How to Paint an Abstract Landscape Design on a Dresser

Learn how to revive an old piece of furniture by refinishing it in a colorful trompe l'oeil-inspired design.

January 18, 2022

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Tools and Materials

  • gesso (pronounced jesso)
  • black acrylic paint
  • large poster board
  • square bristle paintbrush
  • small foam roller
  • artist's brush
  • Sherwin-Williams satin finish paint (we used Tupelo Tree, Secret Garden, Wheat Grass, Searching Blue and Watery)
  • 150-grit sandpaper
  • brush for dusting
  • tack cloth
  • paint tray and stir sticks
  • square bristle paintbrush
  • small foam roller
  • artist's brush

Bring a vintage piece of furniture back to life by painting it with a playful twist on a classic motif. Using a landscape painting for inspiration, treat your old furniture piece like a canvas and create a simple ethereal landscape. The key to making this technique work is to feather the edges of color between each ridgeline. Use an artist's brush to fill in the details and tear several pieces of poster board so each ridgeline is different, like a real landscape.

Use satin-finish latex paints to give the piece a protective finish so you won't have to apply a top coat of varnish. But do add extra coats to each section for a solid, even surface that will last a long time.

Step 1: Prep the Piece

Remove hardware and drawer pulls. Lightly sand the dresser just enough to rough up the old varnish. Wipe down the surface of the dresser to remove the residue.

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Before

Before

Step 2: Create Primer and Apply

Mix black acrylic paint and white gesso to create a gray primer. Gesso is a traditional primer for furniture that adheres well to wood and self-levels for a smooth surface. Paint the entire piece with a solid, smooth layer of the mixture.

Step 3: Apply the Bottom Color

When the gesso is dry, paint the first color; we used Sherwin-Williams Tupelo Green. Apply the color on all the legs and onto the dresser about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up. Feather the top edge to soften the transition between colors.

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Step 4: Create the Ridgelines

Tear a large piece of poster board, creating a jagged, sort-of-mountainous edge.

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Step 5: Apply the Second Color

Place the jagged edge of the poster board against the dresser, just below the feathered area of the first color. This will create the first landscape ridgeline.

With a small roller, paint the second color (Secret Garden). Roll from the poster board onto the dresser. Slide the poster board over, line it up with the first section and repeat the steps, creating a ridgeline along the front and sides of the dresser. With a square paintbrush, paint lightly over the rolled area to smooth out the surface and continue a little farther up the dresser, feathering out the top of the section as you go along. Paint right over any carved or decorative details as if they weren’t there, then use an artist's brush to tidy up the paint for a clean and even coat of color.

Step 6: Add More Colors

Continue the above steps, adding paint colors and ridgelines as desired. Some ridgelines will run all the way across the dresser while others will drop off halfway across, just like a real landscape painting.

Step 7: Paint the Top

Once the last ridgeline is created with the last color, simply paint the rest of the dresser, including the top, in that last color. Let dry completely for 24 hours before putting the hardware back on.

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