Tempera paint is an inexpensive, non-toxic paint that can be used for many fun creative projects. It’s a great paint for children to use, as it is safe and easy to clean up.
Tempera can be used to paint a variety of wood craft projects. However, since tempera paint is water-based, you’ll need to prepare the unfinished wood and seal your final painted projects.
What Is Tempera Paint?
If you or your children have ever painted in school art classes, or if you or your children have ever played with finger paints, then you’ve probably used tempera paint.
Tempera is a water-based, non-toxic, allergen-free paint that is popular for craft projects and children’s art classes. You can find it in craft stores, art supply stores, and even toy stores. Sometimes you’ll find it labeled as “poster paint”.
It is known for having bright colors that don’t fade and it is very easy to clean up. Because it is water-based, it can be used like watercolor paint or just painted in solid hues.
You can also buy tempera paint in the form of powdered pigment, and paint sticks. The powdered pigments can be mixed with water to create a liquid tempera paint.
The tempera paint sticks resemble glue sticks and are used to draw or write on any surface instead of using a paintbrush.
There is also another type of paint known as egg tempera paint.
This isn’t the same as the tempera paint that is commonly found in stores. Egg tempera is used only by professional fine artists. It is created with artist-grade pigments with egg yolk acting as a binder.
Can You Use Tempera Paint on Wood?
Yes. You can use tempera paint on wood. However, there are a few things you need to know about it. I’ll show you how to use tempera paint on wood in the rest of this post.
How To Paint Wood With Tempera Paint
Tempera paint is easy to use on any surface. It applies smoothly, and the colors stay bright with very little fading. It dries to a nice matte finish.
However, if you want to paint anything made of wood with tempera paint there are a few things that you will want to consider.
First, keep in mind that tempera paint is water-based. This means that it will wash away, partially or completely, if it gets wet. For this reason, you shouldn’t use tempera paint on any wood surface that will be displayed outside, or that will be frequently touched.
You can apply a sealant, but even that will offer limited protection.
Another thing to be mindful of is that tempera paint isn’t as strong as other types of paint, such as acrylic paint. Tempera paint will crack or flake after drying if it is applied too thickly or if the painted surface is very flexible.
If you’ve decided to use tempera paint on wood, here are a few basic steps that will help you get the best possible results:
- Tempera will work best on clean, unfinished, smooth wood. If the wood you want to paint is a little rough, usually a light sanding can be done quickly and easily. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth, but any noticeable rough or splintery areas should be sanded out. Tempera paint is very liquid, and it won’t apply evenly to rough surfaces.
If the wood surface has any kind of varnish or sealant on it, the tempera paint won’t stick to it. Varnishes, shellacs, and sealants are all made to repel moisture. Since tempera paint is water-based, it won’t adhere to those surfaces.
- If you want to paint your wooden piece a solid color or have a background color, you might want to use a light primer coat first. Gesso is an inexpensive primer product that is used to treat canvases, wood, and paper before painting. You could also apply a very light wash of acrylic paint as a primer.
Because tempera is water-based, it can soak into unfinished wood and might look a little bit blotchy when it dries. Sometimes a second coat of paint will make it look more even, but a primer coat is the best choice.
- Now for the fun part! Once your wood is sanded and primed (if using primer), it’s time to paint! Tempera applies very smoothly with any type of paintbrush. It will look best if you don’t apply a very thick coat of paint. If the paint is too thick, it might crack or flake once it is dry.
Tempera paint dries very quickly. The colors typically don’t change once the paint is dry. If you’re careful not to apply the paint too thick, it’s easy to layer colors on top of each other.
It’s also very easy to mix tempera paint to create new colors. Because tempera colors are very vibrant, they combine easily and the new color is unlikely to turn out “muddy” or dull.
- If you want a watercolor appearance, it’s easy to achieve with tempera paint! Like traditional watercolor paint, tempera can be thinned with water to get a more washed-out or transparent look. Layering transparent washes of color can add a lot of depth to any painted piece.
- After your tempera paint has dried, you might notice a few spots on the wood where the paint has soaked in more than the surrounding area. You can fix this easily enough just by painting a thin coat over any place that needs a little more coverage.
- The final step you might want to take for your tempera-painted wood piece is to seal it. This will protect your painted surface from moisture or humidity, and keep the paint looking clean and bright.
- Cleaning up is easy when using tempera paint! You can use soap and water to clean your paint brushes and any other areas. Tempera paint should wash out of clothes easily, although it might leave a stain if the paint dries on clothing.
What Wood Pieces Can I Paint With Tempera Paint?
There are only a few limitations when it comes to what wood pieces can be painted with tempera paint.
Technically, any unfinished wood can be painted with tempera. However, tempera is not the best choice for anything that will be permanently displayed outside. I wrote another post about the best paint for furniture that goes into more detail.
It’s also not a good paint choice for furniture, interior wood trim, or anything that will be handled or touched frequently.
You can find all sorts of unfinished wood “blanks” at craft and hobby stores that are great for tempera paints. Some great ideas for using tempera paint on wood are:
- Wood signs that can be used to decorate your home. You can find all kinds of shapes and sizes at hobby stores.
- Small wooden boxes can be painted to hold special trinkets or jewelry.
- Wooden picture frames that are painted in bright colors are a fun way to display favorite family photos or vacation memories. You can find unfinished frames in craft stores, but even old frames can work. Check out thrift stores and yard sales for inexpensive frames. If the frames already have a coat of paint or finish on them, it can be sanded off then a light primer coat can be applied before using your tempera paints.
- Most hobby and craft supply stores sell wood holiday ornaments that you can paint. This is an especially fun activity to do with kids! Be sure to write the date and your child’s name on the back of the ornament to create a memorable keepsake.
Will Tempera Paint Sticks Work On Wood?
Tempera paint sticks are solid forms of tempera paint that you can draw or color with. They resemble glue sticks or markers.
These paint sticks are perfect for small children who might have trouble using paintbrushes. They’re also a bit less messy for children to use than painting with brushes and water.
Tempera paint sticks will work on wood, but the coverage might not be as smooth as using a brush to apply the paint. The more smooth your wood surface is, the better the paint stick will adhere.
After the color from the paint stick has fully dried, you can seal it (if you prefer) just as you would any other form of tempera paint.
Sealing Tempera Paint On Wood Pieces
Since tempera paint is water-based, you will need to seal it to protect it. If you don’t seal your painted wooden project, any contact with water or humidity can cause the paint to smear or come off, even after it has been dry for a long time.
There are several options to seal your project. Commonly, sealants for painted projects come in two forms: liquid sealant that you can apply with a paintbrush, or spray sealant.
Both types of sealant are available in a variety of finishes, from ultra-glossy to completely matte.
Liquid sealants, such as Liquitex brand, provide great protection for any painted work as well as a good moisture barrier.
The key to getting the best appearance and protection from any liquid sealant is to apply it in one or two very thin coats. Be aware that some liquid sealants might cause your tempera paint to look a little bit darker, or even smear it when applying.
Spray sealants, such as Krylon brand, are an excellent choice. They are easy to apply, but you should work outside or in a well-ventilated area while spraying. The spray shouldn’t cause your tempera paint to run or become discolored.
Mod-Podge is inexpensive and most crafters already have it in their supplies. It can be used to seal tempera paint on wood, but it’s not the best choice for anything that will be displayed outdoors.
Mod-Podge doesn’t always hold up to the elements, such as temperature changes and heavy moisture, and might turn slightly yellow-ish over time.
Is Tempera Paint Permanent On Wood?
Tempera paint isn’t quite as durable as acrylic or oil paints, but with proper care, it can be made to last for years. The key to making tempera paint long-lasting on wood is, of course, using a sealant.
If your painted project is sealed and displayed indoors, it should last for a very long time