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  • Julie Branstetter

Painted Terracotta Pots

Hand painted Terracotta Pots

This has got to be the hardest time of year for people who love to garden, especially those who plant vegetable gardens.There are a few little things that can be done this time of year around my area in eastern North Carolina, but aside from raking, weeding and giving the ground and initial tilling, it is a waiting game. So while we wait here is an idea that will prime you for the spring planting and garden decorating season and even provide some unique gifts for your friends. When I go out to my work station I always find at least a dozen terracotta pots, emptied and turned over, as if tucked into bed for the winter. I know I will use them again so I always clean them out so they will be ready to use the following season for any annuals or herbs I want to start in early spring.

Since I’m itching to get started I plan to paint these terracotta pots to give them added interest and beauty for the coming season. I’ll even paint a few extra and plant something pretty in them in early spring to give away as a gift. This year I want to plant herbs in my pots and keep them near the side entrance of my home so I found a great picture online to give you an idea of what I am going for. Here are seven tips to creating your own painted terracotta works of art.

1. Sketch your ideas down on paper. Decide ahead what you plan to do with the pot, how you want to design it and what colors to use. If you want to match the paint colors with something nearby (pillows, patio furniture, the flower colors in the plant, etc.) take a photo of the item with good lighting so the color comes out closely in the photo or take a fabric swatch with you to the paint section of your local hardware store. Most paint departments can scan and match colors if you are unable to match it with anything in stock. Crafting stores have many different acrylic paint colors, so you may check those out first just to see if there is anything that matches or is close or perhaps you hadn’t thought of but would rather use. If you can’t find the right color, get a pint (or more if needed) of it mixed for yourself. If you plan to use a lot of one color as a base color and then paint designs over the top of it, perhaps you can find a good base color to hide the terracotta orange in a spray can. This could speed up the process for you as well since the inside of your terracotta pot should also be painted as well.

2. Choose your paint type thoughtfully. If your pots will be outdoors you will need to choose paints that can withstand the outside elements. Water-based acrylic craft paint is the easiest and best overall type of paint to use and it will not end up peeling or bubbling in rain and heat. You can use oil paint, but it isn’t easy to use or clean up. Water soluble acrylic cleans up with soap and water if you have an accident. Buy enough paint for sealing the inside, painting a couple of coats and sealing the finished pot.

3. Plan to paint the inside of your pot. Painting the inside of the pot helps the painted finish on the pot's outside resist peeling and bubbling from the moisture leaking through the pot's interior. Terracotta is porous and it draws moisture out of the soil and into the pot so painting the inside of the pot also helps to retain more of the soil’s moisture by creating a paint barrier between the pot and the soil. Use a cheap base coat to start with to act as a sealant for the porous terracotta. Once you get the base coat on it, spray with a clear acrylic sealant spray for extra protection against moisture 'wicking'. Purchase a couple of cans of clear acrylic sealant spray to finish the pot when your painting has dried and the project is finished. This will help your beautiful pot stay gorgeous longer and hold up against outdoor weather conditions.

4. Prepare your pot before you begin to paint. Especially is the pot has been used outside before, obviously you will want to make sure the pot is completely clean of any dirt or debris. But the dirt can really be ingrained into terracotta and some fertilizer salts can leave residue as well which can affect the effectiveness of your paint. Soak your terracotta pot submerged in a bucket of bleach water (water to bleach parts ratio should be 1:10). The longer you allow it to soak the easier it will be to clean. If the pot is very dirty it is okay to allow it to soak overnight if needed. Remove from soaking and use a small hand cleaning brush to scrub the pot clean. Once the pot is clean, submerge in a second bucket filled with only water for about 15 minutes to help remove any remaining bleach in and on the pot. Allow the pot to dry thoroughly and it is ready to be painted.

5. Prepare your paint before you begin to paint. Use small bowls to pour out a little of each color you will use in the portion of you project you are working on. Use brushes, sponges, stencils, and perhaps even natural items like leaves or ferns to imprint with. Be as creative as you want to be. You may surprise yourself!

6. Take your time and enjoy creating a one of a kind piece of artwork. If you make a mistake, wipe away the mistake with a rag and paint over it or allow it to dry and paint over it. Give your painting a little bit of texture by painting over layers of dried paint. Use light and dark colors to shade or highlight in your painting. The sky is the limit so enjoy painting and don’t cry over spilled paint. ;)

7. Allow your painted pot to thoroughly dry. Before you plant anything in your beautiful work of art allow it to dry for about a week. Also allow this drying time before you even expose it to any extreme outside elements. If the weather is mild you can allow it to sit outside to dry, but it is possible to get dust, dirt, and even bugs stuck to your paint so the best thing to allow it to dry indoors or in a greenhouse somewhere until you are ready to use or present the pot in all of its glory. Plant a beautiful plant or potted peppers in your pot and wrap a bow around it to give to a friend as a gift. It is a wonderful gift they will enjoy it for the rest of the year and can use the pot again in the years to come!

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