Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Circus Tea Cart - Using Home Decor Stencils with Geri Beam

Did you ever want to run away and join the circus? Brightly colored circus wagons have always been alluring.  So, when the opportunity came to do a home décor project for StencilGirl I knew exactly what I wanted to do – transform my ho-hum-ble tea cart into a Circus Tea Cart.

There are decisions to make and lessons to learn on this journey. Join me as we run away from harsh realities to create this fun and functional cart.

Decision Time

Go big was the first decision to make.  There was a lot of surface to cover so I chose large stencils that were 12 x 24 inches and 9 x 12 inches.


By looking closely at the stencils, I found some wonderful small bits that were perfect for edges. 

I selected one small 6 x 6 inch stencil to give contrast in size but used the same shapes. 

Combining stencils gave a wonderful focus point for the top.

(For a complete list of stencils used and links to buy them, see the end of this article in the supply list.)


Decision Time

An easy decision to make was what kind of paint to use. After doing research I decided the best paint to use on furniture is chalk paint.

Chalk Paint® is a decorative furniture paint developed by Annie Sloan over 25 years ago. To learn more about what it is and how to use it, I suggest you do your own research. For me, it boiled down to easy preparation and cleanup.

For the final coat, I used a water-based polyurethane with a satin finish.  The water-based paints and polyurethane were easy to use and clean up. Even though several different brands were used they all played well together – well, almost – see lessons learned later.

The edges of the table were going to be distressed to give an aged appearance. The edges were under-painted with red so when sanded, the red would show through.

Decision Time

Not only did I need a color scheme that invoked the circus but I also needed to decide if I wanted the base color black or white.

This is the final color scheme – see supplies list at the end of this article for a complete list of products and colors.

To prepare the table for chalk paint I mixed Murphy’s Soap with water and gave everything a good scrub. Be sure to let it dry completely before applying paint.

The wheels and bottom shelf were removed for easier access.

Decision Time

To help make the decision of what to do as a background on the top I decided to do the bottom shelf in black and the pull-out tray in white.  Then I could compare the two and see what I liked best

I started by putting red paint on all sides of the tray and shelf.

Lesson Learned

·      Keep your brush in a plastic bag when you know you are going to use the same color but are waiting until the paint dries on the surface.

·      Use a light coat of paint for covering the surface. Heavy layers are not your friend.

I used a light coat of white on the tray and black on the shelf.  This is what they looked like after the first coat. Note that the black covered better than the white. I had seen videos and was prepared to see the first coat would look a little rough.

The second coat of white and black paint covered well.  I let them dry and then sanded the edges to reveal the red. I used a damp cloth to remove dust.

Next – the fun really begins when we use stencils on top of the tray and shelf.

Lesson Learned

·      Use an old phone book for your paint palette. When the page is full, tear it off and save it for collage paper.

·      Examine the stencil for interesting parts and use them on edges.

I used a cosmetic sponge and randomly placed opaque paint colors through the Circles Overlapping stencil by Carolyn Dube. I moved the stencil and repeated until the entire shelf was covered.


I then placed the Circles Overlapping Filled stencil by Carolyn Dube and used a transparent paint.

Lesson Learned

·      Covering opaque paint with translucent paint adds depth and complexity.

The final look of the shelf appeared unified, complex, and antique. 

Compare the before and after.

I moved on to doing the tray. I taped the inside border of the tray and placed the first stencil on it.

This is what the inside of the tray looked like after painting with opaque colors . . .

. . . and after the transparent paint was applied.

Decision Time

I compared the white versus the black and determine which background to use on the tabletop. To me, the black was more dramatic and was the better choice.

A little detailing with Posca paint pens and three layers of polyurethane and I called this part of the cart done.


Since the top would be black the legs also needed to be black. I used an undercoat of red and sanded like I had before. I decided to paint the base of the drawer in white. I used a gold metallic Posca paint pen to highlight the edges of the drawer and accent around the black in the center. The black shelf on the bottom anchored the cart. The tray and drawer’s colors contrasted with the rest of the cart. This was a happy accident but it looks like I planned it.

Time to do the focal point of the whole cart – the top center. If you remember I decided to combine three stencils to go big and dynamic. I taped a border around the whole image and began painting with opaque paint.

I repeated the process of applying transparent paint on the center and sparingly dabbed it over the two sides.

Lesson Learned

·      Test, test, and test again.

The next part of the project proved to be the most difficult. The biggest lesson is to test before you go too far. Because I didn’t do that, I ended up doing the side pieces three times.   

I placed the Elegant Fence by Terri Stegmiller stencil on the side and masked it with paper to avoid splatter.  I then sprayed with PaperArtsy iZink dye spray.

Using a cosmetic sponge, I carefully pounced the edges with Grotto colored chalk paint.

I spent a lot of time detailing the inside of each opening with Posca paint pens and detailing the side to make it fit with the top center. I repeated the process on the other side. I was very happy with how this looked.

Then disaster struck

I applied the first layer of polyurethane. I did not realize that the dye would be reactivated by the polyurethane and the whole gold base smeared. I had done this process before on paper and didn’t have this problem.

Lesson Learned

·      The painful lesson - test with the products you are using on the substrate you plan to use.

Not to be stopped by this disaster, I determined how to “fix” the problem.  I cut out freezer paper templates to re-apply a product that was not water-soluble.

My rescue product? Izink Pigment Ink – an all-surface ink that is permanent.  I sponged it over the offending gold parts and re-applied black details with Posca pens.

Disaster struck again. 

This time the black Posca pens smeared when I put on the polyurethane.  I do not know why these black paints smeared when they hadn’t before.

At this point, I took a step back and listened to what the universe was trying to tell me. I took a day away from the project and with a new critical eye, I looked at the design.  I decided that the black circles in the middle section were just not right. I need to put something there that referenced back to the top center focal point.

I placed the stencil back on top of the side design.  I pounced the white chalk paint over the center design. Then I placed two straight lines of tape parallel to form the top and bottom of a rectangle. I placed tape over the ends of the rectangles and over the dividers between each box.  I pounced black chalk paint inside the rectangles.

I used the Circle Bubbles Stencil Mask by Valerie Sjodin  over the black rectangles. This gave me a smaller-scale repeat of the center focal point. I lined each box with a gold metallic Posca paint pen.

Lesson Learned

·      Make detail lines with non-water-soluble medium.

This time to get the thin black lines, I put some black gesso into a fine line applicator. I knew the gesso would not bleed.

I think this new design was even better than what I did the first and second time.

Here are the two designs so you can compare them. Sometimes disaster provides a better end product.

The last thing to do was to paint the wheels and re-attach them.

I started by taping the outside rim. I base-painted them with white chalk paint. Then I painted each spoke a different color. I detailed the center hub. I sanded down the edges and covered with three coats of polyurethane. I believe these wheels give the final touch to the circus feeling.

Just for fun let’s look at a few before-and-after shots. And a couple of shots from different angles of the finished product.

Last, but not least, the supplies needed for the project.

Stencils Used

12 x 24 inches

Organic Circles, Lines & Bubbles Stencil by Valerie Sjodin

Elegant Fence by Terri Stegmiller


9 x 12 inches

Circles Overlapping stencil by Carolyn Dube

Circles Overlapping Filled stencil by Carolyn Dube


6 x 6 inches

Circle Bubbles Stencil Mask by Valerie Sjodin 

Chalk Paint Brands and Colors

FolkArt Home Décor –

·      Pioneer Red

·      Grotto

Klitz – Toasted Poppy (black)

Rust-Oleum Chalked Ultra Matte Paint – Linen White

PaperArtsy Fresco Finish –

·      Granny Smith

·      Haystack

·      Double Denim

·      Professor Plum

·      Purple Rain

·      Terracotta (Translucent)

PaperArtsy iZink Pigment Ink –

·      Royal Gold

Varathane Polyurethane Water-Based –

·      Crystal Clear Satin

Detail paint and tools

Uni-Posca Pens PC-5m bullet-shaped

·      Metallic Gold

·      Pink

·      White

·      Black

Fineline Applicators 1 oz 18 Gauge Precision Applicators

Black Gesso

Tools and Brushes

·      Abimars 2 PCS Chalk Paint Wax Brush Set – 1" and 2" Natural Bristle Round Wax Brush

·      Fine line detail brush 5/0

·      Medium 1-inch synthetic brush

·      Sandpaper

·      Cosmetic sponges

·      Painters tape

·      Tarp

·      Tray of water

·      Paper Towels, baby wipes or clean cloth to clean splatters

·      Old phone book

·      Paint can opener

·      Paint stir sticks

NOTE: Temperature and humidity affect the drying of paint and sealants. Be sure to follow the manufacture’s recommendations for drying times.

See you next time at the Creative Team blog for StencilGirl Products.

I hope you enjoyed the trip to the circus,



  1. I did enjoy the trip to the circus!!!!

    The Circus Tea Cart looks fantastic!

    Happy Wednesday, Geri!

    1. Thank you Veronica glad you enjoyed the trip and the work

  2. I love this project and want to paint some furniture now

    1. I am glad to inspire you to paint furniture. It is so rewarding to have a piece in your home that you upcycled.

  3. What an amazing and wonderful project! Thanks so much for sharing not only your process but your challenges and victories. This is a fun and inspiring read.

    1. Thanks - I appreciate your comment. I feel like I learn so much from "mistakes."

  4. Wow! What an impressive project! Wonderful color. What a smart use of stencils. The detail you give about how to be creative with them, and the lessons you shared will inspire me, and help me avoid a lot of mistakes. Thanks for all the pictures.

  5. Thanks for the support - so nice to have that - you always have lifted me up.

  6. Love your "not a quilt" project with all the step by step. I am inspired!

  7. Fantastic! You'r right - what you did to "save" it worked out so beautifully and BETTER!!


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