Painting on Metal 101

by Chris Williams

Traditional tole painting.

Did you know that painting on metal is often referred to as tole painting? The word “tole” is a French word which describes hand-enameled or painted tinware which often is embellished with gold gilding. Yesterday’s tole painting is found on metal surfaces such as pitchers, coffee pots, spice jars, and document boxes of all sizes and shapes.

Today, tin still is a favorite surface to paint. The key to painting on tinware is to properly prepare the surface so that your artwork will last for many generations to come!

Preparing new tinware is as simple as properly cleaning, drying and priming. Preparing older tinware can be a bit trickier; rust and corrosion may have accumulated over the years.

Preparing New Tin

Preparing new tin.

  1. Remove price stickers; wash in warm soapy water, rinse with clean water and dry.
  2. Tinware should be wiped down with a white vinegar dampened cloth to neutralize the surface and remove remaining grease or soap film.
  3. Because tinware usually has seams or “rolled” hems, a hair dryer may help drying.  You can also place your clean tinware in a warm oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Next, the tinware should be lightly sanded in a circular motion with either fine grit sandpaper or steel wool to give your surface “tooth” for better paint adhesion. Remove sanding dust.
  5. To prevent rust from happening in the future, it is always a good idea to prepare tin with a metal primer.  You can either brush-on or spray a metal primer.
  6. When thoroughly dry, begin painting a basecoat using FolkArt Acrylics, a soft bristle brush and light pressure.  I usually apply a couple coats of color allowing ample drying time between applications.

Now you are ready to paint your surface!

** Remember: Tinware is easily scratched. When your painting is dry, I recommend sealing your artwork with a couple coats of either brush-on FolkArt Artists Varnish (Matte, Satin or Gloss) or spray FolkArt Clear Acrylic Sealer.

Preparing Old Tin

Preparing old tin.

  1. First and foremost rust should be removed from old tinware. Left alone, it will continue to “grow.”  Remove all signs of rust using a wire bristle brush and/or medium grit sandpaper working in a circular motion.
  2. Wash old tin in soap and water to remove dirt, grease and grime.  Rinse well with clean water and allow to thoroughly dry.
  3. Continue preparing old tin following steps 2 – 6 as mentioned above.

And now, let’s have some fun!

Today I am painting on the best kind of metal… a bright yellow scalloped pail, one that has already been primed and painted!

I gathered my supplies:

Project supplies

Surface:  Kraft Klub KEB272YE Brite Yellow Scallops Pail

FolkArt Enamels

4001  Wicker White
4032  Licorice
4039  Calypso Sky
4138  Lime Green (NEW)
4140  Aqua (NEW)

Miscellaneous:  Brush basin or container for water, paper towels, foam plate, pencil, Fiskars circle template, No. 8 flat brush and a No 1 liner brush, ¼” dauber, ribbon, graphite or transfer paper, stylus and tracing paper (optional).

I wanted to accent the scalloped edge of the pail, so I lined up my circle template and traced a pencil line directly onto the metal pail.

Accent the scallops on the pail.

I decided to paint daisies with long and short petals.  Here is a neat trick to creating them: Still using my circle template, I traced a 1” circle and marked the center.  I then lined up and traced the two inch circle.

Create a daisy template.

Once you have the two circles completed, begin drawing simple daisy petals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock using the outer circle as your guide; then fill in between each petal with another one.  Next, using the smaller circle as a guide, draw shorter petals filling between each long petal.

Make daisies.

I created a tracing paper pattern of daisies and simple leaves, slipped transfer paper between the pail and pattern then traced the pattern using a stylus.

Trace the pattern.

Now the fun begins… It’s painting time! The top scalloped edge of circles is painted alternating Aqua and Calypso Sky. I began with Aqua and filled in with Calypso Sky.

Paint the scallops alternating colors.

I continued painting; the top embossed band is Calypso Sky.  The handles and bottom band are Aqua.

Paint the handles.

Paint Wicker White daisies; I started with the long petals and then filled in with the short Wicker White petals. Every stroke begins at the petal tip stroking toward the center.

Paint the daisies.

Using a small dauber, paint a Calypso Sky daisy center dot. Add Aqua at the base of each center to shade.

Use a dauber to make the daisy dot.

Accent each of the daisies with small Lime Green leaves.  I painted one leaf on the right side and two leaves on the left of each daisy. Shade the leaf base with a touch of Aqua.


Add leaves.

Accenting the project with Licorice will make it pop!  Using my flat brush, I painted a checkerboard on the bottom band.  I then painted a Licorice line along the top of each square to connect the checkerboard.

Add Licorice highlights.

Next I embellished the leaves; using the liner brush, I added veins and underlines.

Accent leaves with Licorice.

And of course, the daisies needed Licorice accents!  Using my stylus, I added tiny dots around each center.

Accent the daisies with Licorice.

Next, I decided the top band needed a Licorice checkerboard and the handles needed polka dots.

Add polka dots.

I allowed all the paint to dry and then baked to cure my project.  I set it in a cold oven, set the temp to 350 and set my timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes I turned the oven off and let both the oven and my project cool down together.  When completely cool, I threaded ribbon through the holes and tied a bow.  What a lovely tin pail to hold my painting brushes, don’t you think?

Finished project.

6 Comments to “Painting on Metal 101”

  1. Hi Barbara, I am glad to know this article was helpful to you. Stay tuned to Paint Me Plaid as I’ll have many more useful articles. Happy Painting…. 😀

  2. Thanks for posting, this is helpful.

  3. Alihlonnathigh, I appreciate your comments. I am always glad to share my experiences and knowledge with others. Please stay tuned …. for additional informative articles! And always enjoy your painting times!!

  4. Carol, thanks for the sweet comment! I am glad to know you enjoyed this project and I hope that you too will enjoy painting on tin real soon!

  5. Thanks for posting this. I didn’t know about the metal primer for painting on tin. I love to paint on glass mostly but I do paint on other surfaces off and on. I’m gonna keep this tutorial for future reference. Thank you once again.

  6. Another great article, Chris. Thanks for sharing your know-how with us!!

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