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Thrift, Repurpose & Beautify

Earth Day is coming up.  I love to think about how I can live more simply and enjoy what I have.  I like finding ways to get the things I need for less and beautifying what I already have.  In line with this I recently did a project I’d love to share.

I wanted a painting bin.  When we do our watercolor paintings, in our Waldorf inspired home school, I am forever looking for our supplies and making multiple trips from our art closet to the table.  A simple cardboard box would have been fine to keep all my materials together but I love beautifully crafted things.  I wanted a paint box that inspired us to paint!  With this thought I found my way to the thrift store and picked up a possibility.  This sturdy wooden garden caddy was only a $4.  I brought it home cleaned it up and set to work.

This project has so many possibilities and variations to think about.  Art bins, garden bins, anything you need to organize can find a beautiful home.  I did a similar project, though not quite as thrifty, making a beeswax crayon caddy out of an herb box.  You can see that project on my blog, Chocolate Eyes.  I can imagine finding an old wooden box to plant veggies in and beautifying it.  Recently I found a wooden cd crate that is going to be a perfect home for a couple of herb pots.  I’ll be wood-burning that as well. Warning: once you get the wood burning bug it’s hard to shake.

For this project Beatrix Potter kept coming to mind.  We love Beatrix Potter books!  So giving a nod to the garden aspect of my garden caddy and the painting aspect of Beatrix Potter’s beautiful watercolor illustrations, I chose an illustration from The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. In this Illustration Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have found Peter’s clothes and are now stealing onions from Mr. McGregor’s garden. Those mischievous rabbits remind me of my two little ones.

  • Begin by finding your inspiration.  Draw something or find something online that you would like to add to your wooden item.  Google “coloring pages” of the theme you’re interested in and you’ll find all sorts of free print outs.  Here’s one with fairies, dragons, elves & all things magical.   And here’s another for Peter Rabbit coloring pages.  This is where I found my line drawing print out. You can do something very simple like a flower or a few leaves, a sun, moon, rainbow or a henna-like design of dots, whatever sparks your imagination & is meaningful to you!
  • Also before beginning look at your wooden item.  Is it unfinished wood?  Does it already have a stain on it?  Does it need sanding?  If it has a patina than it’s probably been stained. If you want to paint it using watercolor you may need to lightly sand it for the watercolor to sink in the wood. Or you can use acrylic paint and not worry about sanding it.  Your choice.

  • Gather your materials.  You will need…
    a freshly sharpened pencil, powdered graphite or graphite sticks or charcoal, scissors, tape, wood burner & watercolors or acrylics, if you want to paint it. Plus beeswax wood polish to seal the wood.

  • Cut your print out to the dimensions of your wooden box or bin. Then darken the back of your print out by using the side of a graphite pencil. Or you can use graphite or charcoal sticks or powdered graphite, whatever you have on hand.  If all you have is a no 2 pencil that that will work just fine.  I had some powdered graphite so I used that. Fill in the back of your print out with your chosen graphite or charcoal.  Cover the entire back, leaving no white.

  • Then draw over all of the lines in your print out with a freshly sharpened pencil.   This will leave a pencil line on your wooden item.  Make sure to tape it down so it doesn’t move. When you feel you’ve gone over every line check for lines you may have missed by pulling up one end & peaking under.  There are always a few lines missed.

Here is the penciled illustration. It looks dingy because of the graphite. (Sorry for the glare.)

  • Then go over your lines with your wood burner.  I use the flat edge tip on my wood burner because I like the clean line it makes.  If this is your first time using a wood burner practice on a scrap piece of wood first.  Try burning long lines, short lines, wide and narrow curves.   Twirl the burner on its tip to make dots.  Go slow and have fun with it! ( If you don’t want to wood burn you could even use a permanent marker to draw your design.)
  • When finished with the wood burning clean the graphite or charcoal off with a damp rag and a mild cleaner.  I like to use vinegar & water.

  • Then you can decide whether you want to paint it.  I added a little color with Stockmar watercolors.  I like how it makes the illustration pop.  Once it dries, go over your painting & the entire item with beeswax wood polish.  You can make your own, here’s a recipe from this blog.  Or you can buy from an etsy seller like Natural Kids Team shop, Birch Leaf Designs.

Here’s my caddy mostly filled and ready to be used!  It could even fit a small pad of paper inside.

I hope this gets you thinking about what you can thrift and beautify.  Let’s care for and give new life to the material items already on this earth. Make the earth happy and have a happy Earth Day!




Becca Thornton is a creative stay at home Mama of two sweet, little boys & wife to her high school sweetheart. They are Northeast transplants living in the sunny   Southwest.  A typical day finds them soaking up the sun playing, gardening, baking, crafting & homeschooling.  Find her at her blog, Chocolate Eyes. & visit her shop, Mama West Wind, where she upcycles wool & sells Waldorf inspired toys & decor.


18 thoughts on “Thrift, Repurpose & Beautify

  1. This is adorable! Now, I’m just wondering if mine will look anywhere near as wonderful as yours… 🙂

  2. becca, it turned out beautifully!!… a longtime ago, I painted a few peter rabbit scenes on walls for a job … but I didn’t get to keep it like yours 😉

  3. I am totally impressed, and want one of my own. Hmmm, do you take custom orders????

    1. If I could find another caddy I’d totally make one for you.

  4. How sweet! I love this idea and all of your beautiful crafting inspiration!!!!

  5. Do you have the regulated temp wood burner – you know w/ the box w/ the dial? I have a cheapie one, and while I’d love to burn {and have things that I’ve traced onto that are waiting}, I’ve not had good luck w/ mine so am very hesitant to use it. Maybe I need to save for a better burner…
    This is just beautiful!!!

    1. I have the cheapy burner too. I bought another that has more tips but I don’t like it as much as the cheapy one for some reason. I guess I’m used to it. It just takes practice to keep your hand steady & confidant. One thing you can do to cool it down is to unplug it for a minute or so. I do that when I want more delicate lines.

    2. There are temperature regulators available that can be used with the cheapo burners (I have one from — great company to work with!) That being said, a higher end burner is a real pleasure to work with!

  6. That is beautiful!! Loved your post as well 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing this tutorial! I can see how I’d get the “wood-burning bug.”

    1. It’s strangely satisfying. Destruction (burning) & creation all at the same time. lol

  8. So sweet and lovely!

  9. I was wondering how those beautiful designs could be achieved! Glad to know I don’t have to free hand it to have beautiful results, thanks for sharing!

  10. Gorgeous! I want to run out and find a woodburner to try this myself.

  11. Such a beautiful job! Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Beautiful work, Becca.

  13. I absolutely love this, peter rabbit is on of my favourite childrens books. You captured it perfectly, it looks like Beatrix Potter could have been the one with the wood burner:)

  14. um… you need to sell these! they are so precious, i want one for our new babies nursery!!! love beatrix potter, and it turned out lovely!

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