Monday, June 27, 2011


In a way, I suppose there is nothing more mundane than paint. The act of putting a color or a non-color or the combination of all colors on a wall, ceiling, floor, or piece of furniture requires more patience than skill, and probably more prep work and cleanup than actual painting. It is boring and monotonous work. Some would call it drudgery.

And yet, is there anything more satisfying?

The people who painted our kitchen painted it badly. Missed spots, drips and runs, wrong paint, steel brush on newly-polyeurethaned floor to get up a spill, too few coats in the less obvious places (and sometimes in very obvious places), places that had only been primed instead of actually painted, paint right over sawdust, four or five attempted coats to cover a brown bookcase without success.

That's why, with the contractor's blessing and chagrin, someone else is coming in to do the kitchen, to make it right. When you hear him talk, you can tell he is a pro, that he knows things about painting that we, in all of our frustration, never even thought. "What really chaps my ass," he said on Friday, "is this right here." He pointed to some razor thin openings between two pieces of wood on the cabinets where sometimes paint had sealed the crack and sometimes it hadn't. So, feeling like we're in pretty good hands, we've moved on from the paint agony of the past three weeks. We think it will be done right this time.

But for the weekend painter, the home painter, all of those rules go pretty much out the window. The painting of a room or a collection of outdoor furniture is a grand adventure where you get to figure out the lines and you do your damndest to paint within them. If you don't, you'll find some way to fix it that might involved a finger, a piece of tape, even a wet sock. For the home painter, the motto "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome" could not be more true. Some things like a hanging moth larva or a strand of a spider web aren't going to slow you down. By the second coat, who will even notice. If there is a nail hole in the wall, enough paint, eventually, will fill it. If you put on paint with a flat finish you can hide all kinds of imperfections that a professional could not let pass. And where you slipped up a bit on the wall, well, you have another shot at correcting it when you paint the trim. Or the ceiling.

I love to paint, but I don't like to talk about it all that much. I don't even care about the colors. Leave that to greater minds and designer friends. To me, the 5000 shades of white that are available in the world through companies like Martha Stewart or Benjamin Moore or Behr or Sherwin-Williams seem like a pretty silly concept. I understand that there are needs for different whites, but the nuances are beyond my mental palette. Most likely, I could live with 500 shades of white, or maybe even fifty. Take my dog hostage and force to me to pick from only 20 shades of white, and I'll bet I could come up with something under all that pressure. Something white, but with a touch of yellow.

No, what I like about painting is the mission. Painting is a campaign that must be planned, mapped out, supplied with the necessary gear. One of the best moments of painting is when you have your cart loaded up with everything you need at the Ace Hardware. You've already talked man to man with the young kid there about all things paint. He knows you're the kind of guy who likes to tackle home improvement projects. He's given your paint a shaking that would reduce James Bond's vodka martini to slush. He's given you a free wooden stirrer just in case. Now all you have to do is actually paint, and in your mind, all you see is perfection.

What I don't like is bad painting. Amateur painting, which I obviously do, I admire. Bad painting, like I saw yesterday in the bathroom of a Mexican restaurant, makes me shake my head in disgust. It's when you do things like try to put one coat of red paint on a green wall and leave it at that when the green so obviously continues to show through. It's just not that hard. They say that everything looks better with a coat of paint. Correction: everything looks better with enough coats of paint.

Me, like most amateurs, I'm all about the coverage. If I've got a space that needs to be covered, I will put coat after coat after coat on it, if necessary, until it is absolutely covered, until there is not the slightest hint of what paint may have been underneath. That's what absolutely transforms a room or a chair. And when it's finished, there is nothing better than sitting down in a chair and looking at the walls with deep, yes deep, satisfaction.

And, actually, watching paint dry is pretty fun, especially when it goes from wet to flat, when the different areas at different stages of drying take on different hues which, slowly, gradually, eventually coalesce into a perfect shade.

Like cutting grass, painting is a project with a tangible result and a "zone." When it's just you and the paint and the roller and maybe a little music, all other concerns and obligations from the world fall away. Life becomes simple and easily solved. You have your mission. The mission is all that matters. It's just paint. And paint is good.

If something or someone messes with it in some way, all you do is slap on another coat to hide those ugly spots. I guess that's why cover-ups are so prevalent in our world. Metaphorical paint.


rodle said...

William has been begging for a new paint scheme in his room, and I've been dragging my ass on getting it done. Sounds like you'd enjoy it so maybe you could swing by this week and knock it out. We've already got the color picked out...I call it blue.

Bob said...

sign me up, coach! now, is that light blue, dark blue, kind of a blue/green or a bluish grey?

Sara C said...

I was just painting today ... and Saturday ... and will do the same tomorrow and probably the next day. Thankfully, I love it like you do. And paying someone to do something that I can do better "really chaps my ass" in a pretty significant way. Glad to hear you have a pro on the job now.

troutking said...

Randy, just wondering: was your ass dragging from a passing gypsy wagon? Because if so, Better Days are shining through.

Bob, how come no songs? When I Paint My Masterpiece? Colours? Spinning Wheel? (Ride my painted pony...)