Distemper Painting Technique: Walls and Ceilings
The ideal arrangement before commencing the work of preparing for distempering is to clear the room of furniture. If this cannot be done the furniture should be stacked in the centre of the room and the pile arranged so that easy access may be gained to every part of the ceiling. The stack of furniture should be covered with an old sheet or with several thicknesses of newspaper pinned together. Incidentally, before tackling any interior decorating work it is a good plan to have the chimney in the room swept.
It is not necessary to take up linoleum before distempering but, of course, any carpets or rugs should be rolled up and stored outside the room. The best way to redecorate a ceiling with distemper or emulsion paint is to commence at the end opposite the main source of light and work towards the light. The ceiling should be divided into easily manageable areas and this is especially necessary when distempering ceilings to avoid ‘shuts’. A shut is a dark patch of concentrated colour which is caused by overlapping edges of drying patches of distemper and shuts may be avoided by always keeping a wet edge to the work. This simply means that the handyman should work across the ceiling, dealing with small areas at a time and returning to the side of commencing after each narrow section is completed.
The work of distempering a ceiling should be done without interruption. In the case of emulsion paint, however, the job may be left partly finished until the next day and no shuts will be visible on overlapping parts of the work.
Another point about working methodically in easy manageable sections is that some ceilings are ‘hot’ or ‘fierce’, which means that the lime content of the plaster is such that these ceilings greedily absorb the new distemper and, however quickly the job is done, it may be found difficult to avoid the formation of shuts or streaky brush-marks. It should only be necessary to apply one coat of distemper to a ceiling, unless there is a very great difference in the colour of the new distemper and the old surface. In the case of hot or fierce ceilings, or where drastic changes of colour are being made, the handyman should apply two coats of distemper instead of one. This is also necessary if large patches of the ceiling have been repaired with new plaster. The first coat of distemper may be thinner than the second one. To overcome the properties of hot and fierce ceilings the first coat of distemper may be mixed with size. This mixture of distemper and size is known professionally as ‘Claircolle’.
The distemper or emulsion paint may be applied to a ceiling with a brush or roller. When using the brush it is advisable not to lay off in any fixed direction and the distemper should be applied with criss-cross strokes of the brush in varying directions. With the use of a roller for applying distemper or emulsion paint, the final strokes of the roller should run in the longest direction of the surface. The amateur decorator will find it difficult to cut in neatly at edges and corners and it is advisable to use a small paint-brush with either distemper or emulsion paint for neatening edges. The manufacturers of paint-rollers suggest that edges and corners are best left until the main part of the job has been completed; in actual practice it is best either to touch-in edges and corners with a paint-brush before the main surface is dealt with, or during the work. The choice of application — roller or brush for distemper or emulsion paint — rests with the individual worker. Some handymen prefer the use of a brush to a roller and vice versa. There is, however, one factor of difference between these two tools which should be considered. A roller, if properly used, very rarely drops splashes of paint or distemper and there is littleto be done. A large paint-brush or distemper brush does tend to spray splashes and spots which may necessitate more cleaning up than after a roller job.
However, in the case of using a distemper brush, the splashing may be considerably cut down by tying a piece of string across the hand-brackets of the bucket. After this is done the brush should be dipped into the distemper and drawn across the string to remove any surplus before using the brush on the ceiling. Splashes may also be cut down by wearing a sponge bracelet of the type previously described. The good handyman should make a point of cleaning up all splashes and spots immediately after the ceiling has been completed; this may be done with an old rag dampened with water. If spots of distemper or emulsion paint are left to harden they will be found extremely difficult to remove. If the ceiling has a frieze — which is the part of the wall between the picture rail and the ceiling — this should be done after the ceiling has been finished.
The work of distempering or painting the ceiling may be done from a single pair of steps. Alternatively a simple scaffold may be rigged up, using two pairs of steps with a stout plank resting on the treads of the steps. If a second pair of steps is not available one end of the plank may be supported on a table. The work of distempering ceiling or walls is best done with all windows and doors closed; the windows should be opened after the job has been completed to help the work of drying out.
Walls are coated with distemper or emulsion paint in very much the same way as ceilings, described above. The work of applying the distemper or emulsion paint should be commenced at the top of the wall, working down to the bottom. When using distemper it is advisable to divide each wall into easily manageable sections so that there is a wet edge on each section when the next section is commenced. If the wall is higher than it is long it will be found advisable to work in narrow strips across the wall, commencing at the top and finishing at the skirting-board. If, however, the wall is longer than it is high, it will be found best to work downwards in narrow strips from one corner to another.
When distemper is applied to walls which include woodwork that has been newly painted, it may be found difficult to coat any smears of paint at the edges of skirting-boards and windows and door-frames. What happens is that the distemper will not easily lay on the oily surface of the paint and it runs together into small bubbles. This condition is known as ‘sissing’, which may be overcome by coating the edges in the usual way with distemper and then rubbing the distemper in over the paint with the finger-tips.
After this, the brush should again be drawn over the surface. Any spots on painted woodwork and on floors should be cleaned off immediately after each separate wall surface is completed. As in the case of ceilings that dry too rapidly, fierce wall surfaces may be gentled by a preliminary coat of Claircolle, as described above. With ceilings, one coat of distemper should be sufficient especially if this is preceded by a coat of Claircolle, however, when distempering walls, it is advisable to apply two coats. When using emulsion paint two coats are always necessary. The wall or ceiling surfaces should not be sized or coated with Claircolle before applying emulsion paint. The first coat of emulsion paint is thinned with water usually to the extent of 50 per cent and thinning instructions for first or primary coats of emulsion paint are printed in container instructions.
Although the application of a coat of Claircolle will slow the drying of coats of distemper, the complete beginner to the job of distempering may still find it difficult to work with sufficient speed to avoid brush drag at drying out edges of sections of the work. If this is so, brush marks in the finished job may be avoided by using a stippling brush. The stippling brush is dabbed over the surface as each section of the wall is distempered and has the effect of tapping out ridges formed by drying brush-marks. A stippling brush may also be used to obtain a two-tone dappled colour finish. This finish is gained by applying one coat of distemper in a light colour, following with a second coat in a darker contrasting colour and dabbing the surface, as each section is completed, with a stippling brush. The stipple pattern may be varied by using the end of a roll of newspaper instead of the stippling brush, or a sponge, or piece of cloth, may be used to obtain a variety of pattern effects.
In addition to coating walls with emulsion paint, they may also be decorated with oil-paint of the kind used for painting woodwork. The surface should be prepared in the usual way by cleaning and washing down, removing as much of the distemper as possible, and cleaning off old wallpaper. Cracks and holes should be repaired as explained. Wall and ceiling surfaces are then sized with size and it is usually necessary to apply two undercoats of flat paint before applying the finishing coat. The oil-paint may be applied with a brush or a roller and the paint should be laid off in the case of a ceiling in strokes towards the end at the main source of light. In the case of walls, the finishing brush-strokes or roller directions should be up and down the walls — not across.
Cleaning Tools and Equipment:
The tool used for distempering or coating walls with emulsion paint or oil-paint should be cleaned in immediately the job is finished; the cleaning of paint-brushes has been previously described. Distemper brushes should be washed out in running water. To remove every particle of colour they should then be shaken dry, the metal band wiped over with an oily rag and the brush hung up from a loop of string threaded through a hole drilled in the handle. Instructions for cleaning paint-rollers may vary between different makes but usually these are washed and dried. Rollers used for the application of oil-paint should be cleaned by removing as much of the paint as possible by rotating the roller on a bed of newspaper, then washing the covering with turps substitute followed by washing with hot soapy water before drying.
All metal tools should be cleaned by burnishing them with soft wire wool and wiping them with an oily cloth. The paint-tray used with the paint-roller should be wiped clean with a turpsy rag. The cleaning of a paint-tray may be simplified by lining the tray with greaseproof paper before filling it with paint. Tools should be cleaned as soon as possible after the job has been done. This is especially necessary with tools used for applying emulsion paints, which are quick-drying.