Whimsical Garden Art

I get inspirations for barn board signs from thymely sayings and country proverbs, and old time sales pitches on the side of a back country road.  In the old days, this was how you would learn about lambs for sale, which farm has fresh eggs, and the best place to pick sweet corn or tomatoes for canning. 

Rustic Garden Signs

A tractor for sale, a farm, or simply a room for rent would be advertised on a painted wooden sign. 

Stores and shops had hand painted signs above their doors, sometimes without words, just a picture of their business for those clients whose reading skills were non-existent. 

apple sign

I paint barn board signs with acrylic craft paint, distressing the boards before I paint, and again afterwards. 

Sometimes, if they’re really rustic and rough I’ll run them through the planer to take off the edges, but leaving enough of the patina or weathered look to keep the rustic feel.  I like old nail holes, gouges, paint of many layers peeling off and crackling. 

seed sign

I like the wild edge, sometimes called the live edge, of old boards, sometimes over 30cm across – you don’t find them like that any more! 

If they have knots, or knotholes, so much the better. 

Being run over by a tractor will only add to the weathering, and a few years of being nailed onto a barn in the sun and rain gives it authenticity.

Rustic open sign

How to get started making a Rustic Garden Sign

To start a project, I first pick a size of barnboard that appeals to me, and figure out the saying or proverb that fits. 

Vintage Farmers Market Sign

I sand off any rough edges, and then apply a coat of wash, or thinned down paint using a rag or sponge. 

This will get into the grain so it really stands out. 

If there are nail holes, or gouges they will be accentuated. 

After sponging off any excess, I let it dry, and then sand it with fine sandpaper. 

stenciled do not feed the horses sign

Sometimes a second coat of a different colour is applied the same way.  When I’m happy with the base, I get a clear picture in my mind of where the words and letters will be placed.  This is the most difficult; it’s easy to get carried away and end up having the final few letters squeezed up too close.

Honeycrisp apple sign

If you need to, pencil them in very lightly, or do them on a piece of paper the same size as your sign to get the right spacing.  I use very countrified lettering to keep the look I want which is rustic and primitive. 

Mermaids This way Sign

Try and paint in firm sure strokes, keeping your hand steady. 

Don’t try and touch up until the first coat is completely dry. 

This takes a lot of practice, so don’t worry if you have to make a few attempts – you can always sand off the mistakes, which only adds to the rustic weathered look.

New Maple Syrup Sign

After you’re happy with the way the lettering looks, take some coarse sandpaper and rough it up.  You can take off some areas down to wood, or down to your initial wash coat. 

Happy with that? 

Then sand the whole thing with fine sandpaper, wipe off the dust with a clean cloth, and then apply several light coats of a spray urethane.   

You can add trim around the edges of the board, or simply paint them in a contrasting colour.  I’ve used willow twigs to accent and outline address and name signs for a country look, or you can get really fancy and make mitered corners on purchased trim.

Blue open sign

To hang your sign, you can use screw in eyes so you can hang it on nails in a wall or fence. 

You can nail in fencing staples to the top of the sign which can be wired to an archway or arbor, or you can nail the sign directly onto a stake that can be driven into the ground. 

Keep your eyes open for inspiration, especially when traveling, but make sure you write the ideas down. 

I look in magazines about country life, gardens and farming to get ideas. 

Look in the classified ads from antique newspapers and magazines, and remember, even though plagiarism maybe the sincerest form of flattery, I urge you to use the inspiration as a starting point and run with it, making it completely your own.

Do you have any garden signs in your garden?