DIY Cardboard chest part 3 – Painting tips

Next in line for my cardboard chest series is painting. After a few technical hitches behind scenes over the weekend, I figured it’d be nice to have something more laid back. Besides, what could be more laid back than painting? My favourite thing about my chest is the rustic look. Through a few simple painting tips, it went from plain old card to lovely side piece in just a few days!

Since this is a more laid back post, it’s going to be more a ‘tips&tricks’ style thing. I’ve picked up a few little things over the years. Whether it be through cosplay or crafting. I hope these little painting tips can help spruce up your chests!

The painting tips

The painting base

Perhaps the most important part of any project, you need your base to look just right. I recommend using paper-mache on your chest, using any paper you like. Use 3-4 layers of paper-mache to help strengthen and smooth out your base. 

Use a mixture 1 part PVA glue to 1 part water. Don’t have PVA glue? Flour can be a good alternative! What matters is that you layer up enough to smooth out the edges. Be sure to avoid covering the hinges with any paper mache or glue, and have the lid open and separate from the base. Always let the layers dry before adding a new layer.

If you want to really smooth out your chest before painting, here’s my favourite tip: use gesso! A pot of acrylic gesso can last a long while, and can make the surface of your project lovely and smooth before painting. If you’re anxious to get started on painting like I am, then a lick of gesso can smooth out a few tiny bumps and empty spaces.

Wooden textures

Wood isn’t easy to fake, but you can get a good looking wood texture with the right paint. There’s a few tricks you can use to make acrylic paint have just the right wood texture!

The first trick: use both brown and yellow when you’re starting. With a dry brush, pat a little bit of yellow on one side of your brush, and brown on the other. Next, using one continuous stroke, brush across your chest. Flip the brush over, and go back over the stroke you just made. Keep doing this all across your chest! 

For a more dark wood look, repeat that trick but with red instead of yellow. Remember: always make sure your layers are completely dry before moving on.

The next trick involves even more dry brushing. With an old bristly brush, very lightly dab into some black, so only a few bristles are coated. Brush from left to right across the chest, and back again if you want a little more coverage. The lighter your brush stroke, the better the effect. Repeat this with pale brown for an even more realistic look!

Painting the hinges

But of course, I’ve forgotten the hinges! No worries, these need their own method of painting, too. 

For the first trick: washi tape. Weird? Maybe, but washi tape makes for a wonderful alternative to masking tape if you don’t have any lying around. Go around the hinges with washi tape so none of the paint from the hinges goes on the chest.

The issue with the hinges is you don’t want to clog them up with paint. While you can paint them very carefully, I advise sticking to the cardboard parts of the hinges, and not the rotating paper.

Paint them grey! Completely grey, and let them dry out. It’s boring, but it’s an important base. For a solid metal look, then you need to get some metallic paint onto a dry soft brush, and dab on the cardboard like it’s a really outdated meme. 

I found that to be enough for my hinges, but if you want to add a weathered look: more dry brushing. Hints of black on a very dry brush can make for an interesting worn look!


I hope these painting tips gave you a little inspiration for your own chests. Bare in mind, nothing is hard and fast here: try all the different colours you want! Want a vibrant green chest? Go for it! Toned, weathered blue? Beautiful! The point of dry brushing and gessoing is to give you a solid ground for your own experiments.

Take these painting tips and do what you will with them: keep working on your chest, or try them in a different project! Want more from my chest making series? Check out here. We’ve got a few more to go, so lets keep trucking!

tcc cardboard chest pt 3 - painting tips  pinterest image

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