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Juan Gris: The Painter's Window (1925)


" … the new dog teaches the old dog a new trick or two."


The Repeated Offender reader of these musings will remember Kurt Our Painter, who was a prominent figure during our extended Grand Refurbish last year. Kurt proved an able sidekick, teaching me about the practical application of paint, which turned out to be a surprisingly—shockingly— philosophical endeavor. Kurt carries an easy half century experience as a professional painter, and he's still learning, for painting, like most activities, I suppose, never was a simple matter. Of course, any Jehu can slop the stuff, though sloppy painting does disclose a definite lack of character. Real painters are painstakingly careful, patient even beyond even their own belief, and wise. They change the world one mil at a time or less. They refer to accumulating paint in mils, though measuring actual depth proves impossible.

When painting, Kurt taught me that a single mil of paint sufficiently covers any lightly-used surface.
He critiqued the baseboard I'd painted when demonstrating that I knew how to properly paint by suggesting that I'd certainly left a lot of paint behind, suggesting that I'd left far too much behind, which I undoubtedly had. I had been in that juvenile state where one fusses about applying too little paint rather than too much. It's much more difficult to leave too little paint than too much. Too much's easy. Too little requires exquisite skill. I stripped that first board twice more before I'd come close to satisfying his experienced eye, and continued working on becoming a better minimalist until the end of that job, months later. I insisted that he paint anything visually important, for though I was learning the underlying philosophy, my ability to live up to its tenets remained emergent. I came to trust myself painting baseboards and doors, but little else.

I invited Kurt back to refinish our grand front door. We'd thought to perhaps replace the thing, but could find nothing remotely in its class in any of the books Tony The Door Guy gave us. Kurt proposed stripping it. It was just varnished, and only a single coat of that by all appearances, except that the exterior side had been baked by decades of direct exposure to late afternoon sunlight. The front porch becomes a bake oven in season, so that side of the door's more tortured, but nothing terribly deep or terminal. We hoisted that door off its hinges and set it up on Kurt's sawhorses on the front porch and Kurt set about sanding the inside face. He eventually got to the moldings surrounding each panel, where he took to using pumice sticks to remove the varnish on those fine curved surfaces, a trick he'd shown me last summer when I was working my way through refinishing two dozen door faces. I'd ground down scores of those babies cleaning up prior generations' sins on those door panel moldings, so I'd become an unaware expert in their use. Kurt hadn't actually used pumice in decades and I noticed a difference.

I watched myself suggesting that the master might want to try holding that pumice stick a little differently. Hold it like a pen, I proposed, rather than running the length of it down that edge, and don't be shy about shoving it harder, for the pumice will crumble right along the moulding's angle. He adjusted his grip and noticed an immediate improvement. Look at that! The perennial novice just successfully coached the actual expert!

Earlier, I'd sought Kurt's advice on the exterior wall I'd been repainting. I'd successfully finished prepping, priming, and single coating the wall, and asked if he'd recommend I lay on a second coat before moving on. He strongly recommended spending the extra day applying the extra Mil-age, as he called it. He deemed that South-facing wall sufficiently threatened by sun and weather to justify the extra thickness of paint. Interior surfaces, except those frequently touched like stair railings, can survive the ages with little mil-age. By the end of the day, that wall face half finished, I could see the difference Kurt's suggestion had made. On the door, too, stripped perfectly bare as we remounted it on its hinges for overnight storage, was perfectly prepped for our planned next steps, conditioning, staining, then Varithaning® to match the adjacent staircase.

Sometimes, the new dog teaches the old dog a new trick or two.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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