The Real Milk Paint Company was started while I was working on a European pine wardrobe for our home. I was repairing the wardrobe with new feet and crown molding. Since it was pine and already stripped, it was a perfect candidate for paint.
I got an inspiration and told my wife that I was going to make milk paint from scratch to paint it. She thought I was nuts, like with so many of my adventures. At that time one did not have the option to “Google” information, so I bought some old formula books for furniture finishing. Inside those dusty covers were some milk paint formulas. Many of the milk paint formulas contained strange ingredients like “litharge” and “tallow.” Not satisfied with what I found, my search went on until I found a skim milk formula that contained lime. I mixed some blue pigment with the lime and milk for the body of the cabinet, and used yellow ochre for the raised panels. The results were fantastic, and we still use the wardrobe as a television cabinet in my home today.
The inspiration for the actual company came from an article I read about Lillian Vernon, whose mail order company started at her kitchen table with monogrammed leather purses. I knew that paint pigments were difficult to resource and that other people may be interested in the paints as well. Soon I assembled a number of different pigments colors and had a friend design a simple pigment swatch brochure. On the back I printed the simple formula I had used to make the milk paint for my wardrobe.
It did not take long for me to realize that people wanted milk paint, but they did not want to have to make it from scratch. After a year of experimenting with dry powdered milk products, I found the right nontoxic paint formula. The new formula made a better milk paint then the original homemade formula I had used. An antique furniture show seemed like the right place to introduce this new product so that weekend I launched the beginnings of The Real Milk Paint Co. The total sales that weekend were over $1,000.00 of dry powdered Real Milk Paint.
Milk Paint History
The long history of milk paint had its beginning thousands of years ago, as humans first began exploring ways to apply color to drawings and crafted objects. Ancient artwork found on cave walls and unearthed artifacts reveal the application of a form of milk paint on some the oldest colored surfaces ever documented. Often the degree of vibrancy of the milk paint color on these discovered pieces is remarkable for such antiquities. Along with its decorative benefits, early users also found milk paint to have protective properties that would add durability to painted surfaces. Since that time, milk paint has had a significant place in the history, having been used for centuries not only for artwork, but to paint furniture, homes, barns and other structures.
Throughout the centuries following the creation of the original milk paint formula of milk, lime and pigments, improvements to milk paint were tested. Various added elements such as oils, waxes, and eggs were experimented with, resulting in differing degrees of success. In colonial America, the original milk paint formula was extremely prevalent, due to its practicality. Since nearly every household had livestock of some sort, milk was readily available. Lime was also typically in supply in most communities, so only the color pigments were needed. Painters by trade would usually travel with an assortment of pigment colors. In the 1870’s the first iteration of commercial paint became available with the development of the first sealable metal cans. Oil based formulas became widely used, and various new additives were developed. Harmful ingredients such as lead and mercury were used with insidious health consequences, until they were eventually revealed to be toxic. In the 1970’s, serious effort began to remove these dangerous additives, as well as volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s, from commercial paint. In the meantime, good old fashioned milk paint emerged as a rising, though not so new, star in the green, non-toxic paint revolution.
Today’s consumers go out of their way to find products that are environmentally friendly and biodegradable. To folks in the earliest days of history, all that were available were all natural ingredients, such as the milk protein, lime, and earthen pigments that comprised the original milk paint formula. For most of its history, milk paint has been used, not because it is a green paint, but because it is an effective paint, made from a simple formula. Over time, the formula of child safe paint for furniture has been improved with a broader range of colors, achieved by the use of enhanced pigment powders, and binding agents, but today’s superior evolution of Real Milk Paint is still all natural and completely biodegradable.