One thing about the days getting longer and the light getting brighter: It makes winter-tired walls, windows and woodwork look dingier than ever. I have a theory that one of the primal human urges of spring is a desire to mix a luscious new color and splash it over everything in sight.
There is a tremendous satisfaction in making something look brand-new and sassy instead of grimy and dispirited. The paint stores, well aware of this basic human need, are responding with all kinds of sales, new gadgets, and good advice for the neophyte as well as the advanced painter.
Advice, as we all know, is one of the cheapest commodities on earth. Good advice, on the other hand, is more difficult to come by. But if you want your paint job to come out looking splendid for the least amount of money and time you can possibly spend, you need to ask yourself some questions before you ask the knowledgeable guy behind the paint-mixing machine.
What condition is the surface in? Does it need to be spackled or sanded? Is there rust or grease or dirt encrusted on it? Is it a shamefully weeping section of humid wall? Does it have vinyl wallpaper on it?
These problems all have good solutions just waiting for you on the shelves of your local paint dealer.
Consider, too, that a paint job can only be as good as the body beneath the skin. What's under the surface? Plaster? Wall-board? Wallpaper? Each must be treated differently, and mended differently.
After you determine what surface you're working with, your first trip should be to a paint store and a hardware store, to read labels and compare prices.
Before you go, make up your mind how much time, money and effort the job is worth to you. Living as we do in an imperfect world, you may not have the inclination to prepare a wall as if Michelangelo were going to use it for his next mural. You may just want to do a quick fix over those nauseating wallpaper lambs gamboling with big-eyed children, or slap a good vinyl coat over that unfortunate accident with the spaghetti sauce in the kitchen.
If you have holes that need repair, don't despair. Patching has become a good deal easier with the advent of latex- and vinyl-based patching compounds. The old days when you laboriously mixed plaster-of-Paris to the right consistency and hoped it would "take" are gone. Even large holes can be easily mended with products like Bondex Super Patch, which costs between $5 and $6 a quart, may not need sanding if you put it on carefully, and can be painted immediately if you're using a latex paint, or after a 24-hour drying time if you're using an oil-based paint.
Some spackles and patching materials come in a handy caulk gun, so you can walk along shooting the holes in the wall with one hand and smoothing the surface with the other. Manufacturers have made an effort to provide you with containers that allow you to save the leftovers for future jobs, instead of re-investing in the whole kit and caboodle every time.
You say your last paint job ended with the cat tracking that nice sunshine yellow all over the slate floor in the hall?
You can do a good deal to prevent the inevitable disruption of painting from taking over your life. Use drop cloths, plastic tarps, or newspaper secured with tape to cover the floors and furniture. you're painting all the walls of a room, give yourself a clear space all the way around by moving the furniture into the middle of the floor. Be sure that you have a way to ventilate the room to minimize paint fumes. A breeze box or window fan, wedged securely into a window with pillows stuffed into the side gaps, is a great help in blowing the new-paint reek outside, and has the added advantage of making it possible to shut the door into the room so the walls can dry in peace.
If you're tackling a ceiling, try to arrange things so the ladder can be moved through pathways. If your ceiling is low, as most are these days, you may not even need a ladder. Try using a roller-extension -- a kind of handle that screws into the base of the roller, available for about $3-$5 in most stores and worth every penny. And an old-fashioned kitchen stool-chair, if you have one, is a good height from which to paint, and more pleasant to stand on than a ladder. But whichever you choose, make sure you're climbing and standing on a firm foundation.
Many's the Sunday painter who has graced the emergency room with a broken arm because she or he didn't take a few sensible precautions like making sure the ladder had a secure footing or that small children and large dogs were excluded from the area.
The best thing that's happened to painting equipment is the proliferation of paint-pads and rollers engineered to do special jobs.