How I Painted the White Unicorn with Chalk Paint

Eileen asked me to do a short video to show how I painted the Unicorn, and I thought it was a great idea. Thanks, Eileen, for suggesting it.

The Unicorn, Hanging Out with His Friend, the Rabbit Eileen pointed out that it’s really hard to paint an animal sculpture all one color and have it come out nice, and I totally agree. If an animal sculpture is all one color, whether it’s white or brown or purple, the result can end up looking flat. I really like the way the Unicorn came out, though, because the three different coats, each with a  slight variation in color, make the large expanse of white look more interesting.

For the Unicorn, I used a painting method that I’ve only used once before, and that was for his little rabbit friend. (I think we need names for the Unicorn and Rabbit. Suggestions, anyone?)

I used some small bottles of chalk paint that I bought at Walmart, and stencil brushes. (I just found a similar product by FolkArt, at Amazon.com, and I’ll be ordering more colors. I think the FolkArt paints are actually less expensive, because the containers are eight ounces instead of two ounces. They name their colors differently – Waverly’s “Ivory” might be FolkArt’s “Sheepskin,” but we’ll have to experiment a bit to figure that out.)

To paint the white coat on the Unicorn, I used the stencil brushes to pounce three slightly different versions of very light, warm gray onto the sculpture. The different colors show through because no coat completely covers the previous coat. Even though the color differences are extremely small – so small that they don’t really show up well for the camera – they still give an interesting, natural and rich look to the Unicorn’s white coat.

This is a fast, easy way to paint an animal sculpture, and I’ll be using it a lot in the future. It will work best when you don’t want brush marks to show, and when the natural coat of the animal is either all one color, like the body of the Unicorn, or if there are very slight variations within the coat, like you see on a wild rabbit.

Rub-on shiny colors
Rub-on Shiny colors

The rub-on shine that I added to the mane, tail, and horn are now sold under a different brand than mine (I got mine at least 20 years ago) but they’re still available in exactly the same colors, here. The one I used was the White Mist. The Silver seemed like a more reasonable choice for a silver mane, but I liked the white one better.

I ran out of varnish, so my rabbit and unicorn still need their final clear coat. Another reader (thank you, Rex!) recommended a varnish by Americana, which comes in Gloss, Satin, Ultra Matte and Soft Touch. I ordered the Matte version (and the Soft Touch) just to see what they’re like. I’ll report back to you as soon as I’ve had time to experiment with them. The chalk paint line has a wax finish, (normally used for furniture, I think), but I decided not to use it because the label on the one from Walmart said it needed to be reapplied every year. I’m too lazy to do that, so I’ll stick with the varnish.

If you’d like to make a Unicorn or Rabbit (or both) using my patterns, you can find them on the new Sculpting Patterns page.

14 thoughts on “How I Painted the White Unicorn with Chalk Paint”

  1. Nice job at painting Jonni. Painting the shadows first with various grays would have been more difficult to do than pouncing as you have chosen to do here.

  2. Sorry I can’t help with the questions you guys are trying to figure out. I don’t use varnish as much as I should, and someday I’m sure I will be very sorry as some of my art work will probably fade or get horribly smudged or some such. But anyhow I just wanted to drop in and say that your baby unicorn and rabbit are adorable! It was so nice to see a new video from you!

  3. I love all your paper mache animals. You do beautiful work and your videos are excellent in complete explanation on how to make and paint the projects. I am new at this and hope I will be able to accomplish of making the unicorn. I have three granddaughters who loves unicorns and horses. I want to thank you you so much for sharing some of your beautiful paper mache projects.

    • Thanks, Patricia. I hope you have fun making your unicorns – it sounds like you need to make a whole herd of them! If you have any questions, be sure to ask – and I really hope we get to see them when they’re done.

  4. Nice sculptures!
    Jonni, you should look into Inka Gold rub-on finishes and mica powders for interesting effects. Inka Gold comes in an amazing array of beautiful colors and water can be added to make them like paint. You can get them at poly clay sites and art suppliers. Some sell “sample towers”, (small plastic screw together containers to try them out.)

  5. Excellent video! I never even thought to use chalk paint for a sculpture, or to use a stencil brush! I do the dabbing motion with a regular brush that you spoke of but the stencil brush would achieve a much nicer effect. It really is an excellent paint job on both of your subjects, very soft and totally realistic. I could have used this video prior to doing my snow goose(years ago), it eventually turned out well but the techniques you just described would have come in handy.
    I do wonder how archival chalk paint is but it should be as they just add plaster of paris or some other chalky substance to regular paint. I do think the varnish should be archival though.
    It was very nice of you to give me credit for the idea of the video, but totally unnecessary! Thanks for that however! As far as names for your critters, “Barney” jumped out first thought for the rabbit, “Jake” for the unicorn. BUT, Jake may not work because it might be a she. The title of the sculpture could simply be “Friends”. Thanks for a nice tutorial.

    • Eileen, that’s an interesting question about how long the paint will last. I wish I knew how they do the tests on artists’ supplies so they know if it’s archival or not (I wish I could do those tests on the paper mache clay, but I have no idea how to do it). And I wonder if there would be a difference in lasting qualities between the different brands of chalk paint?

      Barney and Jake are great names, so that’s what I’m going to call them. If you look closely enough, I suppose we’d have to call Jake a girl. But I think of him as a boy, mostly because the original stories – told back when unicorns still looked a lot like goats – were about male unicorns. But Jake is a baby unicorn, so he has to have a mother, right? There must be female unicorns.

      My new varnish should arrive tomorrow. I’ll read the label and see if it says anything about archival qualities.

      • The archival question sort of baffles me. I understand the concept but am not sure I totally believe in it. I did a painting about 30 years ago with good old craft paint and it is still holding up beautifully. There is no fading or distortion of color, peeling or flaking. I know 30 years is not too long in the scope of things but I think it would have faded by now if it was going to.
        I have since graduated to artist quality or at the very least, student grade, simply because I feel a responsibility to those who may purchase my stuff from art shows. They are paying a premium for art, not like for a craft where you would spend less and not have any expectations of it lasting forever. Have any of your long ago baby animal dolls had any issues? Do you have any left from that time period of your life? What does Jessie say about this issue?
        I think of unicorns as male as well. Even if he was a she and you wanted to name her Jake, it is your prerogative as its creator, or mom. We will now have to refer to you as Jake’s mom. HA!
        My Liquitex varnish does not use the word archival but it says it is artist quality, will not fade or yellow, etc. I also saw something I had never seen. It said on the bottle that overbrushing or continuous brushing may result in fogging. Do you suppose that is the problem that Rex is always complaining about?

        • I’ll have to ask Jessie about the archival issue – I know she tries to cut costs whenever she can, but she always uses artist quality oil paints. On the other hand, I don’t think they make craft-quality oil paints, or I just haven’t looked hard enough. I’ll also ask her what varnish she uses. I do know she waits for many months before varnishing, so the oil paints can cure, but I’ve never seen anyone say that we had to do that with acrylics.

          I’ve never paid much attention to the fine print on my varnish, so I hadn’t seen the information about over-brushing. That’s really interesting. I wonder if excessive brushing mixes air into the varnish, which could cause it to get cloudy. Hmmm – I always assumed that Rex was talking about the varnish that gets built up in deep areas or cracks because it flows in and isn’t brushed back out, which can also cause it to dry cloudy. I’ve had that happen once or twice. Are his ears burning now, I wonder? I hope so, because he might be able to throw a bit more light on the subject.


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