I have always loved the look of lacquer boxes. They have so much depth and the colors are so vibrant.
Lacquer was first used by the Chinese, dating as far back as the late Neolithic period (3rd millennium BCE) and though the materials used are easier to obtain, the process has changed very little.
An image is painted on the object and several very thin layers of lacquer are poured over it. Each layer must be completely dry and polished before the next coat can be poured. It is a time consuming process but well worth the effort.
Unfortunately, pictures do not do lacquer objects justice. It’s difficult to capture the depth that the layers of lacquer create.
For my lacquer boxes I started with paper mache boxes. They are already pretty smooth but I sanded them a bit more. The smoother the surface the better the results.
I then paint the entire box and lid one color using acrylic paints and allow a couple of hours for it to dry. I apply the first coat of lacquer (or polyurethane sealer) with a foam brush taking care not to introduce any bubbles.
If bubbles appear, I try to smooth them with the brush. Stubborn bubbles I will pop with a pin. Some people use heat to pop the bubbles, like torch or a heat gun. I’ve never tried that method.
I’m afraid the lacquer (which is flammable) will catch fire on my project. Also make sure to wear safety goggles and that your area is well ventilated.
Once that layer is completely dry (about 24 hours), sand and polish. I use steel wool and then 1200 grit wet/dry sandpaper. Wipe clean and paint your image. You may need to paint more than one coat on larger areas to minimize the brush strokes. Once this is dry brush on the next coat of lacquer.
Wait about 24 hours and sand and polish again before brushing on another coat of lacquer. Continue these steps until you have the depth you want.
I have used as many as 8 coats before I lose patience. The famous artists is Russia have been known to use over 100 coats. That shows some real patience! I did learn not to use more than couple of coats on a base that has a fitted lid. Too many coats and the lid no longer fits.
That’s how to create a beautiful lacquer box. They make wonderful gifts and are handy to have around the house to keep change or other small collections together.