We have been painting again. In fact, we have painted a lot over the past several months, more than I remember painting in all of the previous 10 years. First in Austin, we painted several rooms to prepare the old house for showing; then here in Clarksburg paint has been a primary tool as we gradually mold this house to us. Recently we painted the library, the room that contains the windows of which I have spoken in the past. The week before last we painted the “breakfast nook” (stark white, and infinitely more pleasant than the pineapple-punctuated wallpaper that the paint replaces) and, finally, the patio door, which deserves its own, much longer, story.
Painting, especially big painting projects, usually brings to my mind those great family adventures of my childhood and youth: painting the living room and dining room (at least twice), and painting the exterior of the house. In my memory these were family events in which we all worked together in cheerful harmony. I suppose my parents might have remembered these adventures differently, but what I remember is the four of us, my parents, my sister, and me, standing amidst brushes, tarps, ladders, and cans of paint before a wall that seemed much too huge ever to be finished. The times we painted the living room my father magically produced a large expandable wooden platform that he stretched between two step ladders, allowing us all to stand in a row to paint, all at the same time, the wall all the way to the ceiling. I say “magically” because I don’t remember ever seeing the platform except when we were painting.
My father was not always a patient man. He didn’t have much patience for going back to the paint can for more paint. To reduce the number of trips to the can he usually loaded his brush with more paint than it could actually hold. Then, as he lifted his brush toward the wall, paint would run down the brush handle, across his hand, down his arm, finally dropping off his elbow onto the tarp on the floor — in streams, as my memory tells it, but more likely in drips.
Painting itself isn’t such a bad activity. It’s liberating in its way, freeing the mind to wander at will while eyes and hands are occupied with work. But it carries with it activities that are much less fun: preparation and cleanup.
Preparation is tedious, but cleanup is a true beast. Picking up the paper or drop cloth, pulling down the masking tape, scraping away the paint that oozed under the masking tape onto the glass, these are all pretty minor activities. Cleaning the brushes is another matter. Brushes filled with paint stiffen quickly if you don’t clean them, but it always seemed that no matter how much I scrubbed them, no matter how much I squeezed them, no matter how much I rinsed them, enough paint lingered to refill the cans the paint came in, and the liquid soon turned into an unpleasant solid. We used to have a collection of brushes too thick and hard with dried paint ever to be used again. They might have been useful as doorstops, but we didn’t have that many doors. This year I’ve been better about cleaning, finally having learned the technique. I stand at the kitchen sink squeezing as much of the excess paint as I can out and down the drain, then work dish detergent into the bristles and rinse the whole lot out in running water. All of the brushes we have used here will be used again — they are soft and flexible, and waiting for us to dare the next project. I wonder which room that will be.