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For painters, Saturday becomes splatter-day

WEEKEND PAINTERS are easy to recognize. We are the spotted ones, those covered with dribs and drabs. Sometimes these specks show up in perplexing places.

Take, for example, the scene that unfolded last week in my dermatologist's office. I was in for a stare-down, a routine visit in which the doctor eyeballs my skin looking for things to remove. A mark on my chest caught the doctor's attention.

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With his scalpel at the ready, he peered at the blot and asked if I had noticed it. "That," I sheepishly admitted " is probably redwood stain. I did a little painting last weekend." The doctor's trained eye quickly agreed that the unsightly spot was caused by sloppy brushwork, not rogue cells.

Try as I might, I can't keep the spots off me. It is a truism of painting that the hardest parts of the job are the preparation and the clean-up. Like a lot of other part-time painters, I end up not only cleaning up the job site, but also myself.

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I have tried the full-body cover-up, wrapping myself in gloves and hats and more garments than a Victorian school teacher. That works reasonably well in cool weather. Nonetheless, a few flecks always manage to sneak into my hair - that, I believe, is what causes those gray streaks. But when it is hot, wearing a lot of clothes is uncomfortable, so I select a skimpy outfit from my "painting wardrobe." These are old, often loose-fitting garments. They may not make you look your best, but they feel great. I have a lot of them. Some members of my family have suggested that the defining motif of "my look" is baggy, paint-covered clothing.

Once a garment goes into the painting wardrobe category, it is a matter of debate whether it can be worn on other occasions. I say painting clothes are also eligible for consideration as "casual weekend wear." Everyone else in my family seems to subscribe to the narrow view that once you've painted in an outfit, it goes in the rag bag.

For last weekend's stint of outdoor work, I selected a slightly torn, but still serviceable pair of shorts, a faded 8-year-old shirt, and retired baseball cap. Technically I was staining, not painting, a wooden deck and some supporting timbers.

So far as I can tell, the difference between staining wood and painting it is largely in the preparation. When you are painting, you prepare the wood by scraping off old paint and sanding the surface. When you are staining, you get the wood ready by scrubbing it either with soap and water or with a potent, caustic solution known as deck cleaner. The warning label on the jug of deck cleaner I picked up offered wardrobe advice. Basically it suggested covering up all exposed skin because if I got this stuff on me I could be "spotted" for life. As a precaution, I wore extra long socks. It created quite a look.

After a deck has been cleaned it has to dry out, sorta like an old wino. My deck was supposed to dry for two days, but I hurried the process along with electric fans and cut the waiting period down to a day and a half.

I stain the same way I paint, with a roller, an extension pole and a liberal touch. Attaching the roller to the pole enabled me to apply the stain quickly and with a minimum of bending. The liberal touch guaranteed that every floor board got covered, but it also produced some spillage. The spillage became more of an issue when I walked below the deck, lifted the pole and roller in the air and started staining overhead timbers.

The trickle-down theory may not work in the field of economics, but it is a definite reality in the field of overhead painting. It, along with the splatter effect created when a paint-loaded roller travels overhead, combine to produce a polka-dot effect on the painter.

By day's end, the wood had soaked up several gallons of stain and I was covered with multiple streaks. I used paint thinner and a rag to remove all the smudges that I saw, but I knew from experience that some slip past you. More than once I have spent a Saturday afternoon painting, then cleaned myself up and gone to a Saturday night shindig only to find companions staring at some unsightly splotch on my person.

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This time I asked my wife to cast a critical eye on me. She had spent the day painting bathrooms, so like two chimpanzees grooming each other, we took turns removing paint spots and drabs of stain from each other's skin.

At the end of the day we cast long, adoring looks, not at each other, but on our freshly painted and stained surfaces. Such are the pleasures of weekend painters.


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