The Painter’s Clock
A few years back, my Dad received the “Painter’s Clock” pictured below as a gift. Instead of numbers to mark the 12 hour positions, words line the face of the clock: going counterclockwise, “bids” is at the 12-spot, and “cleanup” occupies the eleven through seven hours. “Paint” is at the six-spot, and “prep” completes the circle on hours five through one. And while this clock was probably given as a joke—perhaps to tease that in a day we do very little painting—the right side of the clock face serves as an poignant reminder to our industry, and to people seeking painting services.
It’s true: not much of a painter’s time is spent applying paint or finish to a surface. Much of our time is actually spent preparing surfaces for finish—caulking, staining, filling nail holes, patching walls, fixing drywall seams, sanding, and vacuuming, just to name a few things that we have to do to ready a substrate.
To a painter early in their career, actually applying finish—be it enamel, lacquer, or varnish—can be the carrot constantly dangling in front of their face as they go about prep work. Once all the surface prep is finished, they can finally have the reward of beautifying the surface. Of course, it can be very tempting for a painter to want to rush through prep to get to finish work, because therein lies the glory. Or so they think. But, a more nuanced, more experienced painter will view the prep work as its own end, a task to be completed both for its own sake, and because of the necessity to create a surface that will properly bond with new finish. And one thing an experienced painter knows is that this prep work takes loads of time. Failure to take the proper time to prep can render the beauty of a new finish useless.
We saw this principle on a job this past week, when we brought a client’s bookshelves into our shop for a repaint. On the surface, these shelves seemed just fine. But, early into sanding them, we noticed a lack of adequate prep work from the last paint job—whether it was done by a previous homeowner or someone inexperienced in the trade, we are not sure. The newer white paint had not bonded to the previous green paint below it.
As seen in the video below (which is formatted abnormally large and elongated–something I’ll have to hone as this blog evolves), I was able to take a dull razor blade and skim the previous coating off with little effort, revealing a glossy green paint underneath. Once we sanded up the green paint, it powdered up easily and left a fantastic dull surface, making it easy to determine it was oil-based. Latex paint can go over oil-based paint just fine, but the oil-based paint must be sanded to a dull finish for the latex adhere. Failure to properly prep the surface doesn’t give the new coating anything to bond with.
For homeowners and general contractors seeking bids for painting, the “Painter’s Clock” is an important metaphor, too. If you solicit multiple bids, and there’s a significant difference in pricing, you may wish to ask each painting company what all needs to be done to properly prepare your new or existing surfaces for paint. Odds are, if contractors’ bids come in cheap, they will look to save time on the prep work and skimp on the quality of materials they use, and the results may be disappointing as compared to a contractor who, while costing more, will be allocating more time to properly ready surfaces for finish. What’s more, in certain occupied residential settings, if a painting contractor does not account for the time needed to protect areas outside the scope of work (wallpaper a client is keeping, furniture, entryways to other rooms, floors leading in and out of the work area, etc.), they may be more likely to do more harm than good.
In the end, for painter, homeowner, and general contractor alike, the painter’s clock is right: it’s all about time.