Distressing a Picture Frame

In this tutorial we will be distressing a picture frame. If you’re into shabby chic, then this project will be perfect for you. For those of you that are not familiar with this style, shabby chic look basically involves taking new objects and giving them an old worn out look that you would see in your grandmothers house. Whether it is a picture frame or a piece of furniture, our goal is to make it look as though we had it for years. I have a side table in a hallway that was done this way. My grandmother, upon seeing it, offered to cover it with a coat of paint. I had a hard time explaining to her that this was done on purpose. She just couldn’t understand it. To her this type of furniture means poverty. When I told her that some of these pieces are sold in trendy stores for hundreds of dollars, she was shocked. In any case, enough talk and let’s get to distressing. Things you will need:

1. sand paper fine and coarse
2. painting brush (the cheaper the better)
3. wooden picture frame
4. candle (or wax)
5. regular paint in two different colors plus white (here you can use any combination you want. One color and white will do just as well)

Picture frame and paints

If your picture frame has a glossy finish on it, do sand it a little bit so that the paint will stick. Start painting the frame. It doesn’t matter whether you choose red or green. I chose red first. I use satin finish because there isn’t too much gloss in satin. Allow paint to dry completely to the touch – about 25 minutes depending on the paint.

Picture Frame Tutorial 2

Before we put the second coat on, we have to rub some candle wax on the frame. Our goal is to later expose corners and edges because these are the places that would normally see heavy wear and tear over the years. You can rub in other spot as well to give it a really beat up look. The reason for using candle wax is to prevent the second coat from sticking to the first. Some people use paper cement which works good too, but I try to stay away from it due to the smell and fumes. Don’t be shy with the wax. Put on a lot. Later on you will take a piece of coarse sandpaper and scratch off at the places where you rubbed the candle wax on.

Picture Frame Tutorial Wax

Now put on a coat of green (in your case it might be red if you started of with green). Wait until the paint is dry.

Picture Frame Tutorial Green

Take that sand paper and fold it to form a sharp edge. Start scratching at the spots where you put the candle wax. Once you see the red coming through – stop. You don’t want to scratch the red off. Scratch next to the exposed red if you want more red to show through. How much you want to expose is up to you.

Picture Frame Tutorial Rub Off

Once you’re done with the sand paper, we are going to rub candle wax again but with a little trick. Make sure you put a lot on the exposed red and on the green surrounding it. In the end you want red and green to show through the white, so put that wax on both colors. We want the picture frame to look as though it’s been painted many times over the years with different colors and now some colors peeled off and we see all three. Put a coat of white. Wait until it is dry to the touch. Grab that sand paper again and start scratching where you previously rubbed the candle wax on. You should see both colors coming through now.

Distressed Picture Frame
Distressed Picture Frame 2

When you are satisfied with the look you might want to lightly rub with fine sand paper just to get rid of any loose pieces of paint if there are any. You’re almost done. In order to keep paint from scratching during use, I usually throw a coat of water based minwax polycrylic protective finish (clear satin) on it. It will seal the paint and give it a matte, slightly off white finish. That’s it for distressing a picture frame. Please upload pictures of your projects with your comments!


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  • SLCasto September 26, 2013   Reply →

    Thanks for these great instructions. Easy to follow, specific and they work!
    – Sarah Casto
    Would love to see others…

    • Lara Berch September 26, 2013   Reply →

      Thank you Sarah! I will definitely put up more when I get some time πŸ™‚

  • Heather September 27, 2013   Reply →

    Looks pretty cool but I would have like to have seen the final project just to get the full affect

  • Jodi October 13, 2013   Reply →

    Love the instructions! I also would like to see the finished project. Thank you!

  • Bee October 16, 2013   Reply →

    Awesome result! That was very well instructed, thank you for sharing!

  • Katie November 4, 2013   Reply →

    I would love to see a pic of the final outcome as well. Also, might be a dumb question, but could you use a spray paint?

    • Lara Berch November 6, 2013   Reply →

      Hi Katie, thank for for reading. I redesigned the website and lost the final outcome pic. I will retake it and post it πŸ™‚
      I don’t see why you couldn’t use spray paint, although personally I haven’t tried it.

  • Chrissy C December 4, 2013   Reply →

    Absolutely gorgeous! I have to ask because I’m about to do this to a 6 pane window for decoration. Any particular candle type I should use? Thanks!

    • Lara Berch December 5, 2013   Reply →

      Hi Chrissy!
      Thank you for reading and I think it will look amazing on the window panes. It doesn’t really matter which candle you use. As long as wax keeps the paint from sticking. When you’re done, I would love to see the results and post them on this blog. Let me know!

  • John Klaskin December 13, 2013   Reply →

    Looks great! Instead of candle wax, I used Vaseline on a table I distressed. It worked really well.

    • Lara Berch December 13, 2013   Reply →

      John, thank you for the tip! I will have to try that! If you like you can send me pictures of what you did and I will post it here!

  • Chrissy C December 14, 2013   Reply →

    Mine turned out great – I might try vaseline next time. The candle wax I had a few issues with.

    I don’t see a upload button so I can share my photo with you

    • Lara Berch January 9, 2014   Reply →

      All fixed! now there is an upload button!

  • Cathie January 15, 2014   Reply →

    This was easy and fun! Thanks for the non toxic instructions .I only used two colors just to try it out and plan on more creative inspiration on future projects.

    • Lara Berch January 16, 2014   Reply →

      Cathie, thank you for sharing your picture frame with everyone! It looks awesome!!!

  • Chrissy January 18, 2014   Reply →

    Thanks for your help – Not exactly the was you did it but i needed to get it done!

    • Chrissy January 18, 2014   Reply →

      OH – the wax part – I still have not conquered that for frames or even when I distress furniture – I feel like its not working for me – any advice???

      • Lara Berch January 18, 2014   Reply →

        I think the frame came out great! Not sure what happens with the wax. Do you put a lot on so as to make a coat of it? There should be enough wax to prevent the top coat paint from sticking to the coat of paint underneath. You can also use something called rubber cement. It works similar to wax but the stuff is toxic and I see you got a child in the picture. Wax is the safest thing to use. Just rub a lot of it on but remember where you rubbed it so you can go back to those spots and scratch it off easily. Thank you for posting your picture!!!

  • Shari January 30, 2014   Reply →

    Here are my first attempts. I had fun and have more ideas for next time. Thanks for the great instructions!

    • Lara Berch January 30, 2014   Reply →

      Shari, thank you so much for posting these! I love it! Both of them look old and worn, so natural πŸ™‚ I would love to see other ideas you come up with!

  • andreea February 3, 2014   Reply →

    Hello, Lara!

    I would like to try this technique and I was wondering if it is possibile to rub the wax directly on the piece of wood, then add the paint and sand it after. Or there’s no need for the wax in this case? The original color of wood has to be exposed and I don’t know if I should use the wax or just sand the paint off:) Thank you!

    • Lara Berch February 3, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Andreea,
      Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚
      My thinking is that you can do it either way depending on the type of wood you have. If for instance the wood has a polish or coating on it and you wanted to keep the polish or the coating visible after sanding, then I would use the wax. If you don’t care for the coating, then don’t use the wax and sand it off. If wood doesn’t have any coatings and you wanted to keep the color of wood visible after sanding, then use the wax. What I would take into consideration is the fact that when sanding any piece of untreated wood, sanded color will slightly change from the surface color due to wood being handled and exposed to various elements, so it really depends on what you want to be visible, be it sanded wood, original wood, coated wood and so forth. I hope this answers your question and please do post the results here! Would love to see them!

  • Jen Smookz February 5, 2014   Reply →

    Hey πŸ™‚

    First attempt- your instructions were awesome! Frame was originally gold plastic, so saved me a coat of paint. Waxed, purpled, scraped, waxed, whited, scraped, matt varnished.

    I used acrylic paint, as I have tons of the stuff- what paint do you use?

    • Lara Berch February 6, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Jen,
      The frame looks awesome! Purple seems to be the trendy color lately! I love to see all these different results! Thank you for sharing with everyone!
      The paint I used was regular house paint that I had laying around, but it doesn’t matter which paint to use. Acrylic works as well.

    • Patricia Patterson October 11, 2014   Reply →

      Wow! Thats awesome for your first try! Lara, excellent instructions…cant wait to try it out! Stores are selling distressed everything now…5×7 pic frame going for $20! I’ve been collecting frames for $1 @ thrift stores. Could be a very profitable business!

  • frank February 15, 2014   Reply →

    These look great! Would this technique be appropriate for wood frames with intricate details? What about metal wall art? Thank you

    • Lara Berch February 16, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Frank! Thanks for reading! I think it would be completely appropriate for intricate detail, it will just take some intricate work πŸ™‚
      As far as metal, I’ll be honest I have not tried it, but I think it might work.

  • Lindsey March 23, 2014   Reply →

    Can you do it just with one colour? I have old wooden 3 panel windows that have never been painted I wanted to just do a rustic look using just white paint is that possible?

    • Lara Berch March 24, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Lindsey,
      Thank you for stopping by! Yes, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I think it will look great and with less work :-)) Do post your results here! Would live to see it!

  • Rebecca Lois Burns October 20, 2014   Reply →

    Just wanted to let you know how useful I found this post!I’m exhibiting some work in Chelsea town hall at the end of this week and this post has literally saved me from a framing disaster. I’ve reblogged it here if you wanna take a look: http://textilecandy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/exhibition-work-and-my-attempt-at.html
    Thanks again,
    Becky x

  • kim October 26, 2014   Reply →

    Can you use this same technique for small furniture? I have a small oak chair I would like to distress.

    • Lara Berch October 26, 2014   Reply →

      Yeah sure! I have used it on furniture quite a few times! It’s the same process as with picture frame.

  • mode fort October 29, 2014   Reply →

    sooo glad I found this site
    that picture frame is beautiful

  • Brenda November 29, 2014   Reply →

    Love this post! Would this work on a plastic frame? I have a mirror with a black plastic frame and wanted to give it a distressed look.

    • Lara Berch December 1, 2014   Reply →

      I have never done it on plastic but I think if you sand the plastic first so that the paint could stick to it, then it should work! Would love to see your results!

  • Rachel December 11, 2014   Reply →

    I’m in the process of finishing three plastic (previously black) frames. I used spray paint/primer for both coats and just added the final clear top coat (after waiting approximately 1.5 weeks after final paint coat was applied) and it is bubbling the top coat right off the frame! I’m so crushed! I’ve only sprayed the top coat on my least favorite one, but I need all three- these are Xmas gifts. Any suggestions???

    • Lara Berch December 15, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Rachel,
      I have never encountered bubbling but then again I do not know specifics of spray paint. I am thinking that if there is dust on the previous coat, then the top coat might bubble. Another reason it might bubble if it is sprayed on too thick. What kind of clear coat are you using? Is it a sealer/clear coat for paper or paint? I’m sorry if I can not be more helpful. It’s really hard to tell without knowing what type of sprays you are using.

      • Rachel December 22, 2014   Reply →

        Thank you so much! They all worked out! I did end up repainting the one that bubbled-which I believe was caused by applying too thick of a coat (as you indicated). Great, easy-to-follow instructions! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

        • Rachel December 22, 2014   Reply →

          I used a toothpick to scrape in between some of the more intricate detail after 24hrs while the white paint was not fully dry.

          • Lara Berch December 22, 2014  

            Rachel, thank for pictures, they look great! I’m sure the recipients of the gifts are going to love them! I’m happy you were able to use the tutorials and toothpick use is a wonderful idea!

  • Ramona Gause September 8, 2015   Reply →

    I bought 3 32 x 42 art pieces and they have black plastic style frames. I am wanting to redo the frames to look like driftwood , not rough and rustic looking but more of a smooth driftwood color. Can you provide any ideas to achieve this look? Thank you! Ramona

    • Lara Berch September 16, 2015   Reply →

      Ramona, I haven’t tried doing driftwood, but I would suggest picking 2-3 different shades of grey and distress it with those shades as if you were using color. I hope that helps. If you google “imitating driftwood”, I’m sure some ideas would come up as well.

      • Cindy May 10, 2017   Reply →

        I wonder if using dry brush technique with other gray shade with give a driftwood look, but I haven’t specifically tried it.

        • Lara Berch May 23, 2017   Reply →

          Cindy, I haven’t tried it either but if you do try it, I would love to see the results!

  • Katie Breland July 11, 2016   Reply →

    I must have missed something, at what point did you apply the white paint?

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