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October 01, 2007

How to create an antique finish for clay flower pots

Click to see the video!

When you’re an adolescent, sprouting new body parts is fascinating at first. Every morning there’s a new you, a hairier you, a greasier you or a smellier you.

But after a while the maintenance gets overwhelming, and that’s where advertisers can help with products that manage pimples, dandruff, scent glands, body hair and social urges.

It’s no wonder middle-aged people are envied by teens everywhere. We’ve stabilized. Our bodies are reliable. We don’t sprout anything unless we are specifically and repeatedly encouraged.  And we have one quality that is unknown to teenage metabolism: restraint.

Restraint causes a modulating effect on the human body. For example, hair that we no longer require on the scalp shows up in glossy bounty inside both the nose and the ears. Teenagers just don’t have those options.

And while teenagers crave shiny accessories to match their frisky lifestyles, middle-aged people need belongings with substance and texture and possibly peri-menopausal acne.

Pot Necessarily

One way for a middle-aged person to look better than ever is to sit on a patio surrounded by well-aged pots.  Flaking, lichen-covered clay pots give the impression that they’ve been around a lot longer than you have. And because antiqued pots look expensive, everyone will think that your investments are doing well and your children have moved out.

There are three methods of giving your pots the beauty of antiquity. Two of these techniques take minutes, and the other one takes months. I don’t know about you, but I want my antiquity fast.

Stuff You’ll Need


White glue

Latex paint

Hydraulic cement

Garden pots




Crackle Jack

This method quickly gives your pot a distressed, weathered finish, as though it’s been lying around in a barn for 30 years.

  1. Thin 3 parts white glue with one part water. White glue has a short tack time. If you want more working time, use fish glue (available from www.leevalley.com) thinned to the same degree.  Fish glue, in my opinion, is by far the better product for crackle finishes.  Be warned: It smells like a dying sea mammal.
  2. Paint a layer of the glue mixture all over the outside of a clay pot.
  3. Wait until the glue is tacky (5 to 20 minutes). In the meantime, choose a shade of latex paint from the shelf in the garage where all of your paint miscalculations now reside. You may want to thin the paint with a little water if it’s one of those high-end viscous formulations.
  4. When the glue feels almost dry but still sticky to your fingertip, apply a single coat of latex paint. Let the paintbrush glide lightly over the tacky glue and don’t do repeat strokes or you’ll get paint mixed with glue and the crackling effect won’t happen.
  5. After coating the pot with paint, let the pot sit until the paint dries in crackly glory. If you’re in a hurry, a hairdryer speeds up the crackling process. The glue dries and shrinks more slowly than the paint, which causes the cracks to appear. Your grandmother would be appalled at your taste but you are a teenager compared to her, so enjoy your cracks.
  6. TIP: Don't forget to seal the inside of the pot with a clearcoat so moisture won't migrate through the clay and blister the paint finish - unless you want the surface to look really peely and degraded.

Swamp Thing

This speedy technique will give you a rustic, heavily distressed finish, like a neglected medieval flagon on the bottom of a British bog.

  1. Add some of your water-and-glue mixture to a half-cup of hydraulic cement (an inexpensive powdered patching compound used to repair cracks in concrete). Stir until the mixture forms a lumpy paste.
  2. Spread the paste onto the pot surface using a paintbrush.
  3. When the hydraulic cement mixture becomes tacky, apply a coat of latex paint in the same manner cited above.
  4. Let the pot cure into a mass of fissures and cracks.


Mouldy Oldies

If you absolutely have to go the authentic route, this mixture will give you the stench of rot followed by the flush of real moss. Chop up about 2 cups of moss and let it dry for a few days.  It will shrink to a volume of about one cup.

Mix these items together in a pail.

1. 1 cup beer

2. 2 cups buttermilk

3. 2 packets dry yeast

4. 2 tablespoons corn syrup

5. 1 cup dried moss

Let the concoction sit in a hot, sunny location for three or four days until it reeks. Then gob it generously onto the surface of your pot, place the pot in a garbage bag and leave it in the sun for about 2 months. When you have the stomach to unwrap the pot, it will be covered with moss.  Enjoy.

Pots P.S.  If you would like to make your own lightweight concrete garden pots (also called 'hypertufa', get Mag's instructions here!


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Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
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