Painting the Flats: The First Step of the Finished Look

Your piece is repaired, primed, sanded, and wiped clean. Now you get to give it the look you envisioned. Though details are attention grabbers, it’s quality backgrounds and crisp lines that keep you looking. These are the first areas to paint.

Take a few moments to consider the shape of the piece: where Inside meets Outside, Flat meets Edge, Centre meets Border, Straight meets Curve, Inner Angle meets Outer Angle. Then choose the order in which you’ll work,  keeping the following goals in mind:

web3-backPaint simple large expanses first.web4 insidePaint interiors first. recessed-area-webPaint recessed areas and walls first, then outer contrasting borders.priming completedPaint awkward spots first.   latch afterPaint the expanse before the raised detail.

Rule of Thumb: You don’t want to reach across freshly painted areas to get to others. The paint may be dry but it’s still soft, scratches readily, and picks up debris easily. Therefore the top surface is almost always done last.

finished primer brushChoose your paintbrush. I have always favoured an angled brush because it works so well in corners. But you may prefer a simple straight edge. I also prefer a small brush – rarely larger than an inch – because it has smaller strokes and less paint on the brush. I am unusual in this regard so feel free to choose larger.

02-left-side-painted-webPosition your piece at a comfortable height with the working surface flat in front of you.

Rule of thumb: BACK – SIDES – FRONT – TOP

When one colour is to meet another, carefully consider which colour goes on first. Generally speaking, paint lighter colours first and try to have colours meet at defined edges

Get started!

A quick aside on paint brush strokes. I don’t understand why they are so often seen as evil. If properly applied, faint brush lines are the mark of a patient painter who takes pride in technique. But these lines must be even and straight, without changes in direction, without ridges, without gaps, without blobs and drips.

Fill your brush 1/3 to 1/2 full only… and remember these pointers:


Start where it’s dry and lift your brush where it’s wet. Putting your brush down in a wet area produces a blob of paint that needs smoothing out, plus the mark of the brush where it contacts the paint.

Move in one direction only. No criss-crossing. No angles. No curves or circles. No happy faces! All of these lay paint down unevenly which a second coat cannot erase.

Thinner is better. It smooths out better. It layers better. It reduces blobs and drips.

Generally move from the centre to the edge, with the brush moving over the edge into space.

Regularly check for drips and lightly brush them away. Pay attention to the edges. It’s easy to forget when you’re working away on the top… but if you don’t catch them now, you’ll be sanding them down later.

In recessed areas, paint the base first, then the walls. Start at the edges and move to the centre, then go back to the edges and up the walls to prevent pooling. Pay particular attention in the corners using very little paint on your brush.

When you’re done, let it dry overnight and examine it. You may want to run a very light fine sandpaper over the surface to remove tiny imperfections in smoothness.

No matter what the paint can says, you will ALWAYS need a second coat. The colour will be brighter and more consistent. And despite your near-perfect initial application, there will always be spots that you missed.

Move on to the next area and watch your masterpiece develop before your eyes!


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