Lessons from Painting a Room

I've always wanted to paint a room by myself. I used to tell DH that whenever we had a home of our own, I wanted to paint it - at least the inside of the house - I had no plans to dangle precariously over the exteriors of our home. DH waited for 7 years after building Karthi to see if I gathered any momentum in the house-painting direction. Then he gave the job of painting our living quarters downstairs to a set of professional painters who broke all their assurances of being least disruptive and of finishing within the stipulated time. In the end, they made a slapdash job of it in the last areas they painted.

So the chances of getting my craft room upstairs painted properly any time soon diminished. But I had been watching the painters, studying their technique and materials at first hand and gained valuable lessons from them. I slowly began gathering supplies once a few months. This summer vacation, I decided to take the plunge. And here are some lessons that I have learned in the past 3 months that it took me to complete one room!!!

1. It's not as glam as it looks: My room-painting ambitions were fueled by many pretty pictures of people doing this effortlessly... Have you seen the song "Kinavile janaalakal" in the movie Pranchiyettan and the Saint? The character Padmashree dons a pretty bandanna , ...


... wields a wicked paint scraper in her perfectly French manicured fingers, ... 


... and rocks the painting scene in her designer outfit


Meanwhile in reality, it looked like this...


Yup, that's me, up on my stepladder, please feel free to laugh to your heart's content. You will notice that my hair is completely UNDER my bandanna, I am wearing my oldest house clothes with long sleeves and an apron over it (I've had to discard two dresses and aprons because they were not fit to be worn again) and also a towel over my nose to keep the nasty fumes out. 


I am also wearing a pair of my favorite knit cotton gloves to protect my hands. Thank goodness I chose to model my attire on that of the professional painters rather than a movie star!!! :)

And movies get so many things wrong at so many levels... which leads me to my next lesson...

2. Going from dark to light is very, very tough


The painters in the movie could never have got the immaculate white wall that they are shown to have got that afternoon if this was the wall that they had to work with. I found that out when I tried to turn my mahogany brown door and frame to white. It took me at least four coats of white enamel paint to get it to look at least a creamy white. And I stopped at that. The beige built-ins took three coats too. Thus the woodwork took a huge chunk of time to complete.

3.  Buy paint from paint stores: When I ran out of my initial supply of white enamel paint, I ran to a small local hardware store and made sure to buy the same brand and type of paint. When I opened it, there was a pool of brownish liquid on the top. I mixed it thoroughly according to instructions and it looked somewhat okay in the can. It was only after I painted that whole top set of cupboard doors twice with the same paint and compared it with the others that I realized that the color was so off.

That was when I checked the date on the paint can and it was more than two years old. The bottom was slightly rusted. Busy paint stores have a lot of sales and seldom have old paint in their stock. But a hardware store might have old stock. I should have been suspicious about the discount the shopkeeper gave me.

I must also say that acrylic emulsion paint doesn't seem to go bad this way. We had some white emulsion paint left over from 2015 and it did very well to give my walls a first coat once I strained off some impurities that had got in the paint bucket. Reusing that paint saved me a lot of money this time over.

I didn't bother to go over the two discolored coats... I decided that I would let it stand as a lesson to myself to be more careful in the future.

4. It doesn't do to hurry or work against a tight deadline: I had planned out the painting meticulously. I would spend an hour or two each day in painting the room with Kunjunni's help. That way we could complete the work within two months' time. But a hectic and physically taxing journey had me bedridden with flu for two weeks in May. I bounded back to my project as soon as I could get up without feeling woozy, but found that I could not stand the fumes for a week longer.

When I got back to work, there was just a week more to the school reopening after which I wouldn't have company to do the work. One day I worked almost 6 hours completing the final coat of the woodwork and a coat of white paint for the walls. Boy, it was hard work and I was completely drained. I missed the next day. On the third day I started painting the walls blue, intending to put in another long day and completing one coat of blue for the whole room that day itself.

Half way through painting the borders of the first wall, I left my painting mug and brush on the top of my step ladder and then shifted the stepladder to a new position! Negligence brought on by my hurry... The mug tipped over and before I knew it, I was splashed with paint from neck down! There were puddles on the floor, the wall was liberally spattered as was a newly white-painted drawer that had been calmly drying itself on the floor for the past two days.



I had to rush in to the attached bathroom and stand under the shower to wash out most of the paint (thank God it was an acrylic emulsion and not enamel paint) and then went to change downstairs leaving blue puddles everywhere.  But there was something else that was happening, which leads to my next lesson:

5. Never use any electronics near the painting area: What I didn't realize when the paint had fallen all over my front and when I stood under the shower was that I HAD MY PHONE IN MY APRON POCKET!!! On the previous days, I had always left it on the table or inside a cupboard while I worked. I was in the shower for almost a minute when I realized that my not-two-month-old phone was in the pocket where the paint had fallen the most and now I was pouring water over it too. The paint entered the head phone jack and screwed up the touch screen and voided my warranty too.

The next day I got it to a service center where the young technician had a good laugh at my expense ("You tried to paint a room by yourself?!") and made no promises to get it working other than to give it a thorough clean and see what happened. Fortunately, my phone was restored to its original health. The only casualty was an additional hybrid sim slot adapter that was damaged beyond repair. 

I did a lot of rethinking after the incident: I stopped work for two days. Then I decided that I would work alone if need be, take my time and finish only small, manageable areas in one day's work. And you can be sure that I left my phone outside the ROOM when I went painting again!!!

6. There will be splashes and blotches, however much you protect against them:









Looking back, I think it would have been wiser to invest in some plastic drop cloths to protect the floors and my craft table instead of using newspapers like I did. But the newspapers did a pretty good job too. 

As for my painting itself, there are lots of instances of blue encroaching on white and vice versa, but I am leaving them alone. I am leaving the pictures up here on a public blog because I want to counteract the ill-effects of people always feeding off the "perfect" pictures that are usually seen on the internet. I am a recovering perfectionist myself and I need to accept that I have done a good enough job as an amateur house painter.

7. Accept your limits and improvise when you can:  I decided early on that I would not be smoothing the walls with putty. I had seen how hard the painters had to work using it and then sanding it down and knew it was beyond my level of expertise. This meant that I had to get a very long-napped roller brush for the walls. (See, I had done my homework, reading up). But even that was not enough as I could see white spots all over even after several passes with the brush. 

So I took  a mug of blue paint and an old small paintbrush to touch up the parts where the roller brush or a regular brush couldn't reach on the pitted surface of the walls. I poked paint into the holes with a dabbing motion and got rid of the most glaring spots this way.

There were several things that I got right too. Learning to clean brushes properly after each day's work and doing it religiously means that if I ever feel like painting again, I have a good set of tools with me. 

Finally the room is clear and I have reorganized my craft supplies. Is my job over? Nope. There are several splotches on the floor and I have some cotton waste, turpentine, a scraper and some sand paper ready in a basket to do some splotch-removal a little at a time. Will I ever paint a room again? Yes, I will, provided I get in a professional to smooth the walls for me. Meanwhile I am more than ready to repaint cabinets or walls whenever the need arises.

I have a new respect for house painters. It's a tough job. The dust, the fumes and the sheer physical strength and endurance required to do the job well need to be experienced to be believed.

So what did my craft room look like before and how does it look now? Hmm... may be that will make another post!!!

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