Symbol Art – Tutorial

I just completed a series of three pieces of art for my master bedroom.  They are the symbols @, & and *.  It took me about 5-6 hours for each painting.

About 6 weeks ago, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a bunch of old Pei Wei table tops for $10 each.  The owner was replacing them all.  I bought 8 of them.  I knew I could do some sort of art on them.

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Some of them even had gum stuck to the bottom!  Gross.

So, I decided to make my first table top paintings for my master bedroom wall.

The original inspiration, which can be found in the master bedroom story board, was:


The inspirational aspect is the general blue color, off-white contrasting elements and the graphic nature.

I wanted something a bit more contemporary for the room, though.  So, I drew up a plan on Photoshop.  I wanted the series of three paintings that will go over the sofa in my master bedroom to look something like this.

master art plan

I went with a deep teal color in the end (mixed my own color) because I wanted the painted chair to stand out and nothing else to be as bright in the room.

I am sure there must be some short cuts or better ways to do this, but here is how I created the art.   Mistakes and all!

Materials Needed: 
- Canvas or wood.  (The tutorial will be about using wood, as I used old Pei Wei table tops that were 2 feet x 3 feet.)
- Paint brushes (I used several sizes including 1 inch, 3 inch and craft size.).
- Paint.  (I used Valspar sample sizes from Lowe’s as well as acrylic craft paints.)
- A drawing or plan of what you want to create.
- Paper towels.
- Sand paper if you are using wood that has a finish on it like I did.
- Paint pen for outlining the symbols.
- Optional:  pencil or tracing paper.

1.  Prepare the surface of the wood.  Sand down any clear coat finish that is present.  I used 200 grit sand paper.  Then, wipe off the dust you created from sanding.

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2.  I wasn’t sure how to create a template large enough for my art.  Ideally, you can print out an image and trace it with tracing paper onto the wood, but my printer cannot handle such a large image.  Rather than send it to a professional printer for printing or to prepare and print it on nine separate sheets of paper, I decided to freehand draw each image.

I started out trying to use a pencil.  It didn’t show well on the wood.  I then went to tracing paper.  Without an image to trace, you’re pretty blind while going at it that way.  So, I ended up just using a paint pen and drawing, knowing I could correct any messed up lines.  And, believe me, there were messed up lines.  The worst was the ampersand.  I’ll show it here.

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It’s pretty messed up, but work at it, it WILL get better.

3.  Start to paint inside your lines (if you know which ones are the right ones).

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I painted the white inside first.

On the ampersand, my technique was to do well within the lines and then come back and do the edges.

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You can see the little drawing next to it.  That was the only thing I had to base it on.  So, I just drew and painted as I looked at it.   You can see all of the oopsy lines left over.

4.  Then, paint the blue.

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Again, I started in the middle first and then did the edges carefully.

Notice the Jersey Shore painting in the background of the photo above.  My “little sister” was painting that one.  Her idea.

5.  Obviously, this isn’t a step that you want to take, but once I finished the first coat of the blue, I changed my mind on the color.  I decided to tone it down.  I loved the original color, but I didn’t want anything in the room competing with my painted chair.  I just got messy and went over the white some, knowing I could fix it later.

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But alas, it still wasn’t the right color for the room.  So, we decided to do a deep teal.

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5.  It took two coats of blue and two coats of white in the end.   As you go, just keep correcting any issues that you notice with the shape.

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6.  Paint the sides black in order to make it look more finished and to cover up any paint that dripped over the edge.

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7.  Touch up, touch up, touch up.  Keep touching it up until you get it just right.

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I used a paint pen for some of my touch ups, but a brush was really just as easy.

8.  Add a clear coat to seal it.  I used a glossy brush on lacquer coat just to make it look more finished.

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My husband did the clear coat for us.  We chose to do it in the garage due to the strong smell.

9.  Congrats you have a new piece of art!

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Mistakes/ Things to Note:
On the asterisk, the tracing paper marks showed through AFTER we put the clear coat on.  Not sure why.

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So, we taped it off with the green frog tape (I recommend that specifically).  Then, sanded just the white part.  Repainted.  Resealed.

Stay tuned to see them in the master bedroom!  Let me know if you make this art for your home!

Update 11/15/11:  They now have a home in our laundry room.


  1. Sadie + Stella

    Very cool!! This looks like it requires a very steady hand…love this tutorial. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ashly@Moon Walk

    Really great project. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a fantastic idea! I love how you took an idea and made it your own. Just beautiful!


  4. Can't wait to see them in the bedroom, already a huge fan of your bedroom design! You've got a lot of patience!

  5. Sarah @ living with mold illness

    Great idea and I love the finished product! Can't wait to try it myself someday!

  6. Swirls of Happy

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!! All your projects turn out amazing :)

  7. Carol@TheDesignPages

    Wow, they look amazing. You are a very patient woman but it was well worth it in the end. I can't wait to see them hung!

  8. Great job! They came out awesome!

  9. Love the ampersand!!

  10. Everybody Love the Cheathams

    I love love love lurve it! :)

  11. This just gave me an awesome idea for a piece to go over my headboard. This is awesome… Thanks!!

  12. Tammy @ Type A

    so cool, thanks for sharing this at my party.

  13. Oh I love this!! Love the simplicity of it! I've thought of making some art for our house, but hadn't decided on what to paint – love this! I'm wondering if you could paint the whole thing blue first instead of working around the white though?

    Mara @ Super Savings

    p.s. came over from "Whassup Wednesdays" linky party.

  14. The Answer Is Chocolate

    This is fabulous! Came over from Whassup Wednesday!

  15. These are so awesome! I love them! I would love it if you came over and linked up to my party so I could feature them! Thanks!
    Have a great evening!
    PS~i am your newest follower! I am so excited to see your other projects!

  16. Brittany {Mommy Words}

    Those look great! I am planning something like that for my girls' room – with different symbols. Awesome!

  17. Love them! It is really hard for me to freehand, but I continue to try and you did a great job! I found you at At the Picket Fence link party :)

  18. Denise at PinkPostcard.

    these are awesome! so fun to make your own art, isn't it? :)

  19. Thanks so much for linking this awesome project up to Try it Tuesday at DotDotDOt! Grab a button (if you want) because I am featuring this today!
    Have a Happy Monday!

  20. Tammy @ Type A

    i featured you this week!!!! xx

  21. Just saw this linked from your post about the laundry room… I definitely need to do this! Too cute and seems pretty easy!

  22. wow-this looks so professional-neat idea-I’m your newest follower!

  23. Love it so much I featured you at my weekly Hookin Up with HoH party!

    Feel free to stop by and grab a button if you’d like!


    Allison @ House of Hepworths

  24. Love this! Great idea.

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