Introduction: Painted Book Staircase
I've seen several painted book staircases online, but when I wanted to create my own I couldn't find any tutorials. So here it is! I am in no way a professional painter. It's not perfect by any means. There are a few sloppy edges and lines and that's ok in my house because I'm not a perfectionist by any stretch. I'm not really a painter at all, but can copy different fonts, so I'll give you the tips and errors I made along the way.
The staircase is not complete yet...but I had some extra time today to type up this instructible and wanted to get it online.
Step 1: Supplies
We live in a traditional Colonial house in New England and thought muted colors would fit best. One of the first things I learned was that I needed a lot more off- white paint, as I used it for mixed colors and didn't plan ahead. I had to go back to the store for more.
If you don't visit craft stores often, you should know that the big ones ALWAYS have coupons available. Be sure to look online for them.
I bought acrylic paints in 4 oz tubes. That was plenty for the 13 steps and lettering, other than I needed 2 tubes of the off-white.
I also bought acrylic sealant to paint over each step when finished. I'm hoping that this will prevent wear and tear, and allow me to wash off any scuff marks.
Warning: I suggest that you DON'T mix custom colors for your steps. If you choose to, be sure to make a lot and save some extra in a small container so you can paint over areas you don't like. This was one of my big mistakes. The problem is that you might mess up on your lettering, and you won't be able to match the background color to paint over it. I've still got that problem right now. On the green step that has A Walk in the Woods on it, I'm unhappy with the accent lines I painted around the sides. The curve is wrong and they just look like giant parentheses. But since I mixed the green paint with some white and yellow, I'll never be able to match the exact shade to just repaint the lines. I'm going to have to paint over the entire thing and start over. Which I haven't done yet.
Brushes for Risers: (not shown) Use a quality 1 or 2 inch brush to paint your background colors. I was trying to move quickly and had several brushes and colors going at the same time. Each step needed 2 coats of paint, so I'd paint 5 or so different risers with 5 different colors and brushes. By the time I was done with the fifth riser the first one would be dry enough for a second coat. BUT, one of the brushes was super cheap and crappy, and left raised paint lines when it dried. It looked fine when walking up the stairs, but when I went to paint the title on the step, I was unable to get super precise edges on my letters as the paint underneath was full of ridges that the cheap brush left in the background paint. The small foam rollers will work well, but you'll still need a brush for the edges.
Lettering Brushes: I've watched professional letterer videos, and have found that they use brushes with very long and tapered bristles. I think if you have lots of time to practice, this would be the way to go, but I used a tiny flat brush only about a quarter inch wide. It made the most precise lines for me. In the picture it's a bit worn as I used it for almost all of my lettering. This came in a multi pack from the craft store. I think if I'm going to do more of this sort of thing in the future I'll invest in some quality brushes.
Step 2: Choosing Titles and Planning Your Colors
Here's a picture of what my planning page looks like as I tried to get the colors the way I wanted.
Note I said that I have 13 steps. The planning page only has 12 colors. Yea. Told you I'm not a perfectionist. I was a little irked with myself though because I actually tried to make the colors so they weren't in a pattern, and had a nice mix of light vs dark colors. I ended up putting a lighter green in the middle of a red and dark blue. Turns out that is the cursed lighter green step where I mixed the paint and didn't save any so I could paint over mistakes. So sad.
For titles, I chose my favorites including some children's books. Caveat: My daughter chose The Maze Runner which not exactly something I love, but I figure I can paint over it when she goes to college! A few of the chosen titles have changed along the way.
Something to consider is the length of the titles. I still have 3 steps to paint. Two of them are My Side of the Mountain and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It no coincidence that these are last; I'm still intimidated at the thought of painting all those letters!
I printed out the covers of the books I selected so I could copy the font used for each book.
Step 3: Painting the Risers
My first riser painted. It was pretty funny that night. My dog refused to go upstairs! We had to carry him past the dark blue step. Apparently he thought it was a pit into the depths of hell. He has since recovered and goes upstairs on his own.
No special technique for this step. Be sure to clean dog hair, cat fur and dust bunnies off the stairs first. (Our chickens live in the coop outside, or I would have had to clean feathers too.) It'll really get into your paint. Use painters tape on the edges if you want.
The rest of the risers painted.
Step 4: Lettering
Count the number of letters and spaces in your book title to find the center letter in the title. If the font has ornate or extra large capital letters, you might want to count those letters as two spaces.
Measure the width of your steps and find the center. Mark it with a small pencil mark. My steps are 36 inches wide so my mark was at 18 inches.
Use painters tape to make the bottom edge of where you want your letters to sit. I just eyeballed this, but you could measure. You'll need a cloth measuring tape or bendable metal measuring tape for this as a ruler will be too long.
Next, use more painters tape where the top edge of your short letters will go. At this point, you are not going to add the tall parts of letters such as b, d, f, h, the dot of the i, (called a tittle!) k, l, t, or the bottoms of the letters that hang down such as g, j, p, q, and y.
Start painting your letters at the middle of the title, and work left to right.
For the title A Walk in the Woods, I counted 19 letters and spaces, so the center of the title was the space between the word "in" and "the". This meant the the first letter I started painting was the t in "the" but began it slightly to the right of my center point, as the space between the words was the true center. Finish painting the right side of the title.
Then, go back to the center and begin painting from the middle letter backwards. For this title , the first letter I began with for the left part of the title was the letter n for in, followed by the i, a space, the k in walk, and so on.
Notice in the first picture that I only painted the short letters and the base of the tall letters.
When those are finished, move the top piece of painters tape higher so that you can carefully paint the tops of the tall letters and the capital letters. Paint right up over the tape. When you remove it it will leave a nice sharp line on the tops of the letters.
Last, take off the bottom piece of painters tape and paint in the bottom of the hanging down letters. This title didn't have any.
The woes of amateur hand lettering: the word "in" is not as slanty as the word "the". Sigh. As I mentioned before, I'm not happy with the side lines on the finished step, so I'm going to redo this step at one point.
Step 5: Adding Extras
I chose to add some details to the sides of some of the titles.
I freehand painted the flowers for Miss Rumphius and the little maze shapes on The Maze Runner. I also freehand painted the curved lines on One Morning in Maine and A Walk in the Woods, although if you've read this entire instructible, you know I want to redo The Walk in the Woods lines.
I'm proud to say that the only thing I traced were the fleur de lis on The Holy Bible step. I found an image on the computer and printed it out. I then cut out the fleur de lis shape, taped it onto the step and traced it with a pencil. I just turned the shape around and traced it again for the one on the right. Then I painted it in using my smallest brush.
I'm undecided if I'm going to add a side detail on every title. I think some are ok without it.
Step 6: Fixing Mistakes and Sealing
The photo shows some wonky lettering that I was able to redo. No, not the letters in Me Talk Pretty One Day. They're supposed to look that way!
In the top half of the photo, the title The Namesake has some letters that weren't quite the right size. The cross of the t and the hump in the h were too short, the angle part of the k was too short, and the final e was too big.
Luckily, the background color was straight off-white out of the tube and I was able to paint over the offensive letters and try again. I think the second try was much more successful with those letters.
After finishing each step and letting it dry, I painted a clear coat over each one.
And that's it! A beautiful custom piece of art work for your home for bookworms everywhere.