This Restoration Hardware catalog-inspired diy chalkboard subway sign is one of my favorite thrift store transformations to date – right up there with my Ballard Burlap Bulletin Board that makes a perfect jewelry holder. I’ve been drawn to all of Restoration Hardware’s subway signs for awhile now (except for the price, that is) so when I found a framed press-board print in a thrift store awhile ago with a similar shape I knew what I’d do with it, even though it was smaller.
I actually like the smaller size and although the RH signs are’t chalkboards, I thought turning mine into a chalkboard would be fun and then I’d be able to change it every now and then. In fact it’s already made an appearance during the holidays when it was part of our Christmas Gallery Wall using a seasonal saying in fun fonts that my daughter drew.
However, when it was time for me to add a subway sign look, my technique had to be a lot less artistic, ha! The simple chalk transfer method I’ve used before gave me the look I wanted.
Here’s how I transformed an old print into a chalkboard subway sign:
I searched all over the place and cannot find the picture I took of the thrifted print before I painted it, darn. But from the glimpse you can see in the top photo as it’s being painted, I think you can get an idea – I see these all the time in various sizes at thrift stores. The image is usually very muted and it’s printed directly on a type of pressboard which seems almost one piece with the frame – there is no space visible between the frame and the print. Do you know the type I’m talking about? This lack of space between frame and backing/print makes them ideal for painting (an old cupboard door in a similar shape would be good, too).
1. Paint the base. Coat all the surfaces – print and frame – with white enamel interior paint (craft paint would work too).
2. Paint the inside of the frame (the print area) with flat black paint (remember, there’s no need for chalkboard paint, unless you have it on hand).
3. Paint a black edge. At first I thought I could free-hand this with a small brush as shown. Um, no. You can see how rough it is which was too much imperfection even for me, believe it or not. I ended up using painter’s tape and taping the whole frame edge, except where I wanted the black edge (there’s a photo of that somewhere, too…sigh). Just make sure to remove the tape while the paint’s still wet, and touch up in places if you need to.
4. Condition. After the paint is fully dry and cured (a day or two), condition the painted surface to write and erase better with chalk. It also gives it that chalkboard look. Use the edge of a piece of regular chalk and rub it all over the surface, then wipe it off with a rag which leaves a film of chalk.
5. Print out the letters you want in a font that replicates the look you’re going for. RH signs have C’s, D’s, E’s and F’s, but our last name starts with a B so I used that for the main letter. I used a free font called Lastwaerk in size 550 for the single letters and 450 for the double set. For the streets, the font is the basic Arial Narrow in 150. These sizes worked for my sign that was 11″ wide total, with a chalkboard size of only 7″ – you will need to adjust the sizes to fit the framed print you find.
6. Transfer letters to chalkboard by rubbing the back of the printed-out letters with chalk, placing them evenly on the chalkboard and then using a pencil to trace the outlines. Sometimes when you’re making a chalkboard out of something else, regular chalk doesn’t work as well on it (one of the reasons why I used chalk marker for the coloring), and the transfer came out very faint. But it was visible enough to trace around it, and that’s all I needed (it goes without saying, probably, that if you are an artist you can skip all this and free-hand the letters – and I bow to you!).
7. Fill in the outlines with chalk or a chalk marker. Since the signs that inspired mine were high contrast, I wanted the same look which I knew I’d get with chalk markers. Plus, they work on almost any surface, even the slightly bumpy surface of my painted-over print.
I love how it turned out – I have the look of something I’ve admired (on sale for $412…cough, cough) for a $1.99 thrifted print, some paint, marker, and time. Now, obviously, I’m okay with this imperfection – my 8’s aren’t the same, as one example – but if you’ve read here long, you know I’m pretty okay with this type of imperfections. I kinda think it’s sweet that it looks hand-drawn.
But maybe that’s because I still have $400 in my pocket, ha!
So – have I inspired you to find a thrifted print somewhere?
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