Tole Painting

Tole painting

Tole painting is a fun and easy craft to learn. It's also very popular, even among people who don't consider themselves good artists.

What is Tole Painting?

Originally, tole painting referred to painting that was done on tin. This craft became popular in New England in the late 18th century. It may have originated as a way for people who couldn't afford china to make their tin plates a little nicer and fancier looking.

These days, tole painting is not limited to painting on tin. Just about any surface, from wood to ceramic and glass to pottery, can be used. It is more the technique of the painting, using a traditional folk art style, that makes the craft what it is today.


One thing that distinguishes tole painting from other decorative painting techniques is the brush strokes that are used. There are five main brush strokes:

  • Teardrop stroke
  • Comma stroke
  • C stroke
  • S stroke
  • Pivot/half circle stroke

All of these stokes look like their names describe them. A good page on how to make these different strokes can be found here. Because each of these strokes can be completed in one move, tole painting is often also known as one-stroke painting.

Another thing that sets most tole painting apart is the subject matter. Flowers are incredibly popular motifs, as are other country-type designs that might be described as folk art.

The final distinguishing characteristic of tole painting is the traditional use of oil paints. Traditional tole painters still use oil paints, but many others use acrylic paints because they're a little easier to control for those with less experience in painting.


Traditional tole painting, as mentioned above, was done on tin products for the home such as plates and serving utensils. While the craft has expanded to different media and types of paint, it's still nice to use household objects to paint on, even if you don't intend to use them.

Wooden boxes, glass pitchers, mirrors and many other surfaces are also good choices for tole painting. Visit a discount store or even a flea market and see what kinds of interesting pieces you can come up with to paint on.

Once you have your object to paint, you'll need a design. Over time you may feel comfortable enough with the painting techniques to develop your own designs. In the beginning, however, most people prefer to work from patterns. The following sites can give you some ideas of how the craft works, even if you want to develop your own design:


Tole painting is a wonderful craft that people tend to get rather addicted to. There are so many different things you can paint, from decorative plates to the walls of you home. One fun way to introduce the craft to friends is to have a painting party. This is a good idea for a different kind of holiday party, because it allows people to get together and make something they can give as a gift.

Get a bunch of things to paint on. They can all match, like a bunch of small ceramic plates, or you can gather a collection of dishes, boxes and other materials that can be painted. Bring out all your paints and brushes, as well as some blank paper. If you need to buy a lot of supplies, you can charge people $5 or so to attend.

Spend a little time teaching the basic brush strokes, letting people practice on the paper. Then go to town painting designs on your decorative items. Most people probably won't have good technique, but they'll have a lot of fun and you might just convert some people to a new craft.

Tole Painting