There are numerous ways to paint miniature projects. The most common methods of
painting are with a brush, an air brush, a spray can or a sponge brush. The following
instructions and suggestions will help you get started.
Note: Whenever possible, assemble the dollhouse shell before painting. There is
less chance of warping. Paint all trim, windows, doors, shutters, railings, etc.
before gluing them onto the house.
Priming and Sealing
To prime and seal your dollhouse, first remove all the windows and doors. Then paint
or spray all surfaces of the shell with a wood sealer. This will prevent finishing,
paints, varnishes and wallpaper paste from being absorbed into the wood surface,
as well as preventing warpage of the plywood later. If the windows and doors cannot
be removed, be sure to cover them when using a spray sealer.
On die-cut houses, seal all pieces by painting each side with a mixture of 1/2 denatured
alcohol and 1/2 shellac. This should be done before you start gluing the house together.
In addition, it will help to keep the pieces from warping and will still allow you
to stain, varnish or paint. These items are available at your local hardware store.
It is not necessary to use a wood sealer or primer on houses built of top-quality
plywood. If you are not applying clapboard, start painting the main section of the
house. Because the first coat tends to soak into the wood, it will probably take
three applications before you are finished.
Paint the inside of the dollhouse with a flat white paint (some you may already
have around the house). Flat white paint gives a better surface color for wallpaper,
and sets off the true color of the background. This paint makes an excellent substitute
for wood sealer and also provides a good surface for applying the tape wire when
wiring the dollhouse.
Types of Paint
Use a semi-gloss latex or acrylic base paint for all painted surfaces in a dollhouse.
These paints allow easier cleaning of all surfaces of the dollhouse. When dust accumulates
or fingerprints appear, simply wipe clean with a damp cloth. And since latex paint
is water base, brushes and paint containers will clean up with water. In addition,
latex paint goes on smooth, dries fast and the second coat can be applied within
a short period of time. Acrylic or latex paint are denser paints and tend to build
thickness as you add coats. You will need at least two coats to cover properly,
Builder's Choice is a good example of a superior latex paint and is available at
most miniature shops in a variety of colors and sizes. If this paint is not available,
you can substitute with any good quality interior latex paint found in a paint store.
You may also use an oil base semi-gloss paint, if you do not mind cleaning up with
turpentine. This paint does not build thickness when using more than one coat. Oil
base paints provide a beautiful finish with one coat, but take longer to dry.
Because the trim does not require much paint, you can use the acrylic paints found
in most Country paint kits. Since acrylic paints have a flat finish, use a water
base varnish as the last coat to give your dollhouse a semi-gloss finish. It may
take two coats for a smooth finish. This water base varnish is found in the Country
Choosing The Colors
Color schemes and combinations are a dilemma for many people. You can research
paint colors in many ways:
Look at "life size" houses for color combinations, architectural trim, roof shingle
designs, etc. whenever you drive through residential communities. It is amazing
how many ideas you can get. You might even take pictures of the house(s) that peak
Look in the women's home magazines as well as architectural magazines for ideas
for both the interior and exterior of your dollhouse.
If the style of your dollhouse reflects a historical period, go to the library and
research the colors used during that time. You will find many books on the architecture
and design of homes. Two such books are Painted Ladies and Daughters of
Painted Ladies. These books show many of the famous Victorian homes in California
with several color combinations.
To achieve a fine finish to the exterior of your dollhouse, the brushes you use
are as important as the paint. Therefore, always work with good quality brushes
that won't leave bristles in your finish. Flat cut artist's brushes with the white
or synthetic bristles are superb. Note: To determine what size brush(es) you should
use, choose one about the width of the wood or a little smaller. This prevents you
from getting paint everywhere.
Some people prefer to use the foam brushes to paint the large flat areas. Since
foam brushes pick up small particles of the wood, use a different brush for each
coat of paint.
- If there is a piece of Plexiglas
in a component, remove it before you start to paint.
- It is wise to use thinner coats
of paint, so that the surface will be even. Be sure to check often for drips, runs
and globs of paint on the edges on both sides of the area that you are painting.
- The first coat tends to pull
out the grain of the wood, causing the necessity to sand in order to have a smooth
finish. It is a good idea to sand after the application of each coat of paint. The
final coat, however, does not need to be sanded.
- Before you begin to paint,
sand all rough areas of the raw wood.
- You may use #220 sandpaper,
the plastic sanding pads, etc.
- An ordinary torn piece of brown
paper grocery bag, wadded up, makes a great "sandpaper," even on raw wood. It will
not remove the paint between coats, does not leave gouges or mar the finish, and
makes unusually shaped areas easier to sand. The resulting finish is very smooth.
- Use an emery board to sand
small areas or components.
- Be sure to sand between coats
of paint or varnish in order to remove the grain and leave a smooth finish. This
gives a more professional look to your finished product.
Oil base stains are preferred over the water base variety, because the water base
stains do not penetrate as deep. They also tend to pull out the grain of the wood.
Then, during the sanding process, some of the stain is removed.
- Since different woods can change
the color of the stain, test for color by staining a scrap piece of wood. Remember
to start light, you can always go darker.
- When applying an oil base stain
with a cloth, one coat is normally sufficient. You may also apply the stain with
- Let the stain dry for at least
- Then sand, clean surface, and
varnish two to three coats. Fast Drying Minwax Semi-Gloss Polyurethane Varnish is
a good varnish, as it dries in two to three hours. If possible, let the varnished
pieces dry overnight.
- Sand lightly between coats
- Let the varnish dry completely.
- For a really nice finish, apply
a light coat of furniture wax (not Pledge) and buff. This works especially well
- If you stain the wood floors
in the dollhouse instead of carpeting, stain them before you apply the wallpaper.
Techniques of Painting
While there is no right or wrong way to paint clapboard, the most common procedure
is to glue the clapboard onto the house first, and then paint it.
- When painting clapboard, use
a brush the width of the clapboard. The first coat will soak in and pull out the
grain of the wood.
- Sand lightly and horizontally
across each section of the clapboard. Be careful not to sand the edges, as you do
not want to deform or ruin the clapboard. An emery board makes an excellent tool
for sanding the clapboard, because it is basically the same width as the clapboard
and has a very fine grain.
- Wipe the surface clean.
- Apply the second coat of paint.
- If you still feel that the
finish is not exactly as you want it to be, sand again and apply a third coat of
The method outlined above will also work for dollhouses that have grooved plywood
to resemble clapboard. If you want to save time in the workshop, you may paint the
clapboard before attaching it to the house. Usually this is not recommended, as
the clapboard is thin and may warp in the process of painting. However, it is often
easier to sand and paint the individual pieces before they are attached to the house.
Follow the procedure outlined below to minimize any complications (such as warping).
- You must paint both sides of
the clapboard at the same time, in order to equalize the moisture.
- Paint one-third of the front
and then the same one-third on the back side.
- Repeat this sequence until
the entire piece of clapboard is painted.
- If it starts to turn or warp
slightly, very carefully flatten the piece of clapboard and lay it out to dry.
- You only need to paint one
coat on the back and two or three coats on the front. Because it is "sealed" on
both sides, the clapboard will adhere to the house better and will not warp after
Windows & Doors
If the Plexiglas is removable, follow the procedure outlined in the
General Basics Section for Painting and
Staining . If the acrylic pane cannot be removed from the wood frame of
the windows and doors, follow the procedure outlined below.
- Cut a piece of paper slightly
larger than the window opening. Slide it under the window section.
- Using a small brush, carefully
paint, stain or varnish the wood frame, pushing the paper against the edge of the
wood piece. This should help you keep the paint off of the acrylic window pane.
Remember: PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE when working with miniatures. NEVER HURRY!, because
"HASTE MAKES WASTE."
Because you can open and close them, working windows add to the overall "look" of
your dollhouse. They create a sense of genuiness to the dollhouse. Be careful not
to paint them shut!
- On most working windows the
top of the frame is loose so that you may remove the acrylic panes for painting.
If the panes are secure in the wood frame, follow Steps 1 & 2 as outlined above.
- Paint the outside frame by
following the directions in the General Basics Painting
- Be careful not to apply the
paint too heavily in the grooves where the panes slide up and down. There is very
little tolerance here. The goal for these areas is twofold: (1) to give the illusion
of color, and (2) to seal the wood. Thin the paint before you apply it, so that
it will not build up.
- If the window panes fit too
tightly, sand the groove area lightly and carefully, so that the windows will go
in and slide up and down. You might also have to sand the edges of the window pane
- Use WD-40® on the frames, and
the panes will slide up and down easier. After you have placed the window panes
in the frame to your satisfaction, glue the top piece in place.
Individual Pieces of Dollhouse
When it is necessary to paint an individual piece (wall, roof, floor, etc.) of a
dollhouse before assembly, follow the instructions in the Clapboard Painting section
(above) of this chapter. It is important to paint both sides of piece at the same
time. Painting a piece of wood under 1/2" thick on one side will cause it to warp.
This is especially true of plywood pieces, because they are constructed of thin
pieces of wood stacked with a filler and do not have the density of solid wood.
Porch & Stair Accessories
It is easier to paint small parts such as spindles, railings and posts, with an
aerosol paint can or an air brush. However, you can also hand paint them with a
- To prepare for spraying, use
a small dot of hot glue or rubber cement on a piece of wood or cardboard, and position
the spindles about 1" apart. This allows easy removal of the small pieces once they
- Spray with a light coat, let
dry, sand and spray another light coat. Repeat until the finish is the way you want
- When you are painting more
than one color on the spindle, hand paint the other colors using a small brush.
This is a tedious job and will require touching up now and then. On these additional
colors, you will need more than one coat.
- A styrofoam egg carton makes
a superb foundation for finishing the spindles. Place double-faced carpet tape on
the flat-top portion of the egg carton. Then set the spindles on end on the carpet
tape as they are painted to let them dry. The egg carton method is also good to
use when you are painting metal miniatures.
- If you have used flat paints,
apply a water base varnish for the semi-gloss finish. The railings and porch posts
can be sprayed or hand painted in the same manner. Paint the stair treads on both
sides at once so they will not warp. The top side will probably need two to three
coats of paint. Sand between coats for a smooth finish.
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