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Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting (1666–1668)
"It's apparently never too late to try again to get closer to the ideal you'll never achieve."

HomeMakers struggle with no substance like they struggle with paint. Paint's different. It's permanent. Paint something, anything, and you produce a self portrait. Slopping it on produces a sorry legacy, indeed. It WILL outlive you. Mistreat it and it will mistreat you worse. One careless moment might haunt a HomeMaker forever. One fortunate experience might delight for just as long. A perfect cut between wall and moulding can appear every bit as exquisite as an Old Master's painting, and just a rare. No other substance offers so many ways to utterly fail when employing it. No other substance seems to somehow, at some time, end up in the hands of pretty much everyone. Who has not, poisoned by some slick promotional photo, decided to repaint some possession only to produce a regrettable result? Paint color cannot be reliably represented via photography. It varies by a thousand factors. It seems a subjective experience colored by context and preexisting preferences more than anything else. Paint remains a mystery to almost everybody.

Paint and I have history.
I thought that I had gotten close to the bottom of paint, near to finally figuring it out, until I hired Kurt to paint for me. I did not cede all the duty, reserving windows and doors as well as baseboards to my presumably experienced hand. It took almost no time for me to demonstrate that even after decades of practice, I remain a painter's apprentice. Kurt has words to describe what I'd failed to even notice. He seems to have an extra sense capable of more deeply experiencing paint. He seems to inhabit an additional dimension, one that holds the moment but which stretches out forever beyond it while still in that moment. He seems to see the future. He intuits how something will look after painting. He's rarely wrong. He seems to idly direct me, but he's deadly serious. He speaks in koans which I firmly believe I understand until it's just me again, brush in hand, staring down another innocent surface awaiting paint. I then tend to forget precisely what Kurt directed me to do. I sense my experience invading and I wrestle it aside. I'm relearning, which means I'm trying too hard to forget. My muscle memories betray me.

The fundamental difficulty with paint seems to be that we use altogether too much of it. I catch myself applying it as if mending surface imperfections were its primary purpose when it never was. A ton of paint will not correct an ounce of inept preparation, so the bulk of painting involves no paint at all, not even color. The bulk of painting lies in preparation, the careful staging of receiving surfaces with an eye toward perfection. Scars will show. Blemishes bleed through even the most garish color. In most ways, a surface is just what it is. It holds its history prominent. One might manage to apply a touch of mascara, but it can only misdirect the eye. It distracts to appear to correct underlying imperfections. It cannot cure them. In a similar fashion, a tortured board will always exhibit its imperfection. That's no reason not to try to hide the worst of it by scraping, sanding, filling, and priming. Curt insists that the eye cannot see the resulting good enough perfection. Only touch discloses how close the preparation has come to succeeding. Paint will magnify anything I can feel on that surface, even a grain of dust might escape visual scrutiny, but not feel. I can somehow sense its presence even through gloves when I run my hand over my finished prep. "Sand again," Curt advises. It's apparently never too late to try again to get closer to the ideal you'll never achieve.

Kurt commented that my baseboards sure had a lot of paint on them. I sanded them down and tried again. I got closer but sensed that I'd still disappointed him. I tried again on that first door and felt as though I'd gotten closer without earning myself a cigar. The windows, Janis faced, inside like fine furniture, outside exposed to weather. Inside white-ish, exterior black, a stark study in contrast. I figured nobody would notice a little roughness on second floor exterior windows, but I still sanded roughness to smooth. The inside, I was stricter with, offering zero tolerance for any imperfection, even where condensation had discolored the surface. I starved those frames with paint, using just a little too little to satisfy my experience. I pulled the coating along, working quickly, completing a section before moving on. I used less than an ounce of paint to leave two coats on four frames. The thing about Paint that no one until Kurt had explained to me seems to be that success only comes from using less. I's color, not texture. It's finish, not cover. It need be no thicker than a fly's hair to do its job. Much thicker, it seems to fail. We're trying to fool the eye, not smother it.


It's Friday, the end of another remarkably unremarkable week. Three weeks into our upending refurbishing effort, we can't see where we were or where we're headed, we're in-betweening. We're feeling blessed with this daunting challenge. The weeks dragged leading up to starting, and while our effort seems to be dragging us along now, possibility seems to be blooming. This some-days overwhelming effort will serve as my vacation this year. The seven-thirty start and the five-thirty finish, my new routine. I exquisitely ache at the end of each shift. I some days just skip supper. I'm full of experience, discovery, and wonder. I'm even feeling as though I might be mastering Paint! Most of my writing this week described what I'm learning from this work.

I began my writing week cleaning up while clearing up a common misconception about effort with
Cleanering. "Cleanering belongs to that special class of apparently meaningless work, effort that will either make no apparent difference or be shortly erased, but which absolutely must be accomplished."

I next reported on my curious sensation of
Floating through the refurbishing effort. "One works the more mind numbing tasks in a sort of trance where both time and effort hardly register."

I took a break from refurbishing to describe a part of my real job, that part of writing I rarely perform in
Promoting. "Promoting serves as perhaps the best distraction from writing."

Feeling indentured to my aspirations, I complained about the repetition in
Oftening. "I start to understand why the Chinese considered extraordinary times such a curse."

Feeling kind of stupid, I took some solace by acknowledging that I'm not now and very likely never will become a
CompleatIdiot. "Before I'd come to grips with the true nature of it, I'd fruitlessly attempted to avoid any demonstration of my God-given talent."

I bookended the story I started with Promiting (above), with another ending in
Phublishing. "It might be that my writing's more designed for posthumous publication. It might only work in retrospect, in a time where I'm no longer expecting conditions to be met."

I concluded my writing week by celebrating lasts in
TheLastDay. "Today doesn't so much seem very much like the first day of the rest of my life, but more like TheLastDay of some soon-to-be former one."

I find myself engaged in a possible fool's mission. I keep encountering experiences that seem intended to keep me humble: work likely not to last but still essential, effort that numbs more than enlightens, tasks I've never been very good at performing, complaining, my own enduring idiocy, and an endless succession of last days, none of them long-lasting. Whatever I might have long aspired to produce, I produced this, Painting my experience in hopefully thin enough color. Thank you for following along!

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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