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Old Village Buttermilk Paint Colours

Crafted for Reproduction of Original Colours From Painted Objects In The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Virginia, In Simulated Buttermilk Paints

Traditional Folk Art Colours May Be Re-created With Old Village Buttermilk Paints

As paintmakers since 1816, the Old Village family has long been recognized as producers of paints that accurately exhibit the decorating colours of early American folk crafts. This tradition continues today with Old Village's appointment of noted paint Colourist and researcher, Frank Welsh to assist in the development of BUTTERMILK PAINT COLOURS from painted objects in a well known Folk Art Center assisted by the Center's curators. Genuine buttermilk paint is a product of the ingenuity of painters and stainers dating to the Middle Ages. It was common to save skim milk, allow it to curdle and mix with a combination of earthen ingredients. Formulas varied. The pigments, or natural substances ground into the pigments, resulted in finishes distinguished by a flat, matte finish that still afforded protection against wear and weather- Old Village has combined this age-old craft with modern technology to reproduce the decorative beauty of buttermilk paint with a water-based product. In selecting colours to reproduce, some may have been originally oil-based and others milk-based. In both cases, Old Village has sought to re-create the bold and unselfconscious spectrum of colours associated with painted folk art furniture and related objects.

Historic Paint Colour Consultant Frank S. Welsh inspected fourteen objects from the collections all dating from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, chosen for their potential to yield a variety of colours. Knowing that all paints discolour with age due to the yellowing and darkening of the oil vehicles, from change in colour of some pigments and from the accumulation of surface dirt and embedded grime, Mr. Welsh found areas of the paint that were protected in order to detect the original colour. He used a hand-held magnifier, a light, and a scalpel for the examination and Munsell colour books for the visual colour matching. Mr. Welsh usually examines and analyzes paints with a stereomicroscope; however, removal of paints from the objects was not feasible for this project. Therefore, the colours are based on areas found to exhibit the cleanest and brightest colour on the object. Frequently these special areas were thicker drips under the lid of a chest or on the side of a drawer, or behind removed hardware.

In general, there is a striking difference between the present aged colour and the colours of the paints found in the protected locations. Tiny areas tell a totally different story about the striking original colouration of the objects rather than the overall yellowed or grimy appearance.

Where To Use Buttermilk Paints

OLD VILLAGE Buttermilk Paint Colours may be used for a variety of interior decorations, including architectural trim and graining or stencilling on furniture

The colours will dry to a lovely matte finish and still retain the surface texture. Multiple coats will build a longer lasting and more opaque film. A transparent stain effect can be attained by adding water.

How To Use

Sound painting practices apply to Buttermilk Paint Colours just as they do to other paints.

  1. The surface to be painted must be clean. All dirt, grease, oil, furniture polish, loose paint, and other foreign material must be removed.
  2. The surface to be painted must be sound. Repair before you paint. Rotten wood, corroded metal, splits, cracks, holes, and other defects must be repaired, replaced or removed.
  3. Slick glossy surfaces must be well sanded to insure proper adhesion.
  4. Dry wall construction new plaster and spackled areas should be coated with a primer and allowed to dry thoroughly before using Buttermilk Paints.
  5. Buttermilk Paint Colours contain water and should not be used at temperatures below 50F. Temperatures above 50F must be maintained through the entire drying period.
  6. Thin and clean up with water.
  7. These paints are best applied with a natural bristle or good nylon brush. They may also be applied by roller, spray or foam-type applicator.

Some Traditional Decorative Effects

Begin each of these decorative techniques by carefully following the preceding general painting instructions.


  1. Spread graining colour over a smooth base coat.
  2. Select a segment from a natural sponge. Dampen in water and squeeze dry.
  3. Put sponge lightly on surface and twist it around. Repeat the process for a swirled effect. This technique was frequently used on Pennsylvania German chests. Balled up paper also produces a similar effect.
  4. For another look, try daubing the sponge repeatedly along the surface for an overall spotted effect.


  1. Linseed oil putty is the preferred tool for this technique; however, it may be difficult to locate. Acrylic-based glazing compound may be used as a substitute. Take one to two tablespoons of compound out of the can and allow it to become dry enough to handle without sticking to your hands. You may store either variety of putty in plastic wrap and reuse for three or more days.
  2. After spreading glaze colour over the smooth base coated surface, the putty can be manipulated to create many looks:

    (a) Oyster effect - the putty into a flat pyramidal or conical form. Daub putty on the surface and pull up. Continue to daub putty with the resulting "shells" lying side by side and slightly overlapping in decorative patterns.

    (b) Wormed effect - putty into a ball or oval shape about one inch by one and one-half inch. In this process the putty remains in contact with the surface until the design or a part of it is complete. Place the putty on the surface and slide it slightly, stop, slide it slightly, stop, repeat as desired. This jerky motion produces a worm-like path. Continue the worm path all over the surface, curving and overlapping the trail.

    (c) Medallion or sunburst effect putty between hands to create a long (two to four inches), thin roll of putty. Place the roll on the surface, pick it up and press again, repeating to form a medallion with one end of the roll impression overlapping the last and the other end being separated from the last by a space that depends upon your desire for a decorative effect.

    (d) Rolling the putty another effect, take the putty as rolled for the medallion and simply roll it across the surface. The putty roll will make uneven contact with the surface, creating unusual patterns.

Brush Effects

  1. Any small brush can be used, but a one-inch brush with some of the bristles clipped (toothed) works well on small pieces. The older and more worn the edges of your brush, the better! I)dampen your brush in water and coat the surface with graining colour to create one of the following:

    (a) Marble effect brush patterns on the surface combined faith scratched lines (using a sharp pointed knife or nail) and dots created with a fingertip can be used to achieve a faux marble surface. Marbling often makes use of several graining colours. Experiment and practice.

    (b) Rosewood graining a toothed brush in straight lines across the surface. Use the ferrule of the brush as well to take colour off.

    (c) Burled effects the brush along in a path to create a burred wood look.


  1. For a tool, use a graining comb. you can make your own by cutting the plastic lid of a butter or whipped cream tub to make a comb-like apparatus. It should have blunt end teeth, spaced about 1/8 " apart, or wider, if preferred. 2. After spreading the graining colour, move the comb across the surface using any motion you wish to create a pattern.


Use a small, stiff natural brush or small piece of sponge. Both work well for applying colours to stencils. Moisten applicator thoroughly with water and dry with a paper towel. Apply a small drop of paint to applicator and rub on scrap paper to remove excess paint and to spread evenly. This is called "drying the brush and must be done. Tap the brush through the stencil from the edge toward the middle of the area to be coloured. Don't attempt to put too much colour on at first. Go back and repeat. Too little paint is preferable to a smeared and runny stencil. Use a different applicator for each colour. (Note that this method is not appropriate for the bronze and gold leaf effects seen often on painted furniture.)

Added Durability

For added protection and mar resistance when these paints are subject to wear and repeated washings, rub on a coat of clear paste varnish. This will enhance the beauty of the buttermilk paint finish.

Special Note

OLD VILLAGE Buttermilk Colours are premixed and packaged in cans, not paper bags. No hydrated lime or any other similar product that might endanger health and safest Is used- They do not have to be stored in a refrigerator after opening. No straining Is necessary. Simply recap and they will last a long time.

Large yellow cupboard with blue on lower door panels and with reddish brown and rust on upper glass doors. ca. 1835, Ohio.
Paint Colors: Ohio Cupboard Rust 14-28, Ohio Cupboard Blue 14-29, Ohio Cupboard Reddish Brown 14-30. Acc. #75.2000.1.

Blue tall clock with orange and white decorations.
ca. 1800, Virginia.
Acc. #73.2000.3.
Paint Color: Virginia Blue 10-18.

Yellow Wilder Side Chair.
ca. 1820, New Hampshire.
Acc. #73.2000.1,1.
Paint Color: Wilder Chair Yellow 1-1.

Grained writing arem windsor with yellow stripes.
ca. 1820, Acc. #81.2000.2.
Paint Color: Windsor Chair Pink 4-8.