Cave paintings still display the vivid hues of prehistoric artists.

How to Paint in the Primitive Style

by Benna Crawford

Primitive style is a simple, unschooled use of line and color that provides a charming backdrop for a folk art collection or the preschooler's magnum opus. Although primitive art is often preindustrial or tribal, it isn't really unsophisticated. Artists from Grandma Moses to Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee and Frida Kahlo painted in primitive style. Their work can provide inspiration for color choices and juxtapositions when you're tackling the playroom or the breakfast nook.

Prehistoric Paint Hues

Art that lasts for 30,000 years has something to say. Pick up a matte ochre from prehistoric cave painters and slather it over dining room walls. Color trim medium-gloss white for contrast and stock the room with an Early American sideboard in bright blue or a one-of-a-kind art cabinet in sunny yellow. Cover waxed hardwood floors with a bright folk art rug woven in a simple repetitive block pattern in limited colors. Let the painted walls, one eye-popping piece of furniture, and the richly patterned rug star by keeping the rest of the furnishings, accessories and textiles to a minimum.

Grandma's Palette

Grandma Moses was a talented, late-blooming, American self-taught painter who captured a simpler, bucolic country in her landscapes. Paint the living room Grandma Moses-style: walls maize with white trim, the interior shutters dusky blue, and the wood floors ebony. The colors are a naive-art setting for an Early American sofa upholstered in soft-green linen or contemporary furnishings in neutrals, or muted tones such as chalky lilac, faded rose or new spring grass.

Hot Tropical

Frida Kahlo consciously chose to emulate Mexican primitive art in her paintings, which depict the bright tropical fruits, feathers and dyes of her native land. Paint one wall of the kitchen clear breadfruit green and cover the rest of the walls in eggshell or gloss cream for ease in quick wipe-downs. Spice things up with vivid kumquat trim and a backsplash of hand-painted tropical fruit tiles behind the sink. Mismatched plain wood chairs around the kitchen table will have kids fighting over who gets the watermelon, banana, Caribbean-blue or lavender jacaranda-colored one for leche y cochinitos -- milk and traditional Mexican "pig" cookies.

All the Trimmings

Paint floors and furniture primitive-style to create a relaxed, well-worn ambiance in a busy home or vacation cottage. Distress a flea-market dresser or breakfront, sand the finish lightly, and paint it chalky, faded turquoise or buttercream yellow. Sand the edges, where the piece would have logged a lot of wear, to simulate age. Put it in a room with matte white walls, and floors painted in faux-aged black-and-white diamonds. A wrought iron bed in the primitive guest room, or a large farm table surrounded by wood chairs with rush seats in the dining room would be in character with the naive but charming painted finishes.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images