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Monday, Sep 09 2013 02:01 PM

HERB BENHAM: Paint on canvas? Not always a good thing

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

I've done dumb. I'm an expert in dumb, so this time I bought canvas drop cloths instead of the flimsy cheap plastic sheets that jumble, migrate and end up a mess.

I'm painting the upstairs. House, apartment -- you know how it goes. You redo the floors and everything else looks 100 years old and like it's been in a soot fire.

The walls were faded and the woodwork dinged as if somebody had whirly-birded a BB gun.

"I can do this," I said.

Sue shook her head quietly because she's heard it before. After 34 years of marriage what can she do but shake her head and think, why me.

I bought $40 worth of canvas tarps. No paint on the floor for me. No way.

No way? Yes way. Paint, like water, will find a way to spoil your modest dreams.

You can spread two tarps side by side and if there is a crack between them, a shift in the tectonic plates because you've moved them, walked on them or looked at them, paint will find that crack, and your new golden floor will look like the night sky speckled with stars and planets.

Call me naive. I heard the word canvas and figured if paint landed on it, that's where it stayed. An impervious surface. A barrier.

Maybe, but when I lifted the canvas off the floor, I discovered that the paint I had spilled had soaked through to the wood. This was canvas. Not silken underwear material. I thought canvas was Latin for "paint does not penetrate."

We opted for a cinnamon color for two of the rooms. One room had the dark-as-black green, and the landing was a light blue. Sue chose the cinnamon color from a glossy photo in a chichi magazine, and I guess I gave my approval.

"Guess," because when the color went wrong, I was looking for somebody to blame. After cutting in the cinnamon-colored paint with a brush, I rolled the four walls.

"It seems dark," Sue said.

Yes, it does seem dark. "It's pretty dark," she said.

Yes, it does seem pretty dark, Ms. Pick It Out of a Chichi Magazine. But when you're painting, it's a one-way street and I wasn't ready to do a U-turn and return to Go.

I did what any painter would do in my situation. I blamed, I sulked and then I slung the four gallons of paint into the car and returned to Sequoia and Jason.

"Please lighten it up," I said.

He did. It took four squirts of white to turn the paint from burnt cinnamon to cinnamon sugar. The new color looked pretty enough to put on toast.

After re-rolling the walls, it was time for the semi-gloss enamel and the woodwork. This occasion calls for a new brush: a Purdy, which I pronounce purty. This is like a woman buying a new outfit when invited by the future queen to see the royal baby.

New brush or not, oil- based paint travels. I got paint on my office chair in another room, my best jean shorts, which I wasn't wearing, my Bose Wave, my iPhone, my neck, my ankle and behind my ear.

I cleaned off most of it, but I like leaving some paint on my body so people know what I've been doing. "He's been painting. I better not mess with him. The fumes have made him slightly unstable."

Good brush, good paint, and no deadline (painting does not respond to hurry, hubris or haranguing), painting can be a joy.

When embraced, the soft bristly sound of the brush, the swish of the roller, the gallon cans, clean rags, wooden stir sticks can create a world that welcomes pilgrims.

For sweetness, it may be up there with cinnamon sugar.

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