Layering Paint Tutorial

I first discovered this technique when I made Mr. Seahorse. I knew I wanted a weathered look for him, but not the one that screamed orbital sander. I wanted something that didn’t look too patterned or intentional. The technique I’m going to show you, uses a hand, eye, and thinking approach. Of course, you can’t 100% duplicate what time does naturally, but I think this comes pretty close.

Oh, and this is a snippet of Mr. Seahorse. This isn’t a tutorial for him, but I used the same technique. I was able to beat him up a bit more, as he is way beefier than my name plaque.

Before you start, gather these supplies:

Item to be painted

7-8 acrylic paint colors of your choice {I would use latex or maybe a chalk paint for larger pieces such as furniture}


Paper towels

60 grit sandpaper

Various distressing tools {bolts, wrench, hammer, etc}

Bar of soap

First, start with your base coat. Pick a color you want to peek through all the others. This is your first layer. Paint a minimum of 2 coats.

After the second coat dries, take ¬†your bar of soap and skim the surface of your piece, making sure to grab some edges along the way. Don’t be too particular where you rub on the soap, buy you’ll want to put it on a little thicker in some areas. The soap prevents the next layer from adhering to the one before. Next, using a different color than your first, apply a thick coat of paint as your second layer.

Allow it to dry, just to a tacky touch. Before you start sanding, think about your piece. Where was it? What’s it’s story? How would it have aged naturally? Mine was hanging on the side of a seafood market in Key West. It survived a couple of hurricanes, many rainstorms, and the hot Florida sun. So…it had to be repainted several times over the years. Distress accordingly. When you begin the distress process, don’t just go for the edges. Be random. Gently rub your sandpaper across your piece. Because your paint is still tacky, you don’t have to put a lot of elbow grease into it. You will see it start to lift in the areas where you rubbed the soap.

You are basically going to repeat this process until you have achieved the look you want. After the first layer, use some of the other distressing tools. This particular piece was fairly thin, so I didn’t do a lot of “beating up.” Don’t be afraid to chunk a wrench at it…just make sure nobody is in the way. Safety first!

Just to give you an idea…this was the halfway point for me.

Next, take a damp paper towel and rub over where you sanded. Do you see the “i” below? This is an example of me wiping away the paint. This is water based paint, so it’s going to wipe away fairly easily. Be really gentle…you don’t won’t to get rid of everything you just did. This step is really trial and error. It’s hard to explain. You just have to do it and get a feel for it. You do want to replace your paper towel as it gets muddied with color.


and more….

and finally….the piece de resistance….

Actually, I have plans to marry this piece with a “seafood” sign I already have. I’ll keep you updated on that. In the meantime…happy layering!


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