Introduction: Trash to Artistic Treasure With House Paint!

About: I'm a recently retired Emergency Nurse with a life-long love of art. Now that I'm retired, I have time to follow my passion in art. I love a little of everything and normally work with mixed medium, but I'm …

This is a really great way to get rid of a tiny bit of leftover indoor house paint, match your decor, and let the kids have some fun if you're inclined.

The better news is that it can be applied to just about ANYTHING if you have the right glue. It can be put on plastic (which we're doing here because I have a hideous pot), wood, glass, ceramics (think old ceramic pot) and even canvas or a wall. Just check to be sure that the glue you're using will adhere to whatever surface you want to apply it to. The bottle will tell you.

This technique is called "skinning" in which you drizzle paint in a puddle, let it run, and let the paint do all the work!

No artistic skills necessary.

NOTE: for those who know how to make art acrylic skins, this is NOT it. House paint, though latex, is different, dries differently and isn't as flexible. You must also leave it adhered to the plastic wrap. For those who wish to learn how to do skins with artist acrylics, that will be another Instructable as it's a different process (and more expensive).

Step 1: Supplies

1) House paint. MUST be latex if you're working with children!!! I also shouldn't have to remind you in this day and age, but if you're using old paint, be sure there is no lead in it. If what you have is oil based, then ALL of the colors you choose must also be oil and youngchildren should not work with this. You cannot mix oil and latex and get the same result as you see here. You can, however, get some nifty results, so feel free to experiment. It's only a little paint after all.

NOTE: If you don't have this much house paint in varying colors, you can get samples at any home improvement store. Sometimes they will even mix colors for you, so you have the pick of the litter as far as colors go if you choose to purchase them. Sometimes you can get them for pennies if it's returned paint. Sometimes you have to pay up to $10 for a small sample depending on the brand, but you have a huge range of colors to choose from, so what you use is up to you.

2) Spray paint if you plan on changing the color of the thing you will apply the skin to. I happened to have this hideous pot in a not so pretty shade of "cream". Just be sure that the paint you choose to spray whatever you will apply the skin to is formulated for THAT thing. I used Krylon spray paint that is specifically formulated for plastic. You can choose what brand, but be sure that it will adhere to what you want to spray. It's important!

3) Something to stir your paint with. Paint that has been sitting for a while will separate and needs to be stirred. Paint sticks are usually free when you buy your paint, or you can pick them up for free at most home improvement stores. You only need one, even with multiple colors, as long as you wipe it down well before you stir the next color.

HINT: Start with your lightest color and stir in progressively darker order.

4) Something to wipe your paint stick with or clean up spills. If you want to use paper towels, go for it. I happen to have a dozen art rags laying around and they can go through the wash, so why waste paper towels?

5) Something to transfer the paint from the can to the pouring vessel with. I happened to have rescued a measuring cup with a pour spout from the recycle. You can also use the paint stick itself if you have the patience. Doesn't matter as long as it will transfer the paint from the large can to the smaller vessel. I used both the measuring cup and the paint stick. What can I say? I got impatient.

6) Something to put the paint you will USE in. There's no way you'll use all of the leftovers, so you have to have something to pour from or you'll make a horrible mess. You're only using a little.

7) Something to use as a "backer". I used cardboard because it's what I have. You can use anything you like that's a relatively flat surface and easy enough for you to tilt into any position.

8) Plastic wrap of any kind. The cheaper the better as it will be hidden anyway. You only need enough to cover your board. (artists ... this is HOUSE paint. The artistic stuff uses a different surface, yes, I know).


Scissors to cut shapes from your dry skin (the paint skin. I'm not suggesting you need lotion).

Glue to adhere the skin to your surface. Choose one that dries CLEAR. I chose Mod Podge MATTE finish because I have it. There are many glues on the market to choose from. You can also try regular school glue, but you might have to put a finish coat of poly over it to protect it. What glue you choose will depend on what you're gluing your skin to. Here are some general suggestions:

  • Modge Podge: Will glue most things to most other things. However, if you're gluing to a vertical surface (like a wall you can't lay on the table), it might slip a bit before it's dry. Using a thin layer beneath will help with slippage.
  • Super 77: will glue anything to anything. However, this is a spray glue, so you have to spray your skin and then apply it or you'll have over-spray that you won't like very much. You also have to use it in a well ventilated area.
  • E6000: Also will glue anything to anything. It's a bit messy (though you can now get spray E6000), but there's NO way it will come off of whatever you attach the skin to.
  • School glue. I've never tried it myself because I have so many other options, but it's worth a try, especially if you will be working with young children.

10) Something to protect your surface ... floor ... deck ... whatever. I used an old towel because I knew how much of a mess I would make. If you are working with kids or don't have a towel, I suggest newspaper for easy clean up. If you're doing a large piece or are a mess-maker, or are working with kids on a surface you don't want paint on, then I'd suggest a drop cloth. The good news is that latex is soap and water cleanable until it dries.

11) Whatever you want to finish it with. By this I mean yarn, bling, twine, actual pictures, glitter, scrapbook goodies, or anything else you feel like sticking on it. Just be sure you have the correct adhesive to stick whatever it is down.

Step 2: Choose the Right Surface

I just chose a box that was about the size of the skin I wanted to make. The first image is the "good side" without divots or markings of any significance.

The second image is the inside of the box with stuff that will eventually end up warping your skin, so you don't want that.

You can use just about anything from a board to melamine or whatever. The only trick is that you MUST be able to tilt it upright as well as turn it over and around so that you can let the paint drip in whatever direction you want. Melamine is heavy, which is why I used cardboard.

Step 3: Cover Cardboard in Plastic Wrap

Secure the plastic wrap to the back side of the cardboard, wrap it around the front and secure it again on the other side of the back of your cardboard. The "working side" (side that is most flat and flaw-free) of the cardboard should only have plastic wrap and no securing tape. Easy enough.

What I chose to do in the 4th image is secure the wrap on the FAR sides, on the "working" side. This way, paint wouldn't seep under the edges since my wrap wasn't wide enough to completely cover the cardboard.

NOTE: DO NOT overlap your wrap to cover the entire "working surface"!!! Paint will leak underneath and you won't have a complete "skin" to work with as it may tear when you lift it. Worse, it might stick to the surface below and you'll have to trash that bit.

If you need a surface wider than your plastic wrap, then dry cleaning bags are a good choice.

Step 4: Prepare Your Paint for Pouring

If your paint hasn't come directly from the paint shop, it will be separated. Sometimes it may look fine, but trust me, it's not. The emulsifiers in it will pull apart and you'll end up with inconsistent color.

Stir the paint well. If it's lumpy or is thick, it won't work. If you have nearly dried up paint, you can TRY to thin it with a tiny bit of water, but I'm not taking responsibility for the outcome. Water only THINS paint, making the color thinner and causing it to dry not only faster (and you want all of your paint to dry at the same rate), but the end product will be brittle.

Just stir it.

To get the paint into the cup you will pour from, use something like a measuring cup (dedicated now for paint) or a plastic spoon or medicine cup ... or even the paint stick itself. Do not try to pour from the can to your surface. You'll have a mess and it's almost impossible to control the volume.

When you have all of your cups filled (one for each color), you're ready to pour.

Step 5: Now, Let the Paint Do All the Work!

Start by pouring your lightest color and work in the order you want the volume to be. For instance, I wanted mostly that cool white (which is actually light blue), then green, then grey with only a little black for contrast. However, as I worked, the paint had other ideas and that's the beauty of letting it do what it wants.

Once you have a good sized puddle, tilt the whole darn thing up and let it run.

Step 6: AND ... Let It Run Some More

Once the paint has run a bit, turn the whole thing completely over and let it run back the other way.

IMPORTANT: Do not let the paint run off of the surface. You want it to remain a soupy mess, that way it will continue to run and not dry out on you too quickly. Besides, you'll lose paint you WANT.

Continue turning it this way and that and watch the magic happen. Not enough color somewhere? Turn it again. The more you let it run, the more detail you're going to get and you'll be hard pressed to get that kind of detail with a brush, at least not in the 10 minutes this is going to take you.

Still not enough of one color in a spot? Just pour more paint. I wasn't seeing enough green or black for my liking, so image 2 shows that I just drizzled more into the spots I thought were too bare.

Now, the last three images are close up details of the finished pour. This took me about 15 minutes to achieve. Yes, you could try to speed things up by using the old toothpick trick and drag the paint, but remember, the paint is sitting on THIN PLASTIC and the chances that you'll puncture the plastic is high. You can try it if you like, but again, I'm not responsible if the paint sticks to the cardboard. Best to just futz with it till you see what you like. In most cases, you'll be cutting out parts and it won't be going onto your surface all in one piece (but it can).

Keep tilting and turning and adding paint till you have something you like. Remember, let the PAINT do the work. You're just along for the ride, watching the show until you decide it's over.

THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG. Just let your eye tell you all you need to know. It's fool-proof, I promise, if you have enough patience that is.

Step 7: Now, Let It Dry

This will take 12-24 hours to dry. Don't even check it before the next morning. Don't touch it to see if it's dry before the next morning or you'll mess up all that running.

CAUTION: Do NOT, all you crafters out there, even THINK of hitting this with a heat gun or hair dryer. First of all, it will blow around any paint that's not dry. Second, this skin is on PLASTIC and you will melt it. Third, it will cause the paint to dry too quickly and you'll get some shrinkage that you won't necessarily like.

Just let it dry overnight, somewhere way from kids and pets, your spouse (who will be curious as to whether or not it's dry) and yourself ... so you don't accidentally put your fingers in it or think since you did it, it's okay to check it.

Step 8: While You're Waiting, Paint Your Surface

This part is easy. Just use your spray paint to paint whatever surface you'll be applying the skin to (if you need to).

I chose Krylon specifically formulated for plastic. I only chose it because it was the color I wanted. Actually, I wanted a darker teal, but the store in my town (very, very small town) didn't have a similar color in one formulated for plastic. NOT ALL PAINTS ARE THE SAME. Be sure to read the label. I think Rustoleum makes a mirror silver, so if you're going to skin glass, you can do the inside in silver. It's specially formulated for glass you see.

As for all spray painted projects, it's better to do 2 or 3 light coats than one heavy one. Just cover your surface and if you can, work outside. If not, be sure your area is WELL ventilated. Spray paints and adhesives are noxious.

If your children are older, say over the age of 10, it's about time they learned to use spray paint properly too, so as long as you're outside (where they won't inhale the fumes), let the kiddos go for it. It's actually a skill well learned.

Step 9: Day 2: It's Dry!

Now that it's dry, it's time to start applying it.

Simply cut the plastic from the cardboard (you don't need to be neat about it as long as you don't cut your skin) and you now have a very thin skin backed with plastic wrap to apply.

The detail pics show what happens when you don't mix the paint entirely well. As it drys, the emulsifiers tend to separate and while this isn't always what you want, you can get some REALLY interesting things that happen because of it. However, I wouldn't TRY to make this happen or it's likely not to turn out right. The whole point is to let the paint do what it wants.

NOTE for artists who work with skins: Again, this is not the art Instructable. That will come later. Latex house paint must be on a backer (in this case, plastic wrap) or you won't be able to peel it off like you can artist acrylics.

Step 10: Time to Make ART!

For this step, you'll need your glue, scissors or other cutting implement of choice, water (the glue I used is water soluble), a paint brush, and something to wipe the excess water from the brush if you have to rinse because the glue is getting too gloppy (because you've taken too long and it's starting to dry on your brush ... it happens).

The first order of the day is to decide how you want to use your skin. At this point, you can do anything you like. You can cut shapes (simple ones because plastic wrap doesn't lend itself to detailed cut-outs like you'd get with a die cutter ... but I don't have a Cricut, so if you wanna run it through the thing, then go for it) or go with the organic lines that were produced by all the running. That's what I did. I cut out what I wanted and left out what I didn't. Pretty simple. I only ended up with about 10% waste, which is reasonable. You can feel free to toss more if you like.

THERE ARE NO WRONG CHOICES. Just do what you like. No worries.

Once you have your shapes cut out (or at least the first one, you can wing it as you go), coat the BACK of the skin with glue.

Coat the surface you'll be applying the skin to with the same glue (just roughly) and then stick the skin to the piece where you've applied the glue.

An edge sticking up? No problem. Just dip your brush in the glue, wedge it under the sticky-up part (coating it with glue) and then smash it down.

Then, coat over all of the edges with the same glue.

IMPORTANT: You want to get out as many air bubbles as you can from under the skin so that it will stick and not lift. You can do this with the brush if you've put enough glue under the piece you're trying to glue, or better yet, smooth it down with your fingers.

Don't fear the glue! It will wash off of your fingers. Just do what you need to do to get the darn thing to stick if it's being oppositional. There will always be that ONE piece that won't behave.


A woman who owns a ceramic painting place (now also doing glass) that I've been frequenting for at least 15 years had this on her wall until she moved:

"There are no straight lines in nature" and "There are no mistakes in art".

Truer words couldn't have been spoken.

Art is in the joy of creating. That YOU like it is all that matters. If all the lines aren't straight or all the circles not perfect or whatever, it doesn't matter. What is aesthetically pleasing to the eye is BEAUTY, and you have created that simply by trying something new.

Just let the perfectionist in you take a nap and do what you do in whatever way it turns out. You might surprise yourself.

NO ONE has to like it but you ... however ... chances are that someone else will like it also. Ignore the "flaws" and don't point them out because most likely, you're the only one who's going to notice anyway.

Thanks to Ann Tucker and her son, Jonathan, for the wisdom to ignore my inner perfectionist

Create a Memory, Salem Oregon

Step 12: Keep Applying Until Done

Just keep on cutting and gluing until you have something you like.

I didn't take pics of my process because I like organic forms and therefore, I just cut where I wanted to keep. Besides, I don't want YOU to do what I did, you should do what you like.

You can layer one piece of the skin over another and then add a third or even forth layer. It's up to you. I just added organically cut out pieces until I had all of the straight lines I had in the beginning (when I started blocking it in) covered. I continued until I was done.

"Done" means you've either hit a point where it looks good to you as is, or when you run out of skin. There's always an option of doing another skin, or doing a skin in completely different colors or whatever you like. There are no rules.

It's done when your eye says it's done.

The last three images are the finished product with the plant. I turned it so you could see all of the sides, which are very different.

Step 13: All Done!

I decided I couldn't call this one "finished" until I planted something. So I did.

It now lives on my side table by the end of the couch that's "mine".

See? Nothing to it.

It looks quite complicated, but it's not. Had I wanted to, I could have spent hours detailing the thing, adding shadows and making the whole thing "pop" a little more with highlights or shadows. I may in the future, but probably not.

My point is that anything goes. This is the time (before planting of course, since a plantar is what I worked on) to add any bling you wish. Add fibers. Add photos (I'd recommend copies). Add a glass topper if it's on a desk or table. Or, you can finish with several coats of polyurethane if it's going to be used a lot. I'd add it if this were on a floor.

Frame it if you've stuck it to a wall ... or not.

Bedazzle it if you've put it on a jacket (just be sure you used the right glue for fabric).

Do whatever you like. You've made ART and in truth, you're the only one who will know that it made itself ...

unless you TELL someone that is.

ENJOY! Hope you try it!

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