Painting (writing?) as an Art Form

I haven’t been online much this week, and it’s not because I’ve been tied up in the office or in the classroom. I’ve been painting.

We have this routine around here that stretches back about 19 years–when we bought our house here–that we rotate through the rooms of the house and remodel them every few years. In this situation, we decided it was time that my daughter Melissa’s room had new paint and new flooring. So that’s what I’ve been working on.

But it got me started thinking–writer that I am–of the similarities between painting and my chosen profession. I started off as a painter when I graduated from college, not that I went to school for that, mind you. And as they say, the only real difference in painting or in writing between the professional or the amateur is that the professional gets paid. Quality notwithstanding, you get what you pay for.

Painting is only as good as the preparation time. You have to make sure you have the right tools–brushes, rollers, drop cloths, etc.–that the room has been cleared out and that the surfaces have been cleaned. You sand and caulk everything that needs it; otherwise you will regret it later. And then you usually start out with a base coat, in our situation, we start off with a coat of Kilz to make sure the paint sticks well.

I did the ceiling first. Shelly doesn’t like popcorn ceilings, so my first official act was to use a scraper and spray bottle of water to remove all the popcorn. Then I used a broom on it again to remove the loose stuff that could prevent the paint from sticking. Apparently I didn’t do a good enough job of that, because we had trouble continuously from that point on with paint chipping off. Kilz comes after that. I don’t worry about taping off the ceiling since I am planning on using Kilz on the walls too. Then I paint the ceiling with white ceiling paint.

We have three walls that were painted a dark brown and one wall that had three layers of wallpaper on it. I stripped off the wallpaper and immediately ran into problems. Under the wallpaper was sheetrock with paper covering it that started flaking off. As I tried to use Kilz on it, it would continue to flake off, and we ended up using three layers of Kilz. Finally we got it to settle down. Shelly then added texture spray to the wall to give it the same feel that the other walls had.

Finally it was time to paint the walls. Shelly has a hard time deciding what color the walls should be, and usually I just stay out of her way, but there are some places I put my foot down. No to yellow; no to purple. We finally decide on a blue that is almost purple but that I can live with. I tape off the ceiling and the windows, and we paint.

My plan was to finish painting by Thursday and do the flooring on Friday, but by Thursday night I realize we haven’t considered the windows. I put the floor on hold and we spend Friday working on windows. That means more taping. Shelly buys some high gloss white enamel paint and we work on the window trim. In addition, I see white peeking through on one wall where the blue hasn’t covered. I go back over it with a brush, over and over again, even though we are steadily running out of blue paint. Finally we finish.

End of the week and painting is finished.

If you’re a writer and you waded through this treatise on painting, looking for some sort of writing payoff, look no further. Here’s what I learned that I could apply to writing:

1. Prep time. In writing and in painting PREP TIME is critical. I shake my head at those writers who talk about finishing a novel and sitting down at a blank sheet of paper and starting another the next day. If you don’t prep, you will regret it. Believe me.

2. Who is your audience? In writing and in painting, you have to always remember that you aren’t working for yourself. You are working for those who will see your work. Who is your audience? Their perspective is all that matters. You may know that you skipped a step and used a satin paint when you should have used a semi-gloss, but if your audience doesn’t care, why should you?

3. It will never be perfect. Your goal is to get your work as close to perfect as you can, but try as you might, there will always be some little flaw of mistake that will drive you crazy if you let it. Don’t let it. Also be aware that the problems that drive you crazy are often ignored by your audience, and the minor issues you ignored are the ones that people complain about. So get over it and move on. After all, it’s just paint.