Tutorial: How to DIY a rustic wooden sign for your home

I always have some bits and pieces of wood and other knickknacks stocked up in my stash. It might look like I'm a low key hoarder but I really don't think I am one since I always try to find ways to turn this "waste" into wealth. So I do end up putting it to good use. I had this perfectly square piece of wood lying in my stash for about a year and I decided to make a rustic wooden sign as a gift for my friend's new home. I'm going to take you along on how I DIY'd it.

Square piece of MDF wood

This is a lightweight piece of MDF board about 10 x 10 inches in size and 4 mm thick.

Step 1. Prime the base with gesso

While it's perfectly alright to stain it with a wood stain in a colour of your choice, I plan to use acrylic colours on it because I wanted to use multiple hues to create dimensions in the colour (You'll see what I mean in a minute). However, the wood tends to soak up the acrylic paints. Therefore, applying a layer of gesso all over the surface helps to reduce the absorption. Gesso also helps in making the colour appear true to it's shade. So do not miss this step!

Step 2: Create textures

Once you paint on a layer of gesso all over the surface of the wood and is now nice and dry (I usually let it dry overnight), now it's time to add some texture around the edges. Since my gesso is really thick, I like to scoop out a dollop of it with my painting knife and smush it on the surface like you would frost a cake. Don't worry about smoothing it out since the rougher the texture, the rustic it looks. Let it dry out completely (it can take few hours or couple of days depending on the weather or the place you live) and the texture is ready for you.

Create textures with a thick gesso

 Smush a thick dollop of gesso over the edges with a painting knife in short strokes

Step 3: Apply the base colour

Now is the time to apply the base colour - which is going to be the most prominent colour of your piece. I applied some beige while brightening it out with some white in the centre to create an ombre effect. You can stick to one solid colour too if that's what you envision for your project.

Apply the base color

Apply the base colour

Step 4: Write your favourite quote 

Once your base colour is nice and dry, you can either trace out your letters from a document printed out from your computer or go freehand with a pencil like I did. Pro tip: Your outlines should be traced very lightly - just enough for you to spot its presence - so that you can easily use an eraser to correct any mistakes without leaving any ghost lines. Make sure to balance out the negative spaces when you put down your quote.

Letters traced very lightly with a pencil

Trace or freehand your favourite quote very lightly with a pencil

Step 5: Fill in your letters with a solid colour

Once your outlines are ready, fill in the letters with a solid colour that contrasts well with your background. I filled in the letters with a rich burnt umber (acrylic paint) and painting brush. I must admit it is very satisfying to see your letters coming to life!

Fill in the letters with a colour of your choice that contrasts well with the background

Fill in your letters with a solid colour

Step 6: Dry brush with vintages hues

After ensuring your letters are dry, it's time to bring out the textures we worked really hard on in the previous step. Choosing the right colours for dry brushing also gives it a rustic, vintage look. Dip your bone dry brush bristles into your paint (I stuck with burnt umber and raw umber since a combination of these browns, when used smartly, can give a worn out, rustic effect), remove the excess paint from your brush by dabbing it on a rough rug or paper towel and then paint on with a quick short, sweeping strokes with your brush barely touching the surface, go over your textures. The protrusions of these textures catch the paint just enough to make it stand out.

I also added in a bit of teal in the end to add some visual interest.

Here are some links to videos that demonstrate the dry brush painting technique:

1) Dry brush painting technique by Tabletop Minions

2) Dry brushing on wooden surface by Suite Pieces

Dry brush in a sweeping motion to bring out the textures

Dry brush your browns over the textures

Ta da! Your rustic signboard is ready to adorn your wall! Now that you know the steps, I highly recommend you give it a go to match your own aesthetics or follow exactly the steps in this post. Happy crafting!

Final wooden sign piece


If you have any questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments.





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