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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

10 Ways to Paint Like a Pro

In a recent interview, novelist Anne Tyler answered a question about whether she ever reread her own books by replying that doing so “always feels like lying awake in a bedroom I’ve painted myself. The mistakes are so noticeable and so upsetting.”

I can relate. When I look back on my past writing, I close one eye and squint the other, as if driving by a traffic accident. And I, too, have looked up in a room I have painted myself to see the missed spots, the splotches of color on the ceiling from a rogue roller, the petrified drips, the crooked edges. It’s humbling.

Which is why -- because picky has a price -- I hire professionals.

This past week, a crew of painters canvassed my new house, painting every wall, while I marveled at how effortlessly they worked. They executed the prepping, taping, tarping, and color application like a well-choreographed ballet, rather than a frenzied cluster of plastic, primer, profanity, and paintball, which pretty much sums up my endeavors.

Intrigued by the difference, I pulled up a paint can and pen, and asked Jerry White, owner of JW Painting, of Orlando, and his lead interior painter Jessica Reed to share the biggest differences between jobs done by pros and those done by the rest of us.

Here are 10 tell-tale signs that an amateur is on the job, along with and tips to paint like a pro:

1. Outlets are painted over. A sure sign that an amateur painted a room is that the electrical outlets or switches are painted over, or worse, the outlet covers. Slacker, you have to take the outlet covers off and paint around switches and plugs.

2. Nail holes have too much spackle. Non-pros tend to overfill nail holes, so patches look obvious, like too much cover-up on a zit. Just use a tiny amount of spackle, enough to fill the hole, and don’t let it extend beyond the edges. The hole should disappear when painted over.

3. They use masking tape. Using masking tape instead of blue painter tape is another non-pro move. Masking tape leaves a sticky residue that paint won’t cover easily. Pros also know to stick the tape along the baseboards with precision, and to let it stick out 90 degrees from the wall to catch drips. “Your line is only as good as your tape job,” said Reed.

4. They have a color blind spot. Because professionals have seen a lot of paint go up, they can often foresee how a swatch will translate, and can see a paint mistake before it hits the wall. The rest of us need to sample paints before committing and gnash our teeth for a while, which I recommend. But here’s help: After sharing last week that I painted a dozen, 12-inch squares of drywall a variety of colors to test them, a reader told me (too late) about Small Wall. Available at Sherwin-Williams stores, these one-foot square, lightweight, adhesive-backed paint boards let you paint your test color on the board and stick it to the wall. The non-aggressive adhesive lets you reposition the board, so you can see the color on different walls in different lights and against other colors. This eliminates the mess and bulk of drywall, and the annoying “will you hold this” part of the process.

5. Their lines aren’t straight. A crisp, straight line where color meets ceiling or trim is the hallmark of a pro paint job. White says it’s all in the brush, though practice helps. “Don’t buy a cheap brush,” said White, “or you will end up with a mess.” A good brush will cost you $20 to $30, but will help you get those crisp lines.

6. They skimp on roller covers. Likewise, though it’s tempting to buy cheaper roller covers, which often have thin pile, spending a bit more for a roller with a thick ¾-inch pile will let you apply more paint, more easily and uniformly, said White.

7. They use cheap paint. “The price difference between the lowest-cost paint in a line and premium quality is not that much,” said White, “but well worth it.” You get better coverage, a better look, and more durability. Although he’s not a fan of gimmick paints (lines with fancy names and that are unnecessarily overpriced), he recommends buying paint that’s a little better than midgrade.

8. They don’t know what products work together. A pro knows what can and can’t go over what. For instance, if you put latex paint over oil-based paint, it will peel off. DIYers should consult with the experts at the paint store and get advice on the best product for their jobs.

9. They go too easy on the paint. Pros know to lay paint on thick. A wall needs to have a certain paint thickness for the coverage to last. Using good quality paint, a good roller and a couple of coats will yield professional results.

10. They leave a mess. Non-pros often leave roller marks of wall color on the ceiling, drops on the floor, and the lower half of walls not completely covered. To avoid ceiling marks, first cut in with a brush, painting several inches from the top and bottom of walls; then roll paint in the middle. Use cloth tarps, not plastic. “And keep looking back and back roll as you paint forward,” said Reed. “Don’t just focus on what you see from the waist up. Give the lower wall equal attention.”

Do all this, and you just might avoid lying awake at night staring at your bad paint job.

CAPTION: Problem solved. These 12-inch squares of lightweight, adhesive-backed paint boards from Small Wall mimic primed walls, and take the guess work out of picking paint. Paint (or repaint) them with a sample wall color, stick the board to the wall, and move it around to test the color in different rooms and lights, and against other colors. Photo courtesy of Small Wall.

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