When he became a junior-high band director in real life and had summers off, my dad continued painting everything my small hometown would hire him for: spare bedrooms, giant Victorians with color palates of six shades, rental apartments, pig barns.
In nearly 40 years, he painted some homes several times -- often a mundane job but one he enjoyed for the ability to wash his brushes and be done with each day. The work was good, the pay (though he almost always bid too low) was fair, and he could toggle between several jobs at once, which suited his multitask-icity. Both my brother and I worked nearly a decade alongside him as teenagers and young adults -- he'd save big jobs for those odd weeks or weekends when we'd be home, even after college.
For this reason, I'm a really good painter -- and especially at painting trim. I once spent two solid weeks applying three shades of buttery beige to just the spindled wrap-around porch of one said Victorian mansion, using brushes no wider than two of my fingers together.
Anyway, I realize I really do carry with me the 'life skill' he was always fond of touting as we sweated in the Nebraskan summer heat. Here are some lessons worth passing on. Thanks, Dad!
On Choosing the (Damn) Colors
1. Men: Let your female counterparts do the picking. You may voice an opinion, but always defer. Always.
2. With few exceptions, paint will dry darker than it appears when wet. DO NOT PANIC if at first your window shutters do not appear the exact shade of Moroccan Mint that the Pratt&Lambert swatches promised you.
3. Have no idea? Ask a friend who dresses better than you do, on average.
On Having Reasonable Expectations of Your Housepainter
1. Don't change your mind about the colors mid-project. And if you do, don't do it more than once. Please?
2. Don't leave a list of 'don'ts' taped to the front door, such as 'Don't let the cat out,' or 'Don't damage the hydrangeas.' Having your cat in the house with fast-moving painters is a greater liability than you might imagine. Do not be surprised if, confined to a drop-cloth-enswathed house, it rolls in the roller tray to get the painter's attention. And, if your hydrangeas are pressed firmly against the siding you've hired a painter to paint, they will get damaged. Expect some misting of the leaves (with paint) and possibly some light pruning if a ladder can't be safely placed over or around them.
3. But this is getting ahead of ourselves. First, do not call to check on the prospect of getting a house painted within days of your first attempt, in order, say, to freshen up the place before your son's graduation. Most whole-house projects are scheduled months in advance, if not a whole year. And let's face it: you've known about this graduation since tuition started on ACH withdrawal.
Interiors (if you're a DIY-er)
1. Paint the ceiling first, if required. Use a light roller. No use killing yourself hefting a monster roller and splattering yourself heavily with the excess paint you'll spin off it. Wrap the ceiling color a few inches down the wall. When you come back to do the trim painting, stay just below the actual intersection of wall and ceiling. Trust me. It will look way neater.
2. Use those handy 6" and 4" rollers with the felt wrapped around the end. You can roll right through corners and within just centimeters of the edges, saving trim time. If there's one thing my dad wished he'd invented, it's these little beauties.
3. Paint from the top down. This helps your eye catch 'runs' or paint that drips.
4. Look for drips! There will be several, no matter how good you are! If you let paint drips dry, they look tacky, and may have to be scraped off and repainted.
5. STOP and move your ladder. Don't over-reach. You'll just hit the ceiling.
6. STOP and get more paint on your roller. Going over the same spot with too little paint only pulls what's there off and mucks it up.
7. Let the first coat dry completely before applying the second/final. Yes, a second/final will be necessary. Don't throw out that little bit of paint left in the last can -- it will come in handy even years down the line for touch-ups.
1. Having to scrape or sand several layers of crappy and possibly lead-based paint from your home will up your bid substantially. If you're doing it yourself, expect to spend weeks. If you can still chip it away with the corner of a hand scraper, you're not done.
2. Anticipate spray drift from the paint sprayer. Move vehicles, cover windows and landscaping, and work before the wind picks up. Then uncover the landscaping before you broil it under plastic.
3. STOP and move your ladder. Don't over-reach. You'll just hit the trim.
4. "Don't fight the bushes. They will always win." I think Dad meant that shrubbery will knock you off balance if you try too hard to stuff a ladder's feet down into them. Or, maybe that you'll just get snagged on them and drop your brush or can. Still not making any sense? Please disregard.
1. Keep a clean, wet rag handy to wipe spills on the floor or a brushstroke of white that got onto the proverbial red. Has it already dried? Wipe it with a solution of PineSol cut lightly with water, then scrub again in a few minutes.
2. If you drop a whole can of paint. STOP EVERYTHING and get on it. Wipe up what you can before trying to wash it away with a hose/water.
3. If you can't clean it, blend it.
There is, in my hometown, a certain large, double front door made of heavy brass that, upon close inspection, bears a certain shade of gray, suspiciously similar to the home's exterior color, in its patina.
On Having the Right Attitude
1. Just plan for the going to be tough until you're over the hump. For interiors, the 'hump' is the first full coat of paint, with trim. Once that's done, you'll sail through the second coat and touch-ups. For exteriors, it's when you've finally got the whole house prepped (sanded, windows covered, storm windows and doors freshly caulked for trimming, primer applied, holes and cracks puttied, rotten sections of siding replaced). When that first surge of actual paint comes through the sprayer, you'll feel like a minor god.
2. Good enough is often good enough. Spend your time on the spots people actually notice -- like the trim around the window above the kitchen sink or the corner where the toilet paper holder is attached to the wall. And maybe the whole wall opposite the toilet. Just saying. That tricky spot on the back of the garage is not going to make or break your resale value.
3. Whistle while you work. Show tunes will take you a long way around a building, even in scorching heat.
Here's to you, Dad!
May the jobs be easy and zero-VOC, evermore and evermore.