Introduction: 'Partners in Grime' Planter - Snazz Up Metal & Terra Cotta With Milk Paint!

About: Like Birdz of a Feather, let's flock together to create sustainably. After all, good planets are hard to find! We're a husband/wife team that takes our inspiration from everything around us; especially things …

In celebration of the Colours of the Rainbow Contest, Birdz of a Feather is seeing red (in a good way of course)!

In our previous Instructable, we showed you how to get milk paint to stick to anything! I used a bonding agent to paint right over a lacquered finish on a mini adirondack chair (which you can find on Instructables). I was curious to see if milk paint + bonder would stick just as well to other surfaces, such as metal and terra cotta, so when I came across a galvanized planter set at a garage sale for only a dollar I snapped it up (I've also seen them available for $3 at the dollar store). To complete my experiment, I also purchased some terra cotta planter pots at the dollar store.

Watch the video above to see the step-by-step!

Step 1: Materials

You Will Need:

I used Letraset to create the wording on the front of the planters and tray because it has a strong adhesive. If you don't know, Letraset was the brand name for the very first dry-transfer lettering product. It was only around until the late 1990's (and was very expensive) but you can probably still find similar products in craft stores, office supply stores or even the dollar store. These days, Cricut machines are very popular so you can always design and cut your own wording instead.

I always suggest roughing up the surface with fine grit sandpaper first before painting, however I decided to throw caution to the wind this once! I didn't sand anything beforehand so this was going to be a bold experiment!

Step 2: Stick It On!

I first ran a piece of painter's tape along the bottom to act as the line against which I stuck on the letters. This piece of tape is just temporary to set the height of the letters. When I laid out the lettering, I used the back seam of the metal planter to line up as a visual guide for 'centre'.

I then ran another piece of tape along the top against the bottom edge of the ridges. Lastly, I ran a piece vertically on either side of the wording at approximately the half way point to fashion a border. I literally just eyeballed everything; no measuring.

Once the letters were in place, I peeled away the bottom piece of tape so I could replace it with with a thinner piece. I cut a piece of painters tape in half vertically. I adhered this new thinner tape on the bottom (see last photo).

Step 3: Mix Milk Paint

If you're using milk paint that's been in storage for a few days, like I did, be sure to stir it thoroughly to reincorporate all the pigment. The paint I used was left-over from my mini adirondack chair so it truly inspired this project. The milk paint already had bonding agent already in it so I used it to brush on a first coat right over the lettering.

If you are mixing milk paint from scratch, however, mix it in a ratio of one part water to one part powder. Here's what you do:

  1. Measure warm water into a clear cup (that's so you can see if you have any dry spots as you mix). Measure out an equal part of milk paint powder and added it into the water.
  2. The best technique I found for mixing small quantities of milk paint is to use a milk brother. Rest the frother on the bottom of the container and apply pressure. Turn it on and lift it up a little bit so it moves; mix it using this pouncing motion for a maximum of 20-30 seconds so it doesn’t over-froth.
  3. Let it sit for a few minutes (go do something else). This will allow the water to absorb into the powder. Give it another quick mix with the frother. If you find that the milk frother has produced foam, skim it off the surface before you add the bonding agent.
  4. The bonding agent instructions say to use a ratio of 1:1, but I usually just eyeball it and squeeze it in. Stir to combine; I generally use a popsicle stick at this point so I have a record of what the colour looks like on raw wood.
  5. To clean the frother, turn it on in a cup of soapy water to clean, then rinse well.

Keep in mind that milk paint tends to settle on the bottom when it sits, so give it a stir while you’re using it every once in a while to reincorporate.

Step 4: Burnish & Paint

Before I started painting, I made sure everything was well burnished - both the tape and the lettering.

As I painted each container, I used plastic painters pyramids to keep them from rolling as they dried. I don't know how I ever got along without painters pyramids in previous paint projects; they are so handy!!

I gave each container two coats of paint, then let it dry overnight between coats (the bonding agent suggests 12 hours).

Step 5: Remove Lettering

I lifted the green tape to see if any of the paint bled underneath; it was actually pretty good. If you do miss burnishing an area and get a paint bleed, I found that I could use a combination of X-acto knife to lightly score where I wanted to remove paint and then an orange stick to carefully scrape away the mistake. It takes some patience because the milk paint bonds well with the bonding agent in it, but you can still do small touch-ups.

I would suggest that you keep all the green tape on because you'll be applying a clear coat of Varathane and you'll just have to re-tape it again if you remove it.

Carefully remove the lettering. If you find the lettering difficult to lift, just use an X-acto knife to carefully pick away at one corner to get it started. Be sure to aim toward the vinyl letter so you don't accidentally scratch the milk paint.

As you peel off the letters, take it slow and pull back when you reach the end so you don't accidentally peel off paint you want to keep!

Step 6: Terra Cotta Pots

I was curious to see if the milk paint would stick to clay pots as well. At first, I tried a milk paint whitewash (Homestead House's Limestone) using straight-up milk paint (no bonder). It was a great look, but for this project, I decided to paint over it with the leftover red paint, which by the way is Homestead House's Fort York Red. I was glad I switched back to the red milk paint; it's so vibrant!

I gave each pot two coats of milk paint on the outside only, like I did the metal. I much prefer the bright red to the lacklustre terra cotta colour!

In the second last photo you can see that I also put lettering onto the tray. While I used our blog name, 'Birdz of a Feather', you could write anything your heart desires! I marked the centre of the tray and worked out from there with the Letraset letters; forwards to the right and then backwards to the left. However, that was tricky because letters like the 'O' and 'A' were much wider and took up more visual space. I ended up peeling it off and repositioning several times (which is why you don't see me laying down the letters in the video - I was so consumed with the layout that I forgot to turn the camera on!!!) Luckily Letraset has a great adhesive; even after sitting for years, I was able to lift and reposition it. Once burnished, as you can see, it forms a strong bond that doesn't allow paint to bleed.

Top Coat

We topcoated only the painted section portions of both the metal and clay pots with Varathane Diamond Wood Finish. We'll likely also use these outdoors, so we used the outdoor satin finish. We didn't bother to paint the inside of the clay pots - either with milk paint or Varathane - because they'll be filled with soil anyway. Hubs sprayed on three fine coats using a paint sprayer so we wouldn't get runs.

Give the Varathane at least 3 days to dry before you use these.

Step 7: Reveal

The wording on the metal pots says 'partners in grime' because it is Birdz of a Feather's catchphrase (not to be confused with our tagline which is 'Feathering the Nest - One Room at a Time'). I often use it to describe my relationship with Hubs and our DIY adventures! But I'm sure you can come up with something that is meaningful to you!

In retrospect, the Letraset letters were perhaps too big for this project (you can't see the 's' in partners) but I used what we had on-hand so we could use them up. I don't think the Letraset brand is still available but if I were doing it again, I would either purchase a smaller size of another brand of letters to make it more legible - or get a Cricut machine to design and cut my own. But you get the gist of it :)

Add some succulents to the metal and terra cotta pots and place it in front of a sunny window - or outside!

In the last picture we have a red extravaganza! I displayed the mini adirondack chair (which you can find on Instructables), the metal planter and the terra cotta pots together on our Ikea Plant Stand. It's a testament to the success we've had using the bonding agent on hard to paint surfaces such as varnished wood, metal, and terra cotta. I wonder what's left to put it to the test? If there is anything, you can be sure you'll see it on Instructables :)

Step 8: Please Vote!

If you're interested in trying out a milk paint project - with or without the bonding agent - you have to check out Homestead House! They are the driving force behind their own milk paint line and Miss Mustard Seed Milk paint, but they also make modern paints too.

I think I'll stick with traditional milk paint for a while though; it's got my creative juices flowing. If you saw our last Instructable, you may have noticed that we have an exciting milk paint project coming up using the find you see in the last picture! If you're interested in seeing what else we found on our latest antiquing jaunt to Aberfoyle Antique Market, visit our blog here (and subscribe while you're at it)!

Step 9: Pin for Later

Pin it for later and don't forget to vote :)

Colors of the Rainbow Contest

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