From the Society of Decorative Painters Site:
"Decorative painting is a diverse art form utilizing a variety of techniques and media to decorate functional and non-functional surfaces.
Because of the systematic methods employed, contemporary decorative painting is a highly teachable art form. The patterns or freehand designs allow a high degree of success without academic training or inherent drawing ability. Approached with creativity, discipline and craftsmanship, contemporary decorative painting offers opportunities for artistic self-expression and creative satisfaction.
The scope of contemporary decorative painting is boundless. Styles and techniques of the past are incorporated into the trends and materials of the present, while developing the decorative art heritage of the future.
Tole painting is the general term historically used to describe decorative painting on tin surfaces, especially in New England and by the Pennsylvania Germans. Contemporary decorative painting encompasses not only the folk art styles of Sweden, Norway, Germany, Russia, England and Mexico, but many facets of Early American decorative painting such as stenciling, faux finishing, bronzing, gold leafing, country painting, theorem and graining."
"Tole painting is the folk art of decorative painting on tin and wooden utensils, objects and furniture. Typical metal objects include utensils, coffee pots, and similar household items. Wooden objects include tables, chairs, and chests, including hope chests, toyboxes and jewelry boxes.
The practice began in 18th century New England, and was also extensively carried on among German immigrants in Pennsylvania. A separate, related tradition occurs among Scandinavian countries and immigrants, including Norwegians, Danes and Swedes. German tole painting may concentrate more on metal and tin objects, while Scandinavian may concentrate more on wooden objects and furniture. Patterns in the two traditions vary slightly as well.
Modern tole painting typically uses inexpensive, long-lasting and sturdy acrylic paints. Good quality wooden work is sealed, primed and sanded before the decorative paint is applied.
The most beloved family objects tend to be high quality utensils or furniture, painted freehand with favorite patterns, colors or flowers, humorous themes, family in-jokes, or illustrations of favorite or family stories. The perceived value of a tolled utensil increases with its quality as a utensil, the quality of the art, and the personalization, the story, of the work.
An advantage of tole painting as a craft is that a bad painting can be sanded off and repainted. One of the signs of such repaintings is a black-backgrounded tole-painted object. Very often such objects are repainted, especially if the furniture or utensil is valuable and the painter is inexperienced."