Paint Samples
Credit: From stock.xchng uploaded by rbanlane on July 6, 2006

You could say that I was born to renovate. Well, that is to say my parents are the only people I know who cut short their honeymoon so my mother could come back and wallpaper their house. However, when I started doing painting jobs to pay my way through college, I was pretty useless.

For example, one day my Dad told me to paint the outside of the house, and then walked off.  So I did. He came back and asked why it was so dull. Well, he hadn’t told me I needed to wash down the house first!  Similarly, how was I meant to know that you should sand first or check for drips as I went along? No one told me this!

Now I know that a lot of people are in a very similar boat as me. We know that we can do it perfectly well if someone would just lay it out straight exactly what we have to do!

So, here is my step-by-step guide to the process of painting a room.

Before You Start

Painting rule one: preparation is everything.  You might spend twice as long preparing than actually painting. If you skip the preparation stage, the final product will be nowhere near as good.

Step 1: Preparing the Space.

Painting your room might take a few days, so you’ll have to move out of it for a while. Ideally, you would move all the furniture out of the room, but if that’s not possible, move the furniture away from the wall and into the middle of the room. Leave about three feet of clearway around the wall (you will need to be able to stand a ladder at most points).

Then cover all your furniture in old sheets, or plastic drop sheets from the hardware store – you can pick them up for a few dollars. You will also need to cover exposed carpet. Some painters just have a single sheet, which they move around with them as they paint, but I recommend just having the entire exposed floor covered to prevent the possibility of small drips (or paint on your shoes!)

Now is also a great time to go around and remove power point or light switch covers. The modern type should just flick off.  Make sure you store these somewhere you will remember so you can put them back on when the job is finished and save yourself a lot of embarrassment and possible divorce.

Finally, make sure you have ventilation, but try to minimize the number of insects that will fly in. For unknown reasons, they appear to be supernaturally attracted to wet paint, which is bad for you and also pretty bad for them too.

Step 2: Preparing the Walls.

Before painting there are four things you need to do to prepare the walls.
First, this is the time to pull out all the extra picture hooks and apply small amounts of ready-made plaster to fill in the gaps or cover over small cracks. With ready-made plaster, just take a small amount on your finger and dab it over the hole. Try to smooth it off with your finger so the plaster blends into the wall as much as possible.

Second, you need to go over the plastered parts and any rough parts thoroughly with a sander, and the rest of the walls lightly just to smooth it all out and make the fresh paint take better. I generally just use a hand sander, and sometimes just a block of wood with the sand-paper sheet wrapped around it. If you have an electric sander you can use this but make sure you don’t press too hard. Also, remember that you will be breathing in whatever you sand off, so remember to wear a mask.

Third, you need to wash the walls with something like sugar soap which will clean them thoroughly. You also need to make sure you are getting rid of all the dust from the sanding, because the new coat will attract it and it will dull your finish.

Finally, I highly recommend the use of masking tape. My father used to scoff at me when I did this, but has now started doing it himself. Roll out the masking tape around the edge of all your skirting boards and windows. It can help you get a much finer line and protect against accidental splashes. But keep in mind that you shouldn’t leave the masking tape on for more than 24 hours or else it can be much harder to get off and can rip off bits of the paint.

Step 3: Choosing the Paint.

Yes, we finally get to the painting stage!

Well, almost. First you need to work out what you are painting over, particularly if the previous paint was oil-based or water-based (latex) paint. A simple test for doing this is to rub a small area with a cotton ball soaked in denatured alcohol, acetone based nail polish remover, or ammonia. If the paint starts to rub off, or becomes slightly sticky to touch, it is latex paint.  Otherwise, it’s oil based, which is most likely if the last paint job was in the 1970s or earlier.

Now, if you’re a first time painter, for your new coat I recommend using latex/water based paints for a number of reasons:

1.    It is MUCH easier to clean the brushes; they can be washed with water and soap. Oil-based paints require turpentine to wash it off.

2.    It is easier to paint with if you don’t know what you are doing. Oil-based paints are slightly thicker and can start to dry while you are working. If you have experience with oil painting, you will probably have a much better understand of how it works. It is possible to get better finishes with oil based paint, but only if you know what you are doing. So, if in doubt, use latex.

Now, if your previous paint coat was latex as well, there should be no problems. However, if you are changing from oil to latex or latex to oil, there can be bonding problems between the two. In this situation, for the best possible finish, it is worth using a coat of primer to help the layers bond.

I also recommend using a primer or undercoat if you are going from a darker shade to a lighter shade. It will mean you use less of the more expensive topcoat to get an even colour.

Step 4: Borders and Plaster Painting

The painting section is usually divided into parts you can roller and parts you need to use a paintbrush for. I find it easier to start with the paintbrush and then move to the roller.
The sections of the wall that have plaster on them will soak up paint differently to the rest of the wall. That is why you sometimes see uneven patches on an otherwise uniform wall. If you have plastered over holes, you need to pre-coat these sections (with an extra coat of primer or of top-coat, depending what you doing for the rest of the wall). This is easiest with a brush, as it will transfer more paint and is better for small patches.

Then you need to paint along all the edges, top and bottom, because the roller will not be able to reach all the way. You only need at most about a hand’s width of paint. Getting it right up to the edge, but not onto the next surface (ceiling, skirting board or window frame) is an art. You can buy special brushes and funny gadgets to do it, but I haven’t had much success with these. You just need to go slowly and practice getting a straight line as close to the edge as possible. As my father always says, ‘practice makes perfect’… though that seems to only apply to me.

Also, just keep an eye out for drips running down the wall. Yes, you will paint over it later, but it will have dried by then and make a lump in your finish. I try to keep a damp rag with me just to get them as soon as possible.  It is also easiest to decant some of the paint into a small ice-cream bucket, so you aren’t trying to carry a paint tin around with you at the top of a ladder. You see the comic potential there, don’t you?

Step 5: Rollering

Now it is time to do the large remaining areas of the wall with a roller. Unless you are very meticulous in your cleaning, it is usually best to get a new roller head for each new job, as cracked, dry paint ruins the finish. If you have access to used rollers, keep the roller but buy a new head.

Rollering is simple, and rather fun. Things to keep in mind while doing it – be careful around the edges as you can still get overzealous and accidentally hit the roof or skirting board. Also, watch out for drips, and try not to have too much paint on your roller, as it will splatter as your roll. Finally, try to keep rolling in different directions (rather than straight up and down), as sometimes the roller doesn’t pick up paint evenly and with light colours you won’t see until it has dried that there are thinner or unpainted bits.

The number of coats and the length of time between coats will depend on your project and the brand and type of paint you are using. Just one tip, try not to paint when it is cold, as under certain temperatures the paint just won’t dry. So make sure you read the instructions carefully!

Step 6: Washing Brushes

If you are just pausing for lunch, then simply cover the container you are using, including the brush, with plastic wrap. If it is oil-based, and you are leaving it for a bit longer, you can put the paintbrushes in water. This won’t wash off the paint, but will stop it from drying out. Just make sure you shake out all of the water from the brush before you start painting again.

It’s a good practice to wash your brushes every night, even if you are continuing the next day. Once paint dries onto a brush, it is really difficult to get it out, and eventually ruins the brush.

For latex paints, wash them thoroughly under water, using soap to help clean the bristles. Make sure you get all the paint from in between the bristles. There will also be some on your handle that you can’t get off – don’t worry about it too much.

Rollers are the same, but it’s easiest to take them outside and spray them with a hose. If you angle it all correctly, the spray from the hose will rotate the brush so it basically cleans itself. Though, beware the generous spray of wet paint!

A final word:

Here are some personal tips I’ve learn over the years. Paint, especially oil paint, does not come off your hands as easily as you might think. So either wear gloves (which you will need to change pretty often) or massage olive oil into your hands before you start. This will help to stop the paint sticking to your dry skin.

Also, cover your hair, unless you want everyone to think you are going grey. If you are painting a ceiling, or even just doing the borders from a ladder, somehow it always ends up in your hair. (Even our cat has been known to become a little bit whiter around painting time!)

So those are my tips. I hope they have been helpful. There are a lot of resources online, and I’ve always found the staff in hardware stores to be very helpful.

Please leave comments if there is anything further you would like to know about painting, or any other renovation tips you would like covered, and I’ll see what I can do.