, people. Thin. Layers.

I tried painting my little table with a brush first, and I slathered the paint on that bad boy like whipped cream on a banoffee pie (yes, I'm watching Bake Off while writing this). It took about three days to dry to a nasty, tacky gloop, and by the time I decided to accept defeat and scrape it off, it had managed to attract all manner of hairs, dust, dead insects, fingerprints, drip marks... it was horrific to behold. It was foul.

Patience, as it turns out, is a virtue. You do NOT know better than the person who wrote the instructions on the tin. If it says use thin layers and leave it 24 hours to dry between each coat, then accept that the God of DIY has spoken and do as you're told. Trust me, it might feel like a long time, but it's a heck of a lot longer if you have to keep scraping it all down and starting again because you tried to take a shortcut!

Tip 3: Exfoliate, darlings

No matter how hard you try, you WILL end up wearing more paint than you manage to get on your upcycled furniture. It is one of the sneaky laws of physics that they don’t teach you in school. You can wear gloves, masks, overalls, a full hazmat suit- it won’t matter. You are going to get covered in paint. And it WILL be the vibrant white gloss, which will cement itself permanently to your skin in seconds and stay there forever (but will never fully dry on your project, no matter how much you beg, pray and make bloodthirsty human sacrifices to the God of B&Q). ‘Tis the way of nature.

After my weekend of painting, I had paint everywhere on my body, and I mean EVERYWHERE. I have no idea how it got into some of those places. Did I accidentally sit on a paintbrush at some point? Did I get paint on my hands, and then scratch my arse in my attempt to get into character as a tradesman? Did I have a sordid affair with Mr Ronseal himself over the weekend without noticing? Lord knows. All I know is that the more I tried to scrub it off with wet wipes, soap, a flannel, a loofah– heck, even a steel wire scrubbing sponge at one point when I got really desperate– the more I just spread it around my body. Have you ever seen the videos on YouTube of when the baby gets hold of the nappy cream and redecorates the entire planet with it? That’s what it felt like in my shower, except that rather than the soothing coolness of the Sudocrem, my skin was both raw and sticky at the same time. I do not recommend it.

But fear not, my friends. If you get into a mess like me, you won’t have to go around looking like Frosty the Snowman forever. Exfoliating body scrub will save you. I happened to have a lovely rose-scented one from The Body Shop, which doesn’t contain any nasty microplastics or anything that will make the dolphins cry. It’s the most reasonably priced, environmentally friendly one I’ve found, it comes in lots of different scents and can be paired with a nice calming body moisturiser afterwards to calm your angry, paint-free skin.

Unless you’re me, and you’ve already been scrubbing at your skin with a wire sponge. In which case, you probably ought to skip the moisturiser, cover yourself in Sudocrem like that baby in the video and learn to accept your new life as Casper the Ghost’s stunt double.

Tip 4: Don’t give up

When I was learning to paint watercolour, I followed a lot of instructional videos by a YouTube artist called Emily Olsen. She mentioned in one of these videos that every piece of art goes through a ‘fugly phase’, where every time you look at it you cringe, unable to believe that it’s ever going to turn out looking passably decent.

And sometimes that fugly phase lasts a long time. But you know one of the few joys of upcycling is?

No matter how bad you screw it up, with a little patience, you can almost always fix it.

I've dropped my projects several times and needed to use wood filler to repair the dents. I've screwed up the paintwork and needed to sand it all down and start again. I've accidentally superglued myself to things. Each time it's been a massive, time-consuming pain in the ass, but it's almost always been fixable.

Upcycling is a learning curve. You'll learn many skills. The hardest and most important of these, as I’ve said before, is patience. But the second is perseverance. Don’t chuck your project out the window just because it looks a bit naff. Keep going with it until there’s nothing more you can do. Then take a step back. I guarantee, it might not have turned out quite how you intended, but it’ll still look better than you thought!

Tip 5: Maybe DO give up!

If all else fails, there's no shame in going back to that person on Facebook Marketplace and confessing that her furniture was actually a bargain compared to the amount you'll have to spend in therapy after trying to do it yourself. Have a glass of wine, forget all about your DIY disaster, and enjoy your new upcycled table with none of the mess, tears or nasty paint smells.

I won't tell anyone. Promise. It'll be our little secret.

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