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Editorial blog

How did a fish tank lead to Annie Sloan creating Chalk Paint

08 Sep 2017
By John Gatimu

An early love of art set Annie Sloan on a path to become an author known throughout the world and to create the innovative Chalk Paint.

Where would upcyclers be today without Chalk Paint? There would be a lot less workshops and a few more cabinets and wardrobes dumped at the tip.

Annie, who lives in Oxford with her husband, trained as a fine artist and, after leaving university, took up decorative work in the mid 1970s.

She is the author of The Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques, which has sold over two million copies across the world, and developed Chalk Paint in 1990.

In 2000, she set up shop in Oxford to run courses and offer interior design services.

But how did this love affair with art and colour begin?

Annie said: “I always thought I was an artist from a very young age. When I was about six years old I just assumed I was an artist. My father had a lot of prints and paintings on the wall and friends who were painters.

“We used to go and see these people. I remember going to see a man who was painting. He was a painter but he also had a fish tank. And, for some unknown reason, fish tanks in the 1950s were extremely fashionable and it was a very cool thing to have.

“Somehow I connected this very cool thing with this man painting so that was what I wanted to do. I also liked drawing at school but if anyone else won the art prize I was like ‘that’s absurd I am the artist’.”

The love of colour and paint is understandable but to then write a best-selling book that was sold in large numbers around the world is another thing. Is there nothing that she couldn’t turn her hand to?

Annie said: “Well at that time, in the late eighties, there were no books on this subject, the decorative part of painting, and in academic circles it still isn’t taken at all seriously. But I was interested in what paint had been, the past and what people painted. I was interested in what normal people did, 18th century farmhouses what did they do? And that’s what got me interested and I found out there were lots of things they did, so I just had this idea. And I think I had always wanted to write a book as well.

“And the The Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques was born. It sold over two million copies and was really successful all over the world and that got me really going.”

Well if wasn’t enough to scribe a best-selling book in 1987 then Annie took another leap when she developed Chalk Paint three years later. And it’s fair to say you can’t think upcycling these days without Chalk Paint popping into your head.

Annie recalled: “There was nothing else like it on the market at the time, there were milk paints but there was no paint like chalk paint.

“Milk paint, which was made of milk product, could be quite hard and very strong and I wanted to make them softer than that, I wanted something that was very easy to work with and so one thing led to another really.

“I was very lucky, I was in Holland at the time and I was talking to someone who was on one of my workshops. And I said I’d really like to make my own paints because there were other things around but not what I wanted and he said he knew a factory which was run as a small family business.

“That was very good for me as I like working with small businesses, you don’t get lost in the corporate machine, and they were very keen to work with me. I like dealing with the owner, which is always fantastic because they want their business to be successful as well. They have interests of their own and it’s a very different feel. So I went to see them, we tried out a few different things, and Chalk Paint was developed.”

Annie believes, however, there has been a massive shift in the retail market and people will have to change the way they sell their wares to keep going. Shop owners are going to have to be a lot more proactive to get customers through their doors.

She added: “The retail market has changed hugely from say ten-20 years ago certainly.

“Workshops have always been important but nowadays people want an experience when they go out. It’s not a matter just doing it, they want to experience the whole thing.

“If you have the right shop people will come, they want to be entertained. People want destination shops, a day out. People haven’t stopped spending but they are spending their money in different ways. They are more careful on what they spend their money on.

“It’s a very different market – it has changed hugely.”

Annie also likes to get out and about to pass on her knowledge and that is why she is involved with Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Fairs.

And you can catch Annie at the latest Handmade Fair at The Green at Hampton Court on September 15-17.

She will be appearing in the Super Theatre each day to pass on her tips. She will be chatting to Cressida Bell on the Friday, discussing colour in the home with Kirstie on Saturday before, on the closing Sunday, being in conversation with stylist and interiors bloggers, Tamsyn Morgans and Dee Campling.

Annie said: “The handmade fairs are an experience. People can go and learn things, there are lots of workshop people can go and take part in. As for the Super Theatre, to be frank, it’s not something I have done that much of, although I have done a lot of teaching and presenting but mainly to my stockists. But I do enjoy it. It’s just about having ideas and thoughts and if you have got something to give then it’s great. I suppose communicating is what I like.”

So what’s next for Annie Sloane?

“I’ve run my business not just on paint but on fabrics and paints. I have always seen it as a whole, so I am growing that and trying to make it tighter and working out how to stay in the retail market as well. I am very keen to stay selling my paint and products only in small independent shops, that’s what I have always championed.”

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