August 22, 2019

En Plein Air

En Plein Air 
By John R. Greenwood 

"En Plein Air" 

Now that I'm retired I thought I would join the ranks of my artist friends by taking a brushstroke at Plein Air painting— with a twist. Instead of a palette and a French easel, my version includes a step ladder and a 3" paintbrush. Instead of buying my paint in little tubes at AC Moore, I do gallons of Benjamin Moore. I won't make a nickel selling my landscapes, but I might save a buck or two with hard work and rolled up sleeves. In between August's scattered showers and lightning strikes, I decided to paint my 1950ish house. It's a one-story ranch which reduces the impact of my extension ladder phobia. The siding is aluminum and paint-peel-free. The bad news is, after decades of UV-ray exposure, my once bright white house has faded to a soft grey. The good news is, my paint scraper and wire brush can be replaced with soap and water—and a much a lower supply of elbow grease. 

I got a quote from an experienced house painter last summer. The price was fair, and I had total confidence he would have done a professional job. The decision to paint my own house was testosterone-based. What little of it remained in my creaky-boned body, teased me into wanting to man-up and do it myself. There's something about the act of painting your own house that appeals to me. The "Tim The Tool Man" syndrome was still floating around in my grey matter, and all it took was someone to suggest that I might want to hand the job over to a younger age group that tipped the scale. 

There was one more reason for my decision. The thought of painting my own house reminded me of the time my father painted our family home back in 1968. That house was a more significant challenge than mine. It was a vintage two-story farmhouse covered in dry wood shingles. Maybe twelve out of twelve-hundred of those shingles didn't require the attention of a scraper and wire brush. The house was so old and weathered you would have sworn we lived on Cape Cod. 1968 was my first summer as a teenager, so I wasn't much help. Back then, I had a tendency to vanish like Houdini, appearing only at dinner—and even that was sporadic. It took my father an entire summer to paint that house. When he was done that barn-red house shone like a bright, fresh monument to self-reliance. He was so proud of the job he'd done he talked about it for years—with a little added to the story. Less than a week after my father finished painting the house, I had a group of my friends over for a game of ball tag. Ball tag was a pre-video game era pastime that satisfied all aspects of growing up happy and healthy. As if ball tag wasn't exciting enough, I, in my infinite wisdom decided to crank up the volume by grabbing a half-filled pail of water that sat next to the house and throw it on my friends as they came running around the corner of the freshly painted home. My plan worked to perfection. The water doused its targets with precision, and the result was a lawn covered with teen-fresh boys rolling around, gripping their sides in laughter. Those laughs were muted for this author the next day when my father got home from work. It was then he informed me that the pail of water I used to spray my friends and the side of the house, was the same pail he used to change the oil in his International Scout. It was not pure water, it was an oily mix of water and Quaker State 10W40. If I have to explain what that concoction did to dad's fresh paint, you probably won't understand how close to death I came that day. 40 years later, dad was still sharing that story with anyone who even mentioned the subject of house painting. 

In my late teens, I was a razor's edge more responsible when I helped my grandfather paint a rental house he owned and was planning to sell. My grandfather also took great pride in house painting. He treated his tools with care. I think that gene may have jumped out of my pool. Thank goodness it showed back up in both my sons. My grandfather taught me a lot about painting and home maintenance in general. To this day I scoot down Ludlow St. when I can just to bring that summer paint job back in to focus.

My hopes of becoming a fine-artist fade quickly every time I touch a piece of indoor trim with a shaky paintbrush. In fact, one summer, when I was sixteen, my father's boss asked if I wanted to paint the building where he worked. It was a big job with two-story scaffolding and planking. That was the summer my father tagged me with the nickname "Shmear."  As I "Shmeared" away on the back of my own house today, I couldn't help but channel my father and grandfather in hopes they might keep an eye on how I was doing. Hopefully, they'll be proud of the finished job? 

If nothing else, it paints a nice picture. 

RIP Bob Ross