By Ian Stokes of Nouveau Decor
Anyone can paint! A reasonable assumption but in reality it is all about the standard of the final finish, the all-important result, ideally within an acceptable timescale. That is why people engage a professional – a superior appearance, on budget and on time.
As a professional decorator, most customers give me a brief of what they want from the start. From then on, if the price is accepted and we have agreed the order of work, access and samples, my customers usually leave me to get on with it. Most customers lead busy lives and do not have the time to DIY, which is why I am there in the first place. So once we have agreed everything they do not want countless questions about the job – they just want to see progress being made.
One of the most regular comments I get is how quickly we get on compared to the time it would take them to do it themselves. They do not understand how we do it. The simple answer is years of experience. I do not deny that a good DIY-er can turn out an acceptably good job but how long does it actually take?
Although spray finishing is becoming increasingly popular I personally prefer the brush and roller. This gives me a more authentic finish for the type of paints and work we do. I use good quality brushes, for the cost of one brush you could probably buy a box of DIY brushes! I use the standard roller finish for broad areas of ceilings and walls, but beware…the quality of the roller sleeve and the thickness of pile needs to be right to produce great results. But in this piece I am concentrating on brush finishing, mainly for woodwork, but depending on the type of paint used it can also apply to walls. Obviously rollers are more commonly used because they speed up the process and you have to match the techniques to the needs of the job.
In my opinion, if you are looking for authenticity in the finish on a period property then the brush is always the answer. And with many natural paints, I have found that the brush gives a much nicer finish than the stipple of the roller.
Starting from the beginning, what is needed to complete that essential paint finish? A silky texture of even sheen with no highlighted brush marks, runs or sags would be my answer. Accentuated with straight and sharp edges of cutting in between colours.
This is only truly achievable using quality equipment, especially brushes and having good practical brush skills…which I learned as an apprentice and have honed over many years since. So if you are doing it yourself, don’t skimp on the tools and research as much as you can before you start.
Starting with the brushes, there are countless professional brushes on the market manufactured for use in either water or solvent based paints. Or specifically for use in each particular type of paint in some case. Water based paints use a brush of synthetic filaments and oil based paints need pure natural bristles. There is no hard and fast rule of which to use nowadays as everyone has different preferences for different paints. Selection is down to the individual. Personally I have so many different brands of brushes in the van and most get used on a regular basis but some finish up in the waste bin not because they wear down but because they cannot keep the shape or become ruined by today’s synthetic paints, however well you clean them.
A good quality brush is the vital tool for a painter – an extension of the hand – and its use is so personalised, shaped by individual preferences. When I started out it was common practice to start a brush in primer to wear it down, then into undercoat to knock it into ‘my’ shape. After its time in undercoat it would be ideally shaped and correct in bristle length to use in finish (gloss) coats to achieve a fine finish. They become a personal tool and once broken into shape you become reluctant to let anyone else use them. Although this still applies, natural filament brushes take a long time to wear down so you may find them shaped to replicate this wearing. However, the above is still relevant when using bristle brushes in oil paint. And with using Linseed paint on a regular basis I still use pure bristle and have a selection of nicely worn brushes just perfect for the job.
Many consumers are quite happy for the job to be carried out without any understanding of what and why materials are being used but place trust in the decorator’s professional selection. While others like to know the reasons for everything you do and use. So in short this is the practise for a long lasting job. Of course, provided it is applied in the correct conditions.
After carrying out the proper preparation techniques then selection of materials should follow with the application of the correct paint system. Firstly, the foundation coat (the primer), intermediate coats (undercoats) and finally the finish coats.
The primer – correctly selected and appropriate for the surface. It helps to understand the characteristics of the surface to which it is being applied to because primer works by either of two types of adhesion. Which are mechanical adhesion where it soaks in to a porous surface and specific adhesion which sticks to a non-porous surface so overall primers promote adhesion and satisfies porosity of absorbent surfaces – in other words stops successive coats from soaking in, inhibit corrosion, and prevent stains for bleeding through. Overall primer provides the foundation for subsequent coats to key to.
The undercoat – why apply an undercoat? Basically undercoats provide bulk, building up the paint thickness; it is heavy with pigment providing consistent even coverage of colour and keys to the primer coat. The flat surface provides a key for following finish coats.
The finish coat – protects the substrate it’s applied to. Gives protection from environmental elements and provides durability and decoration, the bit the customer loves. Most paints arrive from the manufacturer ready for application in perfect conditions. As we know perfect conditions hardly ever exist. With many variables of temperature, weather conditions changeable interior situations the list goes on. To overcome any difficulties the paint may need to be adapted to such conditions to ensure brush-ability, viscosity and suitable drying times. So it may be needed to add to the list of materials, driers, thinners, oils.
For a couple of years I spent time painting narrowboats, all by brush using enamel paints. Looking back this was a period of invaluable experience to enhance brush skills. The variable temperature of steel during the changeable conditions of our climate could be challenging at times and the smooth surfaces of a high gloss show every imperfection in application. Whatever you paint as a professional you develop transferable skills that relate to sequential types of work. The basics are the same, good cutting in an even coat that’s worked out well to give that even level thickness of film. And finally laid off to reduce brush marks.
Having an understanding of surfaces, and the material’s characteristics with the ability of not only identifying faults but knowing the causes, prevention and being able to rectify them are qualities of a good tradesman. Along with patience to focus on tireless preparation and the concentration to achieve the final result. You need to have a certain amount of satisfaction in the job to gain the final finish, and positive comments received at the end make it seem worthwhile.
Ian Stokes started out as an indentured apprentice with a local authority, where he spent eleven years as a direct labour painter and decorator working on all sorts of projects. He then moved on to a local authority for ten years in a similar role before setting up on his own in search of new challenges.
Along the way, Ian started lecturing in painting and decorating, gaining a teaching qualification, and dedicated a lot of time to learning about sustainable, natural and traditional paints. As you will see from his articles, he is passionate about natural restoration and a true master craftsman.