Paint my wagon (or porch, or floor, or walls)

Experts weigh in on prep, color, and tools.

With 40 years of experience, Bob Kimberly has a lot of painting facts at his fingertips. — courtesy Bob Kimberly

The Vineyard never experienced “out like a lamb” when March came to a close. But now, with April moving along, the weather truly has grown milder, crocuses are a common sight as are the tips of hyacinths and daffodils, and the daylight just keeps stretching. It’s at this time of year Islanders find themselves moved to spring paint (often after a good round of spring cleaning).

Whether inside their homes or outside them, thoughts about color begin to percolate, even if that color is only white. And the decision is weighed as to whether it will be the homeowner’s hand that scrapes and sands and brushes or that of a hired professional.

Bob Kimberly is one of the premier painters on Martha’s Vineyard. After more than 40 years of working on the Island there’s little he hasn’t encountered in his craft. One aspect of painting he increasingly finds to be a rarity, however, is a homeowner willing to attack a house’s exterior.

“I don’t see a lot of people painting their own houses these days. Certainly not the outside. I guess it’s just too daunting. Sometimes I’ll get a call from someone who says ‘We can do everything else if you can do the high stuff.’ Usually I end up doing it all.”

Mr. Kimberly adds that the Island’s inherent marine humidity plays a large role in what can make it too daunting. Should a homeowner be ready to tackle the effects such humidity can have on exterior painted surfaces, he offers some advice that can be both a precursor to a full exterior paint job or just an inexpensive way to bring new life to old paint work.

“Often people see that the trim on their house isn’t looking good but they’re not sure what they’re seeing,” Mr. Kimberly said. “In most cases what they’re seeing is mildew. The first step in painting a house is to wash it off. Once it’s gone the house can look 90 percent better. We live in a mildew intensive environment — lots of fog and humidity. The only thing I’ve found to remove it efficiently is bleach mixed with water. There are products out there that are ‘natural’ and user friendly, but they just don’t really do it. I’ve tried them. The bleach and water is 10 times faster. It works like magic. Start by just adding a little to the water and add more if it’s not doing the job. It’s a good idea to soak any shingles below the places you’re bleaching because any dripping bleach can discolor them. I apply the mixture with an old brush, working the heavier areas with the bristles. It goes pretty fast, though I know most people would rather use a sprayer or a power washer. Hiring someone to power wash your house can be fairly expensive. Give the bleached areas a rinse when you’re done.”

As to choosing color for a project, Mr. Kimberly emphasizes this can be a complicated matter. “When it comes to color decisions, oh boy,” he continued. “There are painters who refuse to get involved in that aspect at all. It certainly can be a can of worms, so to speak. It’s a funny psychology based on personal associations. We all see color differently. I’ve spent endless hours mixing, matching, and changing colors for people, repainting whole rooms, sometimes three times. The thing is, any color can be nice. It really depends on the whole color scheme of the room. It is very satisfying when it clicks.”

For Amy Upton, an expert in interior decorative painting and color consultation with 20 years of experience, colors are her stock in trade.

“Oftentimes I am brought onto a project simply to consult on color,” Ms. Upton said. “People can save themselves a lot of time and money talking to a professional about their palette. It isn’t easy to visualize the whole space from a tiny paint chip or to imagine how the entire space will come together with all of the relating colors at play. Sometimes I am called in only to find that the room has come down with a case of the spots, 20 little splashes of color on a big white wall. It can make a person crazy and I am happy to help avoid this scenario. Often a client knows what colors they like: it is evident in the clothes they wear or the dishes they choose. Sometimes a favorite rug or piece of furniture can be the beginning of the process. I can be of assistance in helping them to realize their preferred palette and translate it into painted surfaces.”

On the subject of paint composition, Mr. Kimberly acknowledges latex’s predominance.

“It’s pretty much a latex world now as many of the ingredients of the oil paints have been removed for environmental reasons. The paint stores are dropping most of the oil paints.”

John Montes, owner of Edgartown Hardware Inc., now in its 68th year, concurred from the counter of his new Vineyard Haven outlet.

“Oil paint is still around, but in limited quantities. Oil primers are exempt from the rules because they are needed for proper color hold out, especially on exterior paint. Oil paint is available in quarts only except for certain industrial applications.”

Ms. Upton added that the decline of oil-based paints is due to government initiative.

“The government is phasing out High VOC products, which are most of the oil-based ones, for good reason. They are terrible for the environment, and the people who handle them, or are exposed to them in their homes. I prefer Benjamin Moore Paint. I know that they are putting their best and brightest into coming up with products that comply with the new laws. I have had great success with their product ‘Advance’ (waterborne alkyd paint) in a variety of applications.”

Mr. Kimberly furthered the dangers of reformulating old-style paints. “After the formulas were changed to comply with the new codes, the products [oil paints and stains] didn’t work as well. Cuprinol, the oil-based product used to treat decks, was drastically altered to a silicone-based liquid which was terrible, and now it’s been discontinued. Probably the best paint for the house was the old lead paint. It was literally a coat of armor. Of course it was terrible for people and everything else. The latex paints on the other hand have been steadily improving. They dry quickly and there’s no need for toxic solvents. With oil paint you’d need several hours of good drying time before the fog rolled in or the dew set, otherwise the paint would ‘flash’ — lose its sheen. I do, however, still use oil-based primers on occasion. The one problem with latex primers is that they won’t block stains. Pine boards have knots that will bleed through paint unless they are sealed. The only product I’ve ever found to block this is the shellac-based paint called B.I.N. by Zinser.”

Regardless of whether they’re dispensing advice to do-it-yourselfers or commenting on their own choice of implements, Ms. Upton, Mr. Kimberly, and Mr. Montes consider a superlative brush a decisive factor in one’s success with a painting project.

“The most important thing when doing any painting but especially windows,” advised Mr. Kimberly, “is to invest in a good brush. The temptation is to buy a cheap brush, but a good brush — and it might be $15 compared to $5 — is a pleasure to use. The economy brushes can be frustrating. The bristles are coarse and when dipped in the can they pick up a blob of paint which is really difficult to control whereas the bristles of a good brush are finer toward the end, actually ‘flagged’ or split, making it easier to control the amount of paint on the brush. The tip will be nicely tapered and straight, which will greatly improve your accuracy.”

“As with anything, choice of tools is critical,” said Ms. Upton. “I use a variety of brushes depending on the project at hand. Choosing my tools carefully is part of the process.”

“It makes a big, big difference on the finished look, and especially trim,” said Mr. Montes. “A good brush allows the paint to flow properly, but that needs to be combined with the proper technique.”