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Lena Corwin: Painted Furniture How-to and Favorites

Nov 7, 2008

by missbatch handmade and vintage goods

I recently caught up with Lena Corwin, who’s got lots to share, including her many inspirations, Etsy favorites, and from her new book, this beautifully “dressed-up dresser”, just for you! Click here to download the complete instructions, or follow along below. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do.
Hi! Thanks for asking me to do an interview. I love Etsy! I’m a textile designer, illustrator, craft book author, and curator of artist books. I started my career in graphic design, which lead me to textile design — and now I do a variety of projects as a self-employed designer.

My book, Printing By Hand, is a how-to guide for printing patterns on different materials and surfaces, using methods of stamping, stenciling, and screen printing. The book covers a lot of detailed technical information, and has fun projects like printing on bed sheets, furniture, and clothing.
What draws you to the printing process and how did you get started with it?
I never get tired of printing. I love working with my hands, and I prefer the look of imperfections that you get from hand printing instead of printing digitally or by machine. I love vintage fabric, and I first became interested in doing my own printing from admiring the inconsistencies and imperfections in old fabrics. I like when patterns are off register, and the ink blends and distorts.

Where else do you find inspiration for your creative process?
A reoccurring source of inspiration for me is imagery from my childhood. I’ve bought a lot of the books that I had as a kid, and I find nostalgic imagery in them. I went to a Montessori school and we used a lot of blocks and geometric objects as learning tools, and I’m fascinated by those shapes and colors. I’m always taking snapshots with my digital camera, and I look back at my photos for inspiration for designs.

You seem to flow very easily between different mediums, from textile design to graphic design, blogging and photography (what else?)… how do you find they influence each other?

I’ve always thought of my blog as a catalog of ideas and inspiration for my artwork and projects. The blog has helped to organize my ideas and I notice themes in my inspiration. Using flickr has helped me rediscover photography, which was a passion of mine in high school. My blog definitely helps me organize my thoughts for future designs.

You cover so many aspects of printing in the book, but is there anything you were not able to cover that you wish you could have?
Originally I wanted to ask other designers to contribute to the book. That didn’t happen, but I think it would have been great to see how other artists would have interpreted the projects.

What’s next for you?

I’m busy working on Lines & Shapes, a series of artists books I co-curate with Maria Vettese (we have exciting plans for 2009!). I’m looking forward to coming out with new pillow designs—— both with my own patterns and collaborations with other designers.

These are some of my favorite items/shops/designers on Etsy. I mostly look at new, original art on Etsy, but I also search for vintage items.

cacti .birds eye view
by yuizdan168, $2

Grizzly Bear by LizzyStewart, $23

Obama poster by YeeHaw, $15

Set of Postcards by Jennifer Causey of photobird, $16

Calendar by Claire Nereim, $50

Ceramic planters by Michael McDowell of mudpuppy, $10.80

Gold ring by Nicole Solo of soloartworks, $60

Tea towels by skinnylaminx, $12

Handprinted linen by maramiki, $40

Custom dog portrait by Sian Keegan of sian, $110

Calendar by seventyandsunny, $20

Set of handwoven napkins by plait, $120

Vintage tea tin by domestikate, $10

And now for the project…

Dressed-up Dresser
I’ve stenciled on new and used furniture, and there are advantages to both. Old furniture usually needs some cleaning up (like sanding wood or stripping off flaking paint), but you can usually find a well-made piece inexpensively. New furniture needs little or no preparation before stenciling, but you may have to spend a lot more money for a good-quality piece. For this project I used a new dresser made with unfinished solid pine. My dresser measures 24″ wide by 27″ tall, but you can adapt these instructions to a piece of furniture of any size. Simply adjust the number of stencils and the amount of paint to suit your project.

1. Prepare Work Surface

You will need a work surface of approximately 3′ x 3′ for cutting your stencil, and a well-ventilated area covered with newspaper or a drop cloth to paint your dresser.

2. Cut Stencils
Photocopy the artwork supplied in the back of the book (and on download) for this project (or your own artwork) onto several sheets of 8 1/2″ x 11″ or 11″ x 17″ white paper. Cut out all the shapes in the design with scissors (A). Note: This is a reverse stencil, so you want to keep the center shapes and discard the surrounding paper. When cutting the design out of paper, do not cut out the eyes in animal shapes, or the holes in the flowers.

Roll out approximately 12″ of contact paper, plastic-side down, taping the edges of the contact paper to your work surface if it starts to roll up (B). Set several paper cut-out shapes on the contact paper, design-side down, and trace around the shapes with pencil (C). Cut the shapes from the contact paper with scissors (D). To cut out a hole in the center of a flower or the eye in an animal, fold the contact paper where the hole will be and cut a half-moon shape. Repeat until you have traced and cut all the shapes from the contact paper.

3. Prepare Dresser
Remove the knobs from your dresser and, in an outdoor, ventilated area, spray paint the dresser knobs white. With the drawers out of the dresser, paint a coat of white latex primer on the drawers with the paint roller. Let the paint dry, and wash out the paint roller and tray. Paint a coat of white semigloss latex paint on the drawers. Let the paint dry. Paint a second coat, if needed, and wash out the paint roller and tray. Let the paint dry overnight. Note: It’s important to let the dresser dry overnight; if you don’t, the contact-paper stencils might peel off the paint when you remove them later.

4. Assemble Stencils and Print

Keeping the drawers out of the dresser, tape the sides, tops, and bottoms of each drawer with painter’s tape. Put the drawers back in the dresser, but leave them all open about 1″. Tape the sides of the drawers together with painter’s tape to stabilize them — otherwise they may shift while applying stencils and painting.

Following the placement of the stencils in the photo (see page 82 or download), loosely tape the stencils in place with transparent tape to make sure that they all fit together nicely (E). When you are happy with the placement of the stencils, start to peel the backing off the largest pieces, and press them to the front of the drawers (F). Note: It is important to peel the transparent tape off of the stencil before peeling off the paper backing. Any tape hanging off the edge of a stencil will become part of the stencil design. Once all the large stencils have been placed on the drawers, fill the spaces in between with the smaller pieces.

When a portion of a stencil runs off the edge of a drawer, fold the excess over the edge, and press it into place (G). Avoid putting a delicate part of the stencil (such as a leg or an antler) across a break between two drawers, this will increase the chance of the paint bleeding under the stencil in that area. You may have extra pieces left over, or you may need to cut out more shapes to fill in spaces. When all the stencils are assembled, make sure they are fully adhered to the surface of the drawers by pressing over them again with your hands.

Scoop several tablespoons of yellow latex paint onto an artist’s palette or into the paint tray. Push the roller through the paint to coat it evenly. With the paint roller, paint over and between the stencils (H). Let the paint dry, and paint a second coat. If the paint is still translucent, add a third coat. Allow the paint to dry to the touch, and peel off the stencils and painter’s tape (I). Note: If the yellow paint bleeds under the stencil, it may be necessary to touch up the white areas with a small (1/8″) paintbrush and the white semigloss paint.

5. Clean Up
Discard the used stencils. Wash the brush, roller, and paint tray thoroughly with water, and let them dry completely before using again.

Thanks to Lena for visiting with us and to publishers, Stewart, Tabori & Chang for the book images and project
download. It’s been a treat!

Want to explore your own handprinting projects? …Search Handcarved Stamps to get started. For more nature-inspired decorating ideas, search Nature Wall Decals.


  • olivebrown

    olivebrown said 12 years ago

    lena has great always!

  • PinwheelArt

    PinwheelArt said 12 years ago

    I loved this! She was just in Domino Mag too right?

  • dogties

    dogties said 12 years ago

    Love the painted furniture!!! The items are amazing too & those stencils look fun.

  • chakrapennywhistle

    chakrapennywhistle said 12 years ago

    Simply stunning!

  • evesimone

    evesimone said 12 years ago

    Great post, loved that the technique was photographed! Its an official "how to" ! Thank you!

  • TheTinyFig

    TheTinyFig said 12 years ago

    I have this book and I love it!

  • myzoetrope

    myzoetrope said 12 years ago

    That dresser is gorgeous.

  • Lavatican

    Lavatican said 12 years ago

    She has such pretty eyes.

  • JustFeltHungry

    JustFeltHungry said 12 years ago

    Great technique to paint the furniture!

  • FeltFinesse

    FeltFinesse said 12 years ago

    That dresser looks Amazing !!!

  • mamafamilias

    mamafamilias said 12 years ago

    I want this book! Though I already have more projects on my "to paint" list that I can finish in this lifetime.

  • corelladesign

    corelladesign said 12 years ago

    Admire Lena Corwin and her work. Have 'Printing by Hand' and love it!

  • kimmchi

    kimmchi said 12 years ago

    I love the whole downloadable How-To

  • oohvintage

    oohvintage said 12 years ago

    So cool! And thanks for sharing the project idea! I may have to try that soon!

  • hobocampcrafts

    hobocampcrafts said 12 years ago

    I just took this book out of the library- so lovely- great projects!

  • LaVitaLola

    LaVitaLola said 12 years ago

    very inspiring!! thank you!

  • LieblingDesigns

    LieblingDesigns said 12 years ago

    Well this is awesome to see...I just bought "Printing By Hand" TWO days ago! What a small world :)

  • Cance

    Cance said 12 years ago

    these interview/how-to articles are great! i have the same type dresser, and i've been wanting to do *something* with it...and now i have an awesome inspiration ;D

  • autumnsarrival

    autumnsarrival said 12 years ago

    How much fun was this? What a great idea!!

  • GumballGrenade

    GumballGrenade said 12 years ago

    I've coveted this book for quite awhile now!

  • littleloveblue

    littleloveblue said 12 years ago

    what a great how-to! i want to try that now:)

  • hodgepodgefarm

    hodgepodgefarm said 12 years ago

    lena has the most exquisite taste! i can't wait to get her book, and now i'm going to check out all those fave etsy sellers' shops ;n)

  • papermenagerie

    papermenagerie said 12 years ago

    Her blog and work are so inspiring!

  • TheStrawberryGirl

    TheStrawberryGirl said 12 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  • stripesandplaid

    stripesandplaid said 12 years ago

    Wow. Her talent makes me want to be a more creative, more inspired artist. Truly, I'm jealous.

  • JessicaPoundstone

    JessicaPoundstone said 12 years ago

    I just got the book the other day - it is beautiful!

  • Piggy

    Piggy said 12 years ago

    Great article! Thanks for sharing :D

  • katieblairdesigns

    katieblairdesigns said 12 years ago

    what a fun project

  • rickrackrow

    rickrackrow said 12 years ago

    I got the really brilliant book last week and it's so simple and inspiring, me new prints will be gracing la shop very soon! Thanks Lena for being ACE!

  • LegendaryTigerHero

    LegendaryTigerHero said 12 years ago

    Alright! I'm going to go and paint ALL of my furniture right now!!!

  • GollyBard

    GollyBard said 12 years ago

    Great article, ideas, projects!

  • flyingzoo

    flyingzoo said 12 years ago

    this is great project!!!

  • redpossum

    redpossum said 12 years ago

    oh to live that creative life all the time!

  • rifferaff

    rifferaff said 12 years ago

    i have this book and love it. i'm a big fan of lena's work.

  • sewingmomma

    sewingmomma said 12 years ago

    I loved her book! Very useful information if you want to learn how to print.

  • LuLusMeltShoppe

    LuLusMeltShoppe said 12 years ago

    very cool, def gave me some ideas of my own

  • JLMould

    JLMould said 12 years ago

    What a cool way to paint my house! I LOVE IT.. thank you for sharing. Jessica Lynn :)

  • thecuriousbiologist

    thecuriousbiologist said 12 years ago

    It is always a gift for an artist to share their methods. Thank you. :)

  • AnomalyJewelry

    AnomalyJewelry said 12 years ago

    Just checked out her blog...BEAUTIFUL and inspiring. I will definitely be visiting regularly.

  • minniesheart

    minniesheart said 12 years ago

    Ooh! I have to try painting on some of my childrens' furniture, the tutorial is great, thanks!

  • JoyandWhimsy

    JoyandWhimsy said 12 years ago

    Thanks for the lesson! Beautiful job.

  • gretchenmist

    gretchenmist said 12 years ago

    this book is great and has already influenced my work a lot! great blog and design too:)

  • Smilingfrogs

    Smilingfrogs said 12 years ago

    I think I'll try this on my old beat up dresser :)

  • mpaperarts

    mpaperarts said 12 years ago

    That stenciling - brilliant!

  • oliveandbee

    oliveandbee said 12 years ago

    Thank you for sharing. And Lena, you are so beautiful...

  • cynthiacallan

    cynthiacallan said 12 years ago


  • FlanneryCrane

    FlanneryCrane said 12 years ago

    Lovely Work!

  • SweetAnnieJeanne

    SweetAnnieJeanne said 12 years ago

    i had just bought this book a week ago. and read it cover to cover. its been a great inspiration. the only book i could find for (how to) on hand printing repeated patterns on fabric!

  • LaurenFaythe

    LaurenFaythe said 12 years ago

    love your work! thank you!

  • hadleygetscrafty

    hadleygetscrafty said 12 years ago

    I have a dresser that's just waiting for this particular treatment....

  • melissajohanesonrice

    melissajohanesonrice said 12 years ago

    great ideas simple & fun

  • Pizpireta

    Pizpireta said 12 years ago

    your furniture are very nice

  • kachingdesign

    kachingdesign said 12 years ago

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • canvaspics

    canvaspics said 12 years ago

    Great idea! I usually just paint and distress but this gives me an abundance of ideas to really bring my flea market finds to life! Thanks!

  • pinkshowercurtain

    pinkshowercurtain said 12 years ago

    excellent post & picks!

  • missmarmaladeuk

    missmarmaladeuk said 12 years ago

    I just bought Lena's Printing by Hand book and I can't wait to get stuck in!!! Great, article, thanks :)

  • amiescardshoppe

    amiescardshoppe said 12 years ago

    wow, your so talented! very cool ideas.

  • Atelier500

    Atelier500 said 12 years ago

    I love these ideas..most creative!!

  • treehousebrooklyn

    treehousebrooklyn said 12 years ago

    we at treehouse brooklyn love lena's inventive creativity. And she's nice, to boot! thanksfor the inspiration, Lena! kisses from the branches, siri treehouse

  • parrott

    parrott said 12 years ago

    This is so beautiful and accessible! Thanks!

  • bashayer

    bashayer said 12 years ago

    very lovely work!!!

  • imajenn

    imajenn said 12 years ago

    this stuff is great! I paint furniture too, but have never done anything like this before. It's totally cute!

  • tinyspace

    tinyspace said 12 years ago

    i like the design and colour, works really well!

  • aprilmck

    aprilmck said 12 years ago

    Absolutely LOVE Lena's book! I am inspired by her and enjoyed this article.

  • CabinOn6th

    CabinOn6th said 10 years ago

    Love the painted furniture!!!

  • OpusMuse

    OpusMuse said 10 years ago

    what a great idea! my little girl's room needs a splash of color & this project is perfect. thank you for sharing!

  • Otomi Applique Quilt | Needle and Compass said 6 years ago

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