House painting can give children a brush with history


September 17, 1994|By ROB KASPER

I gave my kid the lecture about painting. It was the traditional speech, the one my dad had given me many years ago. It stressed the importance of preparation and clean-up. And it contained large sections devoted to the importance of not putting too much paint on the brush, of covering the floor with newspapers, and of not knocking the paint can over.

The 9-year-old listened, or pretended to, much as I had done when I was a kid and felt the surge of excitement that comes from holding a brush in your hand as you stand in front of a surface that is begging for paint. The kid couldn't wait for me to leave him alone in the basement so he could begin the heady task of transforming an old brown piano bench into the glistening black home of his new CD player.

I understood. A paint job can be a welcome wave in the sea of crummy jobs that the homeowner swims in; a surge of accomplishment that delivers a short, but exhilarating, ride.

Not all paint jobs give me this riff of pleasure. Complicated jobs, ones that require extensive scraping, sanding and hanging from the eaves, are, I believe, best left to the pros, the guys with the long ladders and plenty of eaves-hanging experience. Also, intricate jobs, such as highlighting the delicate tones of plaster molding or the itty-bitty flowers in a tin ceiling, are, I have found, the kinds of tasks designed for workers with an artistic touch, who know the difference between mauve and purple, who have the patience of Job. In other words, not for me.

Gazing at a good paint job can give me satisfaction. The other night, for instance, when I was dissatisfied with what was on the television set, I ended up looking at the wall behind it. I admired how good the mocha-color wall looked when contrasted with the room's glistening white woodwork. It was classy and it had been done by a pro.

At the other extreme, when I see a splotch of house paint on the patio or a streak of window trim on the front steps, they remind me of sloppy paint jobs I have paid for and make me mad.

The kind of paint job that I like to try is covering a flat, uncomplicated, surface with one color of paint. I call it porch painting, in honor of my first solo paint job. Many years ago, my dad let me paint the front porch of our family's house. The paint I used was a porch and deck gray, still one of my favorites. It took me an entire Saturday to paint the porch. It took another day to dry. I admired it for weeks.

I had given my son an initiation in porch painting a few weeks before I gave him the lecture. Under my supervision, he had applied a band of water-repellent sealer around the edges of a porch floor made of unpainted wood. Among professionals, this procedure of painting a band around the perimeter is called "cutting in."

Had I known that term at the time we were working on the porch I would have told the kid that. I am not above "talking the talk" and "walking the walk" of the pros even if I can't paint the trim the way they do. I didn't talk about "cutting in" because I never knew it existed until the other day when I read about it in a home repair book.

After the kid had "cut in" the edges of the porch with his paintbrush, I used the roller to cover the rest of the porch floor. I wanted to show off for the kid, and attempted to explain how to use a roller. Basically, the process consisted of first making the letter "M" with four strokes of the wet roller, then painting in the spaces around the "M" with short, crisscross strokes. I got this technique from a book, too.

The book said it was a technique designed to put a uniform coat of paint on walls and ceilings. The "M-stroke," however, did not work very well on the uneven porch floor, which had half-inch gaps between the floor boards. So instead of using the "M-stroke" I moved the roller up and down. I guess you could call it an "I-stroke."

The kid could have cared less which letter I was trying to copy. Once he had finished his part of the job "cutting in," he had "tuned out" and had gone inside to watch television.

But since the kid had not spilled anything when he helped me stain the porch, I felt he was ready to paint the old piano bench. And so I gave him the lecture. I finished by reminding him that two thin coats of paint were better than one thick one. He took this truism a step further. He gave his piano bench about 15 coats of black paint.

In the end, he was stained but proud, a porch painter in the making.

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