When most people think of a picnic table, the image that comes to mind isn’t one of style or glamour. The picnic table is probably the most basic of all outdoor furniture. It is purely function over fashion. The plain Jane of the patio.

But when I got it in my head recently that we needed a very large picnic table, my vision was one of bright colors, bold flowers and creative expression. More than that, my heart for the table was to create a place for people to gather around in community.

This past week, I took on the most large scale creative project that I’ve tackled yet with paint and the help of my cutting machine. And with a tight deadline to get it done before we hosted a going-away party for our soon-to-be college student, I also set a record for fast painting!

The inspiration for the picnic table came from a few places:

Earlier this month, we spent a weekend with a bunch of our friends at their parents’ lakehouse. On one of the patios near the pool, they have a 12-foot picnic table. There were 30 of us there, including our kids. We spent long afternoons sitting at the picnic table coloring or playing card games. On our last evening, all 13 adults sat together at the table for dinner. I was amazed that we could all fit so comfortably at one table. I turned to my husband and told him we really needed a picnic table at our house. I was thinking we could make a stop at Menard’s. But he insisted that he would build the table so we could have one the size we wanted.

That same week, when I dropped our youngest daughter at gymnastics, I sat outside waiting for her at a picnic table. Our community had created a project earlier in the summer, allowing people to help paint colorful picnic tables to be used around town. The design on this table was bright and fun, but it was random shapes. It inspired me to start thinking about other designs I could paint on a picnic table.

My husband took the day off work on Wednesday, and got to work building the table. We still had a big pile of wood near our house that we had used to build our ice rink the past few years. The wood was just the right length to build a 10-foot table. Seven hours later, he had the table ready to go!

First, we stained it a dark walnut color…

Meanwhile, I was looking for ideas of how to paint it. I searched Pinterest for inspiration. I knew I wanted big, bright, funky flowers, but I also wanted to incorporate cute sayings into the design. I thought about the design I had created for the top of my laptop, and got the idea to make the words part of the flowers.

Next, I needed to narrow down my color palette. Fortunately, this is when all of my years of rock painting came in handy. I have painted dozens of colorful rocks with flowers and mandala designs. I knew just the color combo that I loved most!

By the way, I used acrylic paint for this project. I probably should have used a better outdoor paint, but I couldn’t find the colors I wanted in the paint that was designed for outdoor use. I’m hoping that several layers of polyurethane will preserve the acrylic paint.

Finally, I just had to figure out how to cut such large scale designs on my Silhouette cutting machine. Thankfully, I already had experience cutting a very large scale project when we created that huge word Together for our church.

I found a Silhouette cut file for some cute funky flowers. Then, I designed the entire top of the table, using my Silhouette software so I could see how it would look together. (This design is 10 feet wide and 36 inches high!)

Next, I broke each flower down into sections and cut them out on contact paper to create the templates that I would paint. For each section of each flower, I cut out the shape on adhesive vinyl (or contact paper). I painted inside the design, then pulled away the contact paper to create a nice, neat edge.

The Silhouette will only cut material that is a maximum of 12 inches wide. However, it can handle a length up to several feet. Many of the flowers were two to three feet wide, so I had to break them down into sections and then piece the vinyl together on the table to create an outline that I would paint.

I painted so long the first day, that I actually gave myself carpal tunnel in my right arm from all of the fine motor use. When I finally stopped painting at 12:30 a.m., my arm was numb from painting for so long.

I was only halfway done with the table, but I needed to finish it so we could seal it with polyurethane. Not only did I want to be able to use it at the party, but I knew rain was in the forecast in a few days. The table is huge and heavy, so moving it indoors wasn’t an option.

I enlisted my two daughters and a friend to help paint the following day. I continued cutting adhesive vinyl and laying out the flowers while they painted. It was already dark on Friday night by the time I rolled on the poly to seal our work.

I absolutely love how the table turned out!

The next day, friends gathered around the table in groups. We played card games that afternoon. We ate dinner together. And we sat and talked on a warm summer evening. It was fun to see people admiring the flowers and the words.

I hope it will become a place for friends to gather for many more years in the future!

Use your Silhouette or Cricut cutting machine to paint a custom picnic table and build community in your yard.
Use your Silhouette or Cricut cutting machine to paint a custom picnic table and build community in your yard.

#mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
/* Add your own Mailchimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.
We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */

Get new posts in your e-mail inbox!

* indicates required
Email Address *

//s3.amazonaws.com/downloads.mailchimp.com/js/mc-validate.js(function($) {window.fnames = new Array(); window.ftypes = new Array();fnames[0]=’EMAIL’;ftypes[0]=’email’;fnames[1]=’FNAME’;ftypes[1]=’text’;fnames[2]=’LNAME’;ftypes[2]=’text’;fnames[3]=’ADDRESS’;ftypes[3]=’address’;fnames[4]=’PHONE’;ftypes[4]=’phone’;fnames[5]=’BIRTHDAY’;ftypes[5]=’birthday’;}(jQuery));var $mcj = jQuery.noConflict(true);

2 responses to “Building community around a painted picnic table”

  1. Cathy Avatar

    Love love love this!!!! It was a privilege to be counted among the friends who “test drove” the project!!!! Love you lady 🙂

    1. emilyneal Avatar

      I loved our time together! What a fun night!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I’m Emily

Storyteller. Photographer. Creative.

Thank you for stopping by my blog. This is a space where I share my life through words, photos and projects. I’m so thankful that you’re here.

Let’s connect