What Is Tole Painting?

Decorative painting is a fun pastime for those that want their creative expressions to turn into practical solutions. We can decorate all kinds of items and furnishings to personalize our home. An interesting version of this is tole painting. So what is tole painting and how can you get started with tole painting supplies?

Tole Painting

Tole painting is a style of folk art where people decorated household objects and pieces of furniture. It was a great way to customize items in a family home and give them more character. Traditionally, many items were made of tin and the style was most popular in Europe. However, there is a growing interest in toleware and tole painting at home. You can use modern products and old-fashioned design ideas to create something interesting.

Why is it Called Tole Painting?

The term tole painting comes from the French term tole peinte, which means painted sheet metal. This is partly why there is an expectation for true toleware and modern tole painting to still take place on tin or steel. But, the craft evolved over time to include other materials and ideas.

Where did Tole Painting Originate? Is it Actually French?

Artists in the US may think of pieces of New England homeware when they think of tole painting. The region produced some impressive pieces on tin coffee pots, jewelry boxes, wooden chests, trays, and more. In the commercial sector, artisans would often create pieces with floral patterns and schemes, or perhaps rural scenes. These pieces are still treasured today because they remind us of a different era. Objects for home use may have been more personal to the family with mottos and quotes. These are also treasured by descendants lucky enough to keep them in the family.

However, this trade didn’t begin in New England. Many of those creating toleware in the states were immigrants, or descendants from Europe. Many of these were from the German community in Pennsylvania, but there were also those from Scandinavia and The Netherlands with their own styles and techniques. While the term may be French, the process actually came from South Wales.

Is Tole Painting Folk Art?

All examples of tole painting, especially the 17th-century items from Europe, are great examples of folk art. However, not all folk art is tole painting. The term is apt for a lot of authentic items as they were often created by those of lower social classes who may or may not have been artisans. Some designers may have worked on items for sale as they traveled around while others did so purely for their homes. However, the wider definition of folk art means a decorative and often utilitarian art created by these societies, often with handmade or recycled components. So, it doesn’t have to be metalwork or painted.

Do People Still Tole Paint?

While this was once an old-fashioned art, modern trends in arts and crafts mean that we can bring tole painting back to our own homes. It is great for those that buy or find cheap sets of canisters or other items for the kitchen and want to bring them more in keeping with the theme of the room. Or, you can simply freshen up an old piece of furniture that has seen better days. It is understandable if you are dubious about getting started on such an old-fashioned craft as it may seem too outdated. However, with some modern adjustments, patience, and fun project ideas, you can learn to recreate the style and make some interesting items.

What Can You Tole Paint At Home?

The short answer here is anything that you want. If you want to be more traditional with your ideas then you can still with homeware, particularly kitchen items. If you can find some metal canisters, coffee pots, jars, and other decorative kitchen items, you can use tole painting to tie them together with a theme.

Going back to that idea of the difference between tole painting and rosemaling, I think it is important to be a little more forgiving of terminology. There is no reason why we can’t encourage people to try out tole painting designs and techniques on other metals or wooden items. It doesn’t matter if technically this is rosemaling instead. We should just encourage this sort of creativity within the home where people get the bug for it and not correct them or bring them down on semantics. Besides, it is far easier to find other materials than tin for home décor these days – unless rummaging through thrift stores.

Is Tole Painting Difficult?

Yes and no. One of the things that I like most about tole painting is that it is so accessible. Anyone to pick up a paintbrush and stencil and decorate an item at home. The difficulty comes in creating the result that’s in your head. If you just add paint to a surface via a stencil, you can end up with a very flat design with no character or tone. This can be disappointing if you start comparing your work to that of skilled tole painters with years of experience. The best thing that you can do is practice your skills on scrap materials and learn about the techniques. You can learn about different brush strokes and loading the brush to create various effects. With confidence, you can then work to emulate other artists and work without a stencil.

What is One Stroke Painting?

One-stroke painting is a term that you might see a lot when it comes to tole painting. This is where artists load the brush with different colors, apply them to the surface in a single stroke, and can create two-tone effects and highlights. It is an effective way to paint petals and leaves in toleware as you get a more realistic look rather than the flat block of color you might otherwise end up with. It is worthwhile trying this out further down the line because it is so prevalent in old-fashioned tole painting. However, it takes a lot of practice to get right. It is a good idea to take out colors and approaches on paper before using them in another project.

Here’s a nice video that really demonstrates how one stroke painting works.

Do You Need to Prepare a Metal Object First?

Tole painting on tin or other metals is a great experience because you have that strong non-porous surface that takes a lot of thick paint and interesting brushstrokes. However, it does help to prep the surface first for the best results. Give the item a good clean and sand it down if there are imperfections or any spots of rust. This is important if you have a second-hand item or old tin passed down that has seen better days. Some people recommend adding a primer and a coat of metal spray paint for a nice surface. However, it depends on if you want this to look like a brand-new item. Be careful not to lose the old charm of the object before you’ve even started painting.

What Sort of Paint Should You Use When Tole Painting?

The best type of paint to use for tole painting is acrylic. The main reason for this is that you have such a strong paint that is quick to dry and well-saturated. You can get some bold designs with these colors, often straight from the tube, and load the brush with different colors for some interesting effects on flower petals. It is one of the easiest paints to use and also one of the most accessible. You can get a good starter set for very little money if you haven’t got acrylic at home. You can also find some interesting mixes now for work straight from the tube.

An alternative option for decorative painting on wood is chalk paint. This has become a popular choice for those renovating furniture because of the softer aged look and matte finish. It is great for use with stencils to create fun designs on wooden boxes, dressers, tables, and more. So, you might want to keep this in mind if you have plans to extend a design concept beyond the metalware and kitchen canisters to the cupboard doors or wooden caddies.

The Best Tole Painting Supplies And Resources

To learn the craft and create some brilliant decorating paintings at home, you need the right tools. An accomplished painter may find that they can just take a metal tray, wooden box, or tin pot and add a beautiful image from their imagination. However, this doesn’t come so easily to everyone. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from other designs or scenes you find online. You can search the internet for an old-fashioned example of tole painted items and work from those. Pinterest is always a good place to spark an idea. There are also guides and books available on the subject.

If you aren’t looking to create a painting or full image from scratch, you might prefer the idea of using a stencil kit. These are great for newcomers looking for a bridge between decorative work and more accomplished tole painting. You can use the outlines to create patterns and shapes based on a theme, such as a traditional floral scheme. As you improve, you can also work on your technique with this safety net in place. Here are three of the best tole painting stencils to consider.

1) Attisstore Plastic Interlocking Stencils Letters and Numbers

Attisstore Plastic Interlocking Stencils Letters and Numbers 138 Piece Set, 3 inch, Black
Attisstore Plastic Interlocking Stencils Letters and Numbers 138 Piece Set, 3 inch, Black

This first set is a great starting point for modern tole painting at home. A good set of letter and number stencils lets you customize all kinds of items around the home. You can take some boring tins and canisters in the kitchen and label them for tea, coffee, sugar, cookies, etc. Here the letters have a nice vintage look with timeless appeal. You can also interlock the pieces to spell out words in a nice straight line. They are simple, affordable, and easy to re-use.

2) Mandala Dotting Tools Set with Mandala Paint Stencil

Mandala Dotting Tools Set with Mandala Paint Stencil, Mandala Dot Painting Tools,41 PCS Painting Kit for Painting Rocks Drawing, Coloring, Nail Dotting,Mandala Art and Drafting Art Supplies
Mandala Dotting Tools Set with Mandala Paint Stencil, Mandala Dot Painting Tools,41 PCS Painting Kit for Painting Rocks Drawing, Coloring, Nail Dotting,Mandala Art and Drafting Art Supplies

This set is great for those that love the geometric and calming patterns of mandalas instead. There are 16 details stencils that you can use to decorate all kinds of items and furniture. There is a lot of variation in the patterns too. What I love about this particular option is that you get some tools in the set too. There are some stylus pens, brushes, sponges, and a little mixing tray. This can be a more long-winded process to get the pattern right. But, it can also be soothing with a great level of satisfaction when you see the finished piece.

3) Fiyerna Ocean Creature Stencils

Ocean Creature Stencils 25pcs Reusable Sea Animals Painting Stencils Undersea Theme Drawing Template for DIY Craft Wood Wall Home Decor (5.1 x 5.1inch / 13 x 13cm)
Ocean Creature Stencils 25pcs Reusable Sea Animals Painting Stencils Undersea Theme Drawing Template for DIY Craft Wood Wall Home Decor (5.1 x 5.1inch / 13 x 13cm)

You never know what you will find when searching for stencils for tole painting. Many creators will lean towards the cottage aesthetic and old-fashioned style of flowers. But, this set takes out underwater – perhaps suiting some tole painting for the bathroom. There are 25 pieces here with some brilliant scenes of different fish, dolphins, turtles, and even a couple of mermaids. At 5.1 by 5.1 inches, they are a good size so will help create a stunning design.

A little bit of advice when choosing painting sets and stencils for tole painting online is to search for rock painting. Tole painting is on the rise, but not to the same extent. Companies are marketing painting tools for the bigger craze of rock painting with some great results. You can easily use the stencils and tools on other materials, such as wood and metal.

Getting Started with Tole Painting

In short, I encourage people to take this process in stages. There is a time and a place for the intricate and authentic work of toleware and the one-stroke technique. But, you also don’t want to run before you can walk. You also should confine yourself to sheet metal when you can practice ideas and have fun with wood as well. With practice, you can use tole painting to make some fun and treasure items for your home.