Monday, March 7, 2011

Helpful Household Hints: Painting

You kinda went on a tirade about painting.  What's up with that?

Well, it frosts me that anyone would ever say you have to hire a professional painter.  You're not trying to reproduce the works of Van Gogh, you just need an even coat of fresh paint on a flat surface.  That's not difficult.

Yeah, well - you should see some of the mess that results when I try to paint.

"Mess."  There's your main problem.  First of all, don't go into a painting project thinking that it's a messy process, because there's nothing saying that it has to be one.  There are elements of painting that have a high potential to generate lots of mess, and there are lots of very simple preventive measures to be taken that can prevent every bit of it.  Seriously: every bit.

You think so?  Every time I paint, it destroys a pair of pants and at least one shirt.

I'm certain of it - the mess is optional.  But still - wearing clothes you don't mind parting with isn't a bad plan.  And even so, it's not that difficult to halt a stain from setting while painting, especially if you're painting in your own home.  Shuck off, soak the stain, rinse it out.  Latex washes right out, keep it wet continuously until you can run it through the washer and you probably won't see any stain at all.

Sounds like you're hedging your bets.

Absolutely.  Plan to not be messy, but plan to deal with a mess.  Get it?

No.  Expound your wisdom upon me.

Okay.  Here are some simple instructions:

Preparation makes a big difference in the results.  Everywhere you're going to paint, if it doesn't need to be painted it needs to be taken off the surface.  Light fixtures, switch plates, photos of your crazy uncle Bob.  Everything comes off.  You can usually just loosen the light fixtures enough to get the edge of your cut-in brush under the edges, so you don't wind up actually painting on the light fixture itself.  Paint creeping up onto switch plates and outlet covers isn't just amateurish, it's a waste of time.  It takes ten seconds to remove the switch plates plus ten seconds of easy, breezy cut-in up to the edge of the hole the plate covers, versus two minutes of maddeningly precise cut-in painting that still doesn't look right.  Big savings, not really, but it's so much easier and the results look so much better, why would you ever even think of skipping such a simple step?

Remove doors from their hinges.  Remove hinges from the walls.  Remove knobs from the doors if you're going to paint the doors.  When everything gets put back together, your eye will be drawn to everywhere the color doesn't belong - like on these very things we are removing from harm's way.  If it isn't there to get paint on it, then you don't need to worry about keeping paint off it.  We can work a teeny bit faster, and in a much more relaxed frame of mind.

Okay, everything is prepped.  Now we're ready for the meat and potatoes of painting:

1) Paint is forever.  It isn't of course, but act like it is.  Every drop you get on the wrong place is an eyesore you can never be rid of.  That adds incentive to keep it where it belongs.

2) Paint isn't forever.  Drips caught immediately usually wipe right up and leave no trace, especially when working with latex paints.  So if there is a drip or two to contend with, don't freak out - just deal with it.

3) Plan ahead to be neat.  Decide where you're going to start, where you're going to pause for a break, and where you're going to finish.  Look at the layout of the room to decide what the best places are for your paint bucket or roller pan.  Think ahead about how you're going to move around the room, so you know whether that pan or bucket is going to be in danger from your feet.

4) Drop cloths aren't that useful.  A small one under your pan, another one under the bucket, and maybe another one where you can lay tools down as necessary.  You don't need to carpet the entire room with plastic in order to do a good job.  Protecting the entire floor, in my mind, gives you tacit permission to be careless, to not worry about taking care during the process.  And when that happens, then you've got a gigantic plastic sheet covered with tiny paint speckles that you can't help but tread on, and track throughout the house.  Big paint in the butt, that is.  And another thing - a few layers of newspaper will get the job done.  You don't need to waste your money on purpose-made plastic.  That's a waste.

I can't paint without a drop cloth.  It'll be a disaster.

There's that mindset again, that's what I'm talking about.  And so I reply, have you tried?  Maybe it's not such a disaster.  Just for an experiment, try painting a door or something similarly small, above a hard-finish floor.  The floor is a bit more forgiving so you can wipe up spills easily if they happen.  And now you're giving yourself a little practice working "without a net."

5) Do high trim first.  Lots of ladder work, and if there are going to be drips onto your wall, wipe off the worst of it and then cover it with your fresh field color.  Quick, easy, no stress.
6) Do cut-in next.  Again, start high and work your way down.  Cut-in is the finicky fine painting that gets next to the trim work, around light switches and outlets, that kind of thing.  Cut-in out to a couple of inches, 3-4" so that when you're rolling, you don't have to worry about getting too close with the roller.

You also said something about "slow is fast."  I think I've heard that somewhere else, too...

Sure, on Top Gear.  Going fast doesn't mean you're going to finish faster - it just means you're going fast when maybe it would be better to ease up.

7) First stroke downward when rolling.  A loaded paint roller just wants to fling paint drips; making the first stroke downward means the paint readheres to the roller as it pulls off between the roller and the wall.  If your first stroke is upward, strings of paint stretch between the wall and the roller, and fall down.  Now you have a mess.
8) Slower is indeed faster.  Rolling fast covers area fast, but not that much faster than rolling slow.  Rolling slowly, the paint adheres to the wall better and nothing flings off the roller - the result is better, more even coverage and no cleanup when the rolling is done.  When you add up all the time needed for touching up uneven coverage and cleaning up speckles and repainting the ceiling where you got wall color on it, you go way beyond how much time it takes to just go along at a moderate pace, getting paint just on the wall and nowhere else.

You make it sound almost like a Zen exercise in quiet, contemplative patience.

It almost is.  As much as I love AC/DC, maybe that's not the best music for painting.  Doing your air Angus Young routine while painting is just asking for trouble.  Fire up an audiobook and just let yourself relax.  Painting is a very orderly process, you can do it in a very relaxed state, but you must also be concentrating on it at least as much as you would for, say, riding a bike.  The mechanics of it are very straightforward and you don't need to be giving them your every instant's attention, but the general goal must always be in mind and you must be aware of the details that make the job easier: when to move quickly, when to slow down, that sort of thing.

You're smart, smarter than pros would have you believe.  There's nothing you can't do with a little patience, a little practice, and a little preparation.  Go  forth, and have fun.

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