Now came the problem. I really liked how the stain and shellac looked. But I'd promised to push this past the limits of my normal taste. I took a deep breath and cracked open a can of oil based white primer.
I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of how it looked. I had thinned the paint 1:1 with mineral spirits and tried to paint a surface and then wipe most of the paint away with a rag. It was a warm day and I was painting in the sun and the paint was drying far to fast for me to keep up with. In the end I resorted to eltting it dry and then comming back with a random orbit sander and some 100 grit paper to take it down to where it wasn't so bad.
But the white was just too white and clean. I wanted to add some yellowing and age. I had a can of amber dye and reducer. I mixed those 1:1 and applied them over the paint.
I liked how the white paint, yellowed from the dye, looked around the carvings. I thought I may have finally pushed things far enough. I had a can of aresol spray, semi gloss polyurethane wasting away on the shelf. I have the rack a couple coats of that until the can was gone.
I let it sit out of sight for a couple days and came back to it. I still really liked the carvings but the glow from the dye was simply overpowering to look at. A little help and input from some friends on Google+ and I knew what I had to do.
I taped off the carvings and hit the rest of the piece with some matte black spray paint. It was the prefect thing. The carvings and the rail popped and the rest of the piece fell subtly to the background. Now I was happy. And I knew with the spray paint over the polyurethane, that time and use would wear away the black paint and expose the other layers of finish beneath.
Here's the finished rack hanging in the new shop. I am really happy with it and I was able to use it to replace a boring basic storage shelf I'd had floating around for a few years before. Even better.
In the end I'm glad I remembered the words that "crazy" teacher had spoken to me years ago. As time progresses I'll have less fear and more experience layering finishes for the future. I'm not sure I'll paint over carvings again . . . but you never know.
Ratione et Passionis