Friday, March 30, 2012

What is Tole Painting?

 Eighteen years ago I used to walk by a shop on 4th Avenue (in Vancouver) and stop and stare in the window. On one of those stops I decided to try my hand at Tole Painting and found something I loved!

'What is Tole'? That's the first question most people ask… The word Tole comes from French meaning lacquered or enameled metal-ware. It also means a table or board.

As years went by Tole Painting was referred to as Decorative Painting… “a diverse art form utilizing a variety of techniques and media to decorate functional and non-functional surfaces”. Tole painting is the general term historically used to describe decorative painting on tin surfaces, but today we paint on any surface including wood, glass, fabric and canvas”.
Tole or Decorative Painting is by no means a “new” thing”.

Tole painting tends to work with 3-dimensional objects rather than canvas. Objects can be made of different materials but the most common today is wood (pine) and MDF (medium density fibre board).

Tole painters tend to paint traditional folk art styles from various parts of the world and in a stylized manner. Flowers are a favourite, while birds, animals, whimsical and themed subjects are also common.
You may ask… “Is Tole Painting a craft or art?” It is often called a craft simply because of the way it is taught and/or learned – technique-oriented. Anyone can learn and it doesn’t require previous training, artistic experience or special talent. Those who attend classes/workshops will paint projects the teacher has created and different projects are created for different skill levels.

When teaching, students are instructed step-by-step as they learn the different skills related with the project. Most of the time, students copy the teacher’s creations.

As skills and techniques are learned and advanced, tole painters become more confident and the creative process develops. Playing with colours, modifying the designs, attempting freehand drawing, designing simple projects on their own, letting go of using patterns, tracings and instructions and get into teaching… like me! At this point it becomes art.

I taught Tole Painting for about 13 years – five years for a retail shop, then through my home-studio for eight years. I also volunteered one day a week at a senior centre for 4-5 years. I decided to stop teaching until this January when one of my ‘students’ asked if I would think about teaching again?
To make a long story short - I’m back teaching Tole Painting and the passion is still there. Not only am I teaching my student of 13 years, her 15 year-old son is also learning as well!!!! ~ Sharka


  1. I'm glad to hear you rekindled your passion for tole painting (we tend to call it folk art in australia). Great to see your son sharing the joy.