I reassuringly told Jen that clearly it was her (lol) and I was here to help. So I picked up the can of paint, started spraying and, low and behold, MORE BUBBLING! Not wanting to freak her out, I took one of the items (a candlestick holder) back to my apartment to investigate further.
First things first, I removed the paint.
After googling "spray paint bubbling" I saw that this was sort of a common problem in which many different things could attribute to it. (sorry Jen, turns out it's not just you!) The first thing majority of the help pages listed was excess finish/oil/cleaning residue could be the problem. So, luckily having purchased some paint thinner for another project (also coming soon), I got to work generously applying the paint thinner.
NOTE: Make sure to wear protective gloves and be very careful not to get any on your skin. If you can, I recommend wearing long sleeves and pants to avoid any contact with the stuff whatsoever (ouch!).
Second, I cleaned off the paint and finishing.
I grabbed a Brillo pad and got scrubbing. Once majority of the paint was off, I took the piece downstairs to the utility sink, doused with mineral spirits and scrubbed off the remaining residue. I then finished off the clean with some good old-fashioned soap and water, rinsing thoroughly. Turns out, the candlestick was brass!
Third, I waited.
Another potential issue that was brought up was excess condensation. Fortunately with the weather being as ridiculously hot as it is, I only had to wait a few minutes until bone dry. But I waited nonetheless.
Fourth, I primed.
Rule of thumb: when in doubt, prime. While some spray paints claim the paint will adhere to any surface, I wouldn't take their word for it. With millions of finishes and materials, it's always best to throw on a quick, thin layer of primer just to be safe. The keyword being thin. Make sure you are standing (or holding the can) and long enough distance away so that one thin layer of paint can be applied at a time.
I have no idea what the perfect distance is (DIY sites claim 10-12 inches), but like to think of it as the same process as hair spraying. Too far and you're spraying the floor more than your hair, too close and you get a single stiff spot vs. an allover cover.
Don't worry though, because if you end up goofing, just wait until it dries, grab a fine sandpaper and even out the thicker area.
Finally, I sprayed.
Since the primary goal was white and the end location was above the fireplace, I originally was thinking matte to balance the eggshell finish of the painted wall. Instead, I ended up choosing a bright white with a glossy finish to really make it pop off the shelf.I applied the first thin (read: thin) coat, waited like 15 minutes and applied the second. Then, a day later, I applied a third coat for good measure.
I completed all of the spraying in the middle of my apartment's front lawn but, I think for an added bonus, see if you can find a shaded or cooler area to eliminate yet another element that could be making the paint bubble.
The end product? A glossy white, bubble-free candlestick holder. Hopefully, I can get a shot of the whole arrangement to post soon to show you the final look. Now for the rest of the items...