What’s “normal” anyway? You will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view. Normal for the US (which is itself highly fragmentary) is not necessarily normal for the majority of the world. And temporally, it’s definitely not normal. For the vast bulk of human history, people didn’t change much, and their wood finishes definitely didn’t change much. Polyurethane didn’t exist until 1937, and acrylic latex paint (the focus for today) until 1934. But for most folks, if you talk about paint, the acrylic latex paint sold at every hardware store is what they think of.
One of the nice things about this paint is that it’s widely available locally in a staggering array of bright (sometimes searing) colours. It has a long shelf life, even once opened. It’s also inexpensive. None of these are particularly strong points for milk paint. So some may want to use acrylic paint for their projects.
For this box, I used a nice bright red from the big hardware store down the street from me. When I’m painting wood, I use an eggshell sheen (semi-gloss is for walls). Most paints will need two coats, though on occasion I’ve needed three. Once the paint has dried overnight, I then cover it with two coats of shellac. I don’t usually sand the paint layer to uniformity, but you certainly can if you prefer a less textured look (be warned: it’s messy). You want to use the clearest shellac you have, so as not to distort or muddy the colour. The shellac will keep the paint from getting sticky in humid conditions, and help protect your intended hue from damage (whether from clumsiness or UV). Finally, I buff the shellac with some 0000 steel wool, and put on a coat of soft wax and burnish to nice sheen. It’s a little more work to do it my way, but I think it’s worth it for the better wear resistance. It feels a lot better in the hands, too.