• Otter Views: Painter’s White

    by Tom Stevens

    The return of daylight savings time – or is it the departure? – adds a golden hour to these afternoons. This heartens home gardeners and the nursery owners who supply them. It extends triathlon training time and lets kids play longer before dark. And it helps paint dry.

    I’m thinking of this last one because now is when house painters pop up like PG poppies all over town. This happens for several reasons. Firstly, Pacific Grove has dozens of stately old Victorians, and those venerable matrons require plenty of upkeep. Part of that is painting, but it’s not like painting monotone apartments or two-tone bungalows. Victorians are as finicky and showy as dowagers. Their door panels alone may require four separate hues, each prescribed by a “color consultant,” then painstakingly cut in with brush tip. This takes time.

    Even humble paint jobs require more time in PG than in other locales. In dryer, sunnier climes, painters can wait for summer or even fall to start a job. But PG painters must contend with months of fog, mist and lichens. They know they need to get cracking early.

    Thus, the appearance every March of pickup trucks bearing tarps, buckets, ladders, sanders, chippers, caulkers and scrapers. From the cabs descend painters wearing white coveralls and Jackson Pollock speckled boots. I have great respect for these people, not only because they brighten our surroundings, but because they tolerate the rest of us.

    I have friends who are painters, and they can be quite touchy about nomenclature. In their world, there are painters, and there are people who think they can paint. I belong to a third group: people who should never, under any circumstances, be allowed near paint or paintable surfaces. Like many in my cohort, I think I can paint.

    “Dude, how hard can it be?” we ask. “You get the paint, you get the rollers and brushes, and you splash away. So, bring it on!”

    In my lifetime, I’ve painted many rental houses and apartments in this manner, which may explain why I have to keep moving. The problem with painting is that it’s so easy to do badly. Millions of us – possibly billions – think we can paint. The paint companies encourage this delusion, because we pretenders buy a lot of product.

    Real painters, on the other hand, are thrifty and fastidious. They get more paint on the work surface than on their clothes and hair, and they use the same brush more than once. I’ve been privileged a few times to work beside real painters, albeit briefly. That’s when I learned about nomenclature.

    Paint is not paint. It’s “material.” And cutting in is not something you do in traffic or on a dance floor. A Sonoma house painter patiently explained it to me. “You load the leading edge of the brush, and you draw your bead along the line in one smooth, steady motion,” he demonstrated. “But keep the brush level – you never want your material to reach the hips.”

    I nodded eagerly, but I was already lost. Load? Draw? Bead? The “hips” part I could understand, because I had been up to my hips in paint on my own projects. But this Sonoma Victorian house was a job for somebody else – in more than one sense.

    I learned “cutting in” meant demarking different colors or surfaces by applying sharp, clean, unerring, ruler-edge lines of paint with near-bionic speed and efficiency. Worse, most of the “cutting in” involved tight work around window panes, moldings, “belly bands,” screens, carpets, floor tiles and other treacherous or inconvenient sites. Some baroque features required multiple cut-ins, slowing my already glacial pace.

    “We need to finish this job in my lifetime,” my partner chided. “Maybe you should move to another color.”

    I couldn’t admit this to him, but I was afraid to move on to another color. That’s because I am severely “color challenged.” In most instances, this slight personal handicap evokes little more than mild social embarrassment (“You’re wearing that with that?!”). This is easily remedied by wearing only one color, which is why I dress all in charcoal gray now. At least, I think it’s charcoal gray.

    But in house painting, this disability can prove costly. Real painters can discriminate “bee pollen red” from “lily pond dusk” on the Martha Stewart color wheel. But I found I could not discern “thunderclap” from “quaking aspen,” nor “Japanese beetle gourd” from “potato peel.”

    Figuring I’d be safe with white, I volunteered for the paint store run one day. “I need 5 gallons of bright interior white,” I announced.

    “We have interior whites in butter, sugar, flour, eggshell, skim milk, cream, Swiss coffee, daisy, linen, parchment, southwest, enduring ice, Irish lace, paper, magnolia, and painter’s.”

    “I’ll take painter’s white,” I said proudly. “I’m a painter!”


    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 29, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


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