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Dooring

Dooring
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps:
Le singe peintre, aussi dit Intérieur d'atelier
[The Monkey Painter, also called Workshop Interior.]
(ca. 1833)
" I will miss this work once I'm finished."

Six weeks ago, I posted what might now qualify as an introduction to the fine art of Dooring with a piece I called Doorable. In that story, I explained how I believe that the world is always trying to teach me and that I'm a reluctant learner. Kurt Our Painter and the doors themselves have been dutifully teaching me how to paint doors over the last month and a half. Nearing the end of this part of my contribution to our Refurbishing effort, I might have a few learnings to share. I'm not yet in any way an expert doorer, or whatever a door refurbisher might answer to, but I have finished, or, more properly, refinished, nineteen door fronts now, with only four remaining, and I've been noticing a certain facility emerging in my practice. I have a method of sorts in that I seem to be following more or less the same steps with each door front I face. I work much more quickly and decisively now, with few unforeseen discouraging events, which seemed common at first. I have my tools and techniques sorted, ready to hand. By the time I finish this work, I might never refurbish another door, for only five will remain unrefurbished in the whole place.

These doors have been teaching me.
Great teachers that they've turned out to be, they've taught me almost nothing I didn't know already. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the most powerful teaching rarely focuses upon imparting new information. It gives permission and validation, confirming or disconfirming what the student already suspected, perhaps without really knowing. Doors seem to know that they can't tell nobody 'nuthin', so they teach in subtle parable. Their primary focus seems to be how to thrive with less, and if I were to attempt to summarize all my doors have taught me, I might say that they've taught me economy. I could have lavished fresh paint on those doors, but didn't, or I learned not to lavish anything on them. They change only by tiny increments and any attempt to speed that up or make it prominent seems doomed to fail.

Less prep. Less paint. Fewer patches. Less time spent. These seem the attributes of my most successful Dooring. It never once worked to completely fix an errant moulding. Some were poorly crafted after running into unfortunate graining and others were forever altered by previously sloppy painting. Every door I faced started out second rate, mostly due to well-intended refinishing abuse, and virtually all of that, apparently the result of ignorance. Most people will only very rarely paint a door and our internet is largely mute on the subject of how to go about it. The necessary tools are not obvious. There's little opportunity to practice. Door painting's like a course consisting of nothing but a final exam, for which no preparation's allowed. On the first day of the semester, the student enters the classroom, takes a seat, and takes the test, drawing only from pre-existing misconceptions about the topic at hand. Nobody ever passes this test, for it is illegitimate. It teaches nobody 'nuthin'. The worst students might even claim to have learned something from it. They didn't. They each left a little legacy behind for someone like me to find and fix later, without harsh judgement, though I reserve the right to rail against anyone who painted brass hinges.

I mount each door facing up, on high saw horses so that I'm not leaning low over it, which is hard on my back. I run my bare hands over its surfaces, of which these five panel door faces have fifteen: five panels, six cross pieces, two side rails, and two edges. Top and bottom don't count, since they're never painted. Most door faces feature panels with some moulding difficulties, some from over-painting and some accidents of crafting. Some of these problems can be corrected, but only some of them. I crack the faulty line at the base of these moulding using a triangular headed detail sander with sixty grit paper. This quickly melts whatever paint and/or putty clogs up that line and also starts smoothing any roughness fabrication left behind. I do not sand the moulding but the moulding's edges. I then run a stick of pumice along that line. I am not gentle with it, either. This does no damage since a pumice stick falls apart into grit on contact. It shapes itself into an exact match of the moulding line it's scratching along. In tough cases, I might resort to using a fine chisel, razor sharp, to tease out excess paint or putty. I work until my fingers tell me that the moulding's smooth. The hardest cases will receive a smear of fine putty, applied with my fingers since no other tool can follow along that moulding's surface. I wipe the putty line with a damp cloth and apply a little more pumice once it's dry.

I sand the cross pieces and rails with an oscillating sander, and I hit every flat surface with it, even the flawless ones. This prepares those surfaces for priming. It also levels each plane, flattening old paint drips and sags, which seem frightfully common. I fill only the more unsightly gouges. These doors have taught me not to even attempt perfection. I have grown to accept a few blemishes as character or personality, distinguishing features more than problems. Once I've sanded mouldings and filled gouges, I hand sand everything once, using a sanding block with fine paper, then vacuum off the whole face. Then I wash the face with deglosser, which softens up the finish. I prime using oil-based primer liberally laced with paint conditioner. I use Penetrol. This renders the paint less likely to retain brush marks and makes it tackier, lending it a kind of pull. I apply this primer sparingly, in definite stages, starting with the panels and working with a dry cloth with which I'll quickly wipe up any paint that falls outside the surface I'm working. I am not priming the door face but the fifteen separate door surfaces, each in turn, panels then cross pieces, then rails and edges. I paint cross pieces and rails with the grain and wipe any paint accidentally getting on any adjacent space. I'm trying to avoid overpainting drying surfaces because paint on drying paint tends to produce shiny spots even if the paint's otherwise flawlessly applied. I paint with the grain because this helps with the illusion, it makes the surface seem more flawless than it probably is.

The top coats, two and no more, I apply using a small roller. My objective is to use the smallest amount of paint possible. I roll paint on then work it with a brush. I've learned to use an extremely soft sash brush which leaves fewer hints of brush strokes. I run the brush down the left side of each panel, then make the turns, pulling in paint the roller deposited on the panel top as needed. I finish each panel by brushing to flatten the panel top before taking my brush one very light last time around the horn to erase any evidence a brush was there. Then, on to the next panel. A panel might take two minutes to properly paint, perhaps a bit less. Cross pieces, I paint right up to the junctions with rails and panels. I run the roller down the middle then pull paint from the rail junctions toward the roller's paint line. Working very quickly and wiping with a cloth any strokes crossing any plane, a cross piece is painted in seconds. The rails, I do in sections, about two panel sections at a time, pulling paint I've sparingly rolled on. I sort of slap paint on the edges as I work my way up or down the rails. The edges will receive four top coat paintings, two from each face, and need little excess. They'll be fine with skimpy seconds. The whole door face should have taken less than ten minutes to finish. The faster the finish, probably the better. The less paint used, the better, too. The Muse should see a few spots missing paint after the first top coat dries. The second coat will resolve those. The second coat must be applied even more sparingly than the first.

As with all subjects of higher learning, the above description fails to describe anything important about Dooring. Dooring's a relationship, not a technique or an insight. None of any of this story is immutable truth. It's speculation, for even nineteen door faces clearly fails to represent an adequate sample size from which to draw conclusions. I'd need to have finished hundreds of doors, not just this dozen, before I could even pretend to understand what I'm doing. If I expect to start feeling good about whatever I'm doing, I might expect that feeling as I approach completing a dozen. I'll still be working out bugs when I'm 100% finished. I'm struck by how sensory Dooring has been. I must see with my hands. My paint should be pulling or its probably too thick. Many subtle little cues contribute to success, and each success seems necessarily limited. Though my last few doors have been best, my first few, essentially experiments, were better than what was left before them. A focus, which I've been fortunate to have, helped make me a better student. I will miss this work once I'm finished.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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