Customising Furniture With Stencils

I’ve always been a doodler, whilst on the phone or compiling lists but my doodles were always a bit disappointing, hearts, flowers, smiley faces… However I’ve recently discovered the phenomenon of adult colouring books (or zendoodling to give it it’s proper grown up name) and have rediscovered my love of drawing.


I have a creative daughter so I bought a colouring book for us to try together. The one I chose had finished designs to colour in and also half finished ones for you to doodle on yourself. This was a revelation to me – I could teach myself to do better doodles and once you’ve learnt a few simple techniques, it really is very easy.

Zendoodling is a process of creating beautiful designs by drawing repeated patterns. It is believed to increase focus, unlock creativity and relax the mind into a Zen like state of meditation. The finished pieces look very intricate but you take it step by step, adding one simple pattern at a time. There are no set rules on how to create your design but the best way to start is to look at other designs for inspiration. There are loads on pinterest, or try watching an online tutorial on youtube to see how the design builds. You don’t need any special equipment or skills so it can also be done at anytime, anywhere and on anything!

A few years ago I started upcycling furniture, breaking away from being stuck to my computer as a graphic, this released some of my ‘inner artiness’ that had been bubbling away inside and gave me the confidence to pick up a paintbrush again. But faced with a blank piece of paper I was flummoxed! Creating these doodles increased my confidence in my artistic abilities. I’ve got a degree in fine art but it was a long time ago and I don’t think I’ve actually picked up a pen and drawn anything freehand since leaving university, I’d lost the creativity and the freedom that is innate in all children, the ability to just draw.

My new found doodling skills got me thinking about ways to decorate the furniture that I upcycle. I have created a few stencils for furniture but these have been based on geometric patterns or drawn up on the computer. I wanted to try and create something less structured, more freehand. I spent a very relaxing evening doodling, it’s amazing how the time disappears when you get in the zone, and I created a henna inspired doodle that I could then turn into a stencil. I really enjoyed the process and I’m looking forward to some more creative meditation time trying out some different designs, whenever I catch another elusive free evening. I used my new stencil on top of a small side table that I had just finished painting. It already had ornate detailing on the drawers and legs and the stencil on the top finished it off perfectly.

Stenciling is a really quick and easy way to customise and add your own style around the home, you can use stencils on tabletops, drawer fronts, on fabric or even on the walls! I have created stencils for my upcycles with inspirational messages or personalised designs and imagery for a client that means something special to them.

Start by securing the stencil to the object you are painting, you can use a low tack adhesive or apply masking tape along the edges of the stencil. For best results invest in a stencil brush a specialist brush with short, firmly packed bristles. They are available in various widths, from small for tiny, detailed sections of a stencil to large ones for faster painting of larger sections.

The main advantage of a stencil brush over a normal paintbrush is that it reduces the chances of getting paint under the edge of the stencil because of the stiff bristles.

If you’re painting a border stencil with several colours, you may find it easier to have a brush for each colour, rather than rinsing the brush each time.

Use a dry brush and keep the amount of the paint on the brush to a minimum. Dip the brush into the paint, I use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, other paints are available but this is my favourite and is great for stenciling as it is quite thick, wipe off any excess paint onto a piece of newspaper, if you have too much paint on the brush, or it is too liquid it will bleed through underneath the stencil. Dab at the stencil in a vertical, up and down motion think of a woodpecker movement! As not much paint is used the stenciled area dries quickly, the stencil can usually be reused straight away, if you are doing a repeated pattern just check that no paint has bled through underneath the stencil before starting again. Once you are finished wash the stencil off carefully, my top tip for doing this is to turn your washing up bowl upside down, use this to support the stencil and wash it over with the stencil brush. This makes sure you don’t damage the stencil, which may be delicate on detailed sections and also washes out your brush at the same time, leave to dry and it will be ready for your next project!


I would love to hear about any upcycling projects that you have done, or if you would like any tips or advice then please get in touch. You can email me at or look me up on Facebook (search for harperandharper). If I have inspired you to have a go at stenciling I sell my customised stencils on

First published in Antiques Plus, West Country Life magazine 14.05.16

Transforming vintage furniture for a modern interior

Inspired by the first shoots of Spring and the budding blossom on the trees, I’ve been getting creative with my paint brush this month.

Inside my latest upcycle project, a vintage glass display cabinet, I have gone a bit ‘experimental’ and hand painted a cherry blossom branch. The cabinet had already undergone a few transformations (my ideas often change as I’m working on a piece) but that is all part of the fun of the journey!

The cabinet was given to me by a lovely young man who came into the vintage shop I was working in. He was moving house and had no room for it. It had belonged to his granny and used to display all her treasures. He wanted it to go to a new home and thought that someone in a vintage shop might be interested – and there I was!

I have always wanted to upcycle a glass cabinet, they are such nostalgic pieces of furniture, tucked away in the corner of a room filled with dusty trinkets and keepsakes and things that weren’t to be touched. I wanted to breathe new life into it and see if it could be transformed into a functional piece of furniture for a modern interior.

The fabulous thing about upcycling with chalk paint is that you don’t need to do any prep work, no sanding or priming (which is great when you have got lots of delicate glass panels) just a quick clean and it’s straight onto the good bit! I started out by painting it orange but wasn’t convinced, so repainted it in burgundy. The beauty of repainting with another colour was that I could then distress it with some sandpaper to reveal some of the other colour beneath. This can be a bit daunting when you’ve just achieved a beautiful paint job but this creative process can really highlight and define features mouldings or carved areas. Concentrate on the areas that would receive natural wear and tear, start lightly and build up until you get the look you want and if you take too much off then simply add a bit more paint and try again.

A couple of months later I was scrolling through my colour inspiration board on Pinterest (if you haven’t discovered Pinterest yet I highly recommend it – it’s like a virtual scrapbook where you can save pictures from the internet onto your own boards. It’s an amazing source of inspiration and a very enjoyable way to while away time if you find you have a spare minute or two!). Whilst searching I came across a beautiful image of Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossom.

I began to think how I could incorporate artwork like this into my upcycled pieces and create something a bit more unique. I have seen some stunning pieces of furniture upcycled with image transfers of paintings and illustrations but I wanted to have a go at doing something freehand.

The glass cabinet had been listed on my Etsy online shop but had still not sold so I thought that this would be the perfect piece to have a go on. The cabinet was backed with the original gold material, which was still in good condition so I just painted over it (chalk paint can also be used on fabric). I got my kids to help me do a test run on a piece of board, experimenting with the branches and shapes for the flowers and then dived in. It was really liberating blending the colours and doing something different and I felt very pleased with myself for having the courage to get adventurous.

Experimenting with the kids!

Last summer I was lucky enough to get tickets to Dismaland, the Banksy exhibition in Weston Super Mare. At the exhibition some porcelain figures caught my eye that had been distorted by artist Jessica Harrison. As a child, her mother had kept a collection of figurines locked away, never to be touched, and this had inspired her to corrupt and distort these kitsch symbols of suburban tranquility by giving them full sleeve tattoos and disembowling them!

The idea of playing with the items on display in a glass cabinet in the modern home, stuck with me and although I didn’t go quite as far as violating porcelain figures I got the inspiration to be a bit more inventive with what could be put inside.

Loving all things vintage, I have a collection of pretty mismatched teacups and saucers (which actually get used – I even got them all out for a Mad Hatters tea party for my daughters 8th birthday party. The girls loved pouring juice out of a teapot and drinking out of pretty cups!). I made space to display some tea cups but also placed a very ‘bling’ pair of shiny turquoise high heels and a couple of kitsch china birds that had been given to my husband by his Gran.


Hopefully I have inspired you to rethink some of the furniture in your home and how it could be upcycled or to maybe look at buying something preloved rather than something new. There are lots of well made pieces of second hand furniture to be found and if you haven’t got the time (or courage!) to have a go at upcycling something yourself there are lots of very talented people selling upcycled furniture at very reasonable prices out there too.

First published in Antiques Plus, West Country Life magazine 16.04.16