Friday 21 July 2017

How to paint a new plastic frame to look like an authentic antique ~ #2

The moment you look at a plastic photo frame and conjure up a vision of a 17th-century lady opening her travel chest to unpack her mirror protected in a velvet lined box, is the kind of moment that we as up-cyclers live for.

After all these years, I still find infinitely more pleasure from searching markets and attics for possibilities to transform, than looking at real antiques. For one thing, centuries old antiques are generally out of my price range, but mostly, as beautiful as they may be, I see them as reference and research. For me, the challenge does not lie in acquiring antiques, but in creating something from nothing.

And that is pretty much why I bought this little plastic frame without any hesitation. Another "cheap and nasty" from the East begging for a make-over.


The first thing I did was to prime it brown. That way it will look like wood when it gets distressed.

{See MATERIAL LIST at the bottom of this post}

I wanted to transform it into something a little more substantial. The design reminded me of a Renaissance frame I once saw in a museum. It had a large outer frame with the valley decorated in scrolls. My solution was to cut a hardboard backing slightly larger than the existing frame and an outer frame from left-over wooden moulding I had in the studio. 

Cutting the hardboard turned out to be the most difficult part. The plastic had no straight lines and had all sorts of bits protruding everywhere. You may relate to this as a fellow painter: when you think something will be easy, it often turns out not to be and vice versa. Very frustrating...

So this is basically what I ended up with as far as making a template fitting around the plastic frame at the back.

I always make paper templates rather than taking lots of measurements. It is a lot easier, faster and cheaper to chuck a template the bin. With a template, you have the assurance that your final cut will be a perfect fit.

Having said that, my template may have been perfect but my cutting, alas, was not. This I very professionally fixed by sticking masking tape on the gap. I say "professionally" because you cannot see it from the front. And we are talking about an upcycled frame here, so I see no reason to adhere to museum standards. After all, if the Cairo museum can stick Tutankhamun's beard back on with super glue after it broke off, I think my masking tape is fine (a story both funny and sad - Google it if you missed it).

Next, I cut all the outer frame pieces and glued them directly onto the backing. This is a much easier way than joining frame corners.

Here you can see the masking tape that closed the gap between the backing and the plastic frame.

My good old clamps - the extra hands you need without asking for help.

After a few coats of gesso, my new frame was getting older by the minute and I was able to add the homemade "bole".

Next, I mixed some gold tempera which I toned down to look like an old gold and applied it to the detailed areas. 

At this point, I could start adding some patina to the gold and my frame was starting to look more like what I had in mind.

I mixed two shades of teal casein paint and applied that to the valleys. While I was waiting for the paint to dry, I aged a newly cut piece of mirror glass to create "old" foxed glass.

All that remained, was to distress and seal the frame and fit the small mirror.

So, to sum up ...


1. moulded plastic frame with some detail
2. hardboard

3. wooden mouldings
4. small handsaw
5. primer ~ recipe from FARRAGOZ Online Courses
6. gesso ~ recipe from FARRAGOZ Patina PROJECTS Course
7. "bole" ~ recipe from FARRAGOZ Patina PROJECTS Course
8. gold tempera ~ recipe from FARRAGOZ Online Courses
9. casein paint ~ recipe from FARRAGOZ Online Courses
10. paintbrushes
11. polish


1. prime ~ following instructions in FARRAGOZ Online Courses
2. cut and add outer frame
3. apply gesso
4. apply "bole" to details ~ following instructions in FARRAGOZ Patina PROJECTS Course
5. paint gold details ~ following instructions in FARRAGOZ Online Courses
6. add patina
7. paint teal casein paint
8. distress ~ following Methods in FARRAGOZ Online Courses
9. polish
10. distress mirror glass ~ following instructions in FARRAGOZ Patina PROJECTS Course

I don't usually paint plastic, but the last plastic frame I painted, got more hits than any other post on my blog. I'm not sure if people actually want to know how to paint plastic or whether they just liked the finish, but let's see what happens this time.

Happy Painting!


FARRAGOZ Students are creating the most beautiful patina, applying paint and techniques from the online courses to their own projects.

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