Not Yet Picasso

Paint and I do not get along. First, I am mess-averse. Paint is a sloppy medium which surpasses all mediums except maybe making sculptures out of trash. In that case, you need to accumulate a pile of junk somewhere in your house in order to pick and choose what items will constitute your jumbled magnum opus. Paint, at least, can be cleaned up and stored under the cellar stairs without the inevitable avalanche of superfluous inventory (aka junkpile) detritus sculptures might entail. Paint, though, has its own accoutrements that must be dealt with. Each time I dig that stuff out to paint something, the required gear seems to have expanded.

I don’t usually paint for the sake of making art. I paint parts of my house like walls and window sills and sometimes even fences and concrete stuff. At a certain period of time I can only describe as massively boring, I decided to paint my fireplace. I used three different colors since I had the mantel, surrounding tile and the floor tile outside the fireplace (which keeps a spark from igniting the wood floor) to gussy up. The task of picking out the paint (color, base ingredients, cleanup ability) took up much of an afternoon at the paint store. I went to the paint store specifically to make use of their hopefully knowledgeable staff. I came away with a trunk full of products, which made me wonder if it would just be easier to move into another house.

The old fireplace looked like something a pilgrim would have used to suspend a large pot to boil the hares and turnips in. I needed to bring it up to at least 20th century standards. Painting the mantel white was the simplest part of my chosen plan of action. Since it was wood, I had to do a bit of sanding. No problem gear-wise as I had a bunch of masks with which to cover my nose and mouth to keep from choking on the dust and a woodworking husband in the basement to supply me with any type of sand paper I thought necessary. It comes in grades of coarseness, so naturally, I had no idea what was necessary. I took what I was given and went straight to the task of roughing up the old wood finish for the purpose of preparing it for something a tad more splendid

You might think (foolishly if you have never painted a fireplace) with a can of paint and a brush you’d be off and running. Not so. First, the blue tape must be deployed along with tons of newspaper for straight lines and no slosh over onto the places you don’t want paint. Then, the tray, the stirrer, the can opener, the various brushes for the tight spots and a foam roller for the wide areas. The rags for mopping up the spills are crucial. The primer. Oh yeah, the paint store salesman recommended using a primer under that white gloss that’s just right for a fireplace mantel. I ended up painting the mantel three times.

The first order of business when painting is to read the label on the paint can. Paint is dangerous; it says so right there in print so tiny a magnifying glass is required. My first can insisted I use a respirator if painting indoors. It might surprise the paint company I don’t have a respirator tucked away for spontaneous, noxious gassy releases inside my house. I think my first response at any signs of ill effect should be to get out of the house not “now where did I put that respirator?” The second best option would be to open all the windows so there’s air flow. Having established good ventilation in my living room, I next read the clean-up instructions. I’ve learned this from previous experience–know ahead of time what you’ll need to clean your paint brushes. Paint gummed up on a brush dries quicker than the thinnest layer of the stuff on a wall. I have attended the burial services of many a paint brush. Replacing them costs more than you’d think reasonable.

The cleanup with the fireplace project was fraught with possible disasters. It had to be done each time I finished slapping on a coat and waited for it to dry. After my first layer, I still had some paint in the tray. What was I supposed to do with that? I picked it up and brought it outside where I attempted to pour my leftovers back into the can. I pictured myself with a pot of spaghetti sauce requiring a new home in the refrigerator. For this I would use a handy spatula in order to swoop every drop into a suitable container. I was not willing to sacrifice any of my kitchen utensils for the sake of saving paint, so I used the paint brush as a swooping tool, which only served to cause another problem. The paint brush and I got glob smacked with a lovely shade of glossy white. I looked like some pterodactyl had flown overhead and done its business on me!

The cleanup of paint is a bit tricky. I used an oil-based paint on the fireplace mantel, which required a mineral spirits bath for cleaning the equipment. Once again, my wood-finishing pro in residence set me up with the necessary ingredient. I wiped any remaining paint from the tray and allowed it to dry, which means there’s about six layers of paint on that tray to remind me of the projects I’ve done using the roller/tray method of painting. Once the brushes and rollers were free of paint from soaking in the mineral spirits, and the paint had settled onto the bottom of the can, we poured the cleaner back into its container and let the paint dry in the can. Picture this being done three times for the mantel and six times to finish both of the tiled areas. That’s a lot of toting, setting up, slapping on and clearing away for one little fireplace.

Then the tape was pulled off the edges and the paint cans and equipment stored in the basement for future touch-ups. I hoped I would never have to paint another fireplace ever again. I’ve had to do some minor repairs on the floor tile since furniture and shoes have migrated over it from time to time and scratched some of the paint. It might not have taken as long as the original project, but the equipment and that slog of a process were the same.

New projects have recently popped up requiring my painting fortitude and expertise. Luckily, I used only one can of paint for these minor sprucing up intentions. The first thing to paint was a bracket I wanted to use to hang a plant next to my kitchen window. I found this bracket sitting, lonely and dusty, on the front porch shortly after we moved in. I wondered why it was there, since it clearly could not be easily hung from the porch wall because the Hobbit House is solid rock. The previous owner must have acknowledged the futility of this idea and simply abandoned the bracket near its intended home in dispirited acceptance. I could commiserate with that mindset.

The bracket was still serviceable for a more suitable area. It was white with a few spots of gray metal peeking through. I wanted it to be black for my intentions. I had three wooden frames, finished with some sort of varnish, which I also wished to paint black. A group painting project seemed to be in order. I found a small can of black enamel lodged in my cache of painting stuff down in the basement. I brought it up to read the label. Shake or stir, wear a respirator, clean up with soap and water. I dragged my paraphernalia outside to the garbage bin, which I would use as a work surface eliminating any worry of accidental spillage, in an area with good ventilation from the toxic fumes. But I seemed to have gotten ahead of myself.

All these items needed sanding, which is the most tedious part of the process. Once again, I hit up the pro in his basement workshop for a suitable bit of rough paper. The wind acted as my agent of particle disbursement as I scraped with all the enthusiasm I could muster for this undertaking. The bracket had a piece that twisted (to give it a bit of flourish?) which created hard-to-reach tight areas. The frames by comparison, had relatively uniform surfaces which required less cussing but created a lot of dust. It took me four days to eliminate the top layers from my group of decorative items.

By the time I dragged out all the painting equipment, I was already weary of the project. I covered the trash bin with some newspaper and slopped some bonding primer onto all four items. The frames needed only to be painted on the front side, so they were easy. The bracket thwarted me with it’s twisted, multi-surfaced engineering. The paint dribbled down and was caught by the newspaper. I had to wait a bit to turn it over and attack it from the other side. When the time came to flip it over, the newspaper came with it, stuck to the bottom edges where it had adhered to my bracket. I resisted the urge to open the trash bin and toss that sucker in.

I ended up scraping a lot of dried paint off the bracket in order to relieve it of its newspaper trimmings. For the final coat of black enamel, I prudently used some waxed paper as my protective surface. After five days of painting and waiting, my projects were done. They gleamed at me, all shiny and new looking. Since the paint required a soap and water wash up, cleaning was a snap. There’s still a can of painty water sitting in my basement sink. I’m waiting for the paint to settle so I can drain off the water and take the can to the next community recycle event. The brushes are in reasonable, re-useable condition!

The next time I’m in the mood to paint something, I plan to open a bottle of wine to take the edge off, or better yet, to facilitate replacing the word “paint” with the word “nap.” I’m clearly no Picasso since my work is more of a utilitarian nature than artistic expression. I often wonder if the great masters had some adoring servants to happily tidy up after them since they all seemed to have sustained this mad practice of making a mess for a stretch of time. I’d venture to say no adoration is forthcoming due to my body of work, but I do find a certain satisfaction in a job well done, even if I end up looking like a Dalmatian and have to clean up my own mess.

Done…for now,


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  1. I dislike painting very very much! I like the finished product (sometimes). Well done!!

  2. I do not like painting my house. I do like painting other things, but not anymore. I thought this was a good blog cheryl. Even learned some new words.

    • I’m not fond of painting either! But, it beats buying something new when all you want is a color change. I guess I’m stuck with it. I’m glad you liked this story.

  3. Again I admire your willingness to take on these creative endeavors. Our projects involve a mask and single can of spray paint!

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