Monday, September 30, 2013

Using a Mid-range Finish: A DIY for Mark's Kitchen

When did "being in the middle" become a bad thing?
Hey, it isn't so tough Jan.
 Every eldest (me) and baby (my sister)will tell you that.
I would ask our middle sibling what he thinks but I can't remember his name right now.

In finishing work, the middle is usually where we need to be. Remember, our work is often used to bring together colors already in a room like wood, granite, textiles, and paint colors.  Center is the safest place.
I recently had a nice conversation with a Finishing Acts reader about his kitchen project and it is the perfect example of using a mid-range finish to complete a room.  Like many homes now, Mark's Kitchen is part of an open floor plan which presents a challenge in transitioning from one room to another.  Mark and his wife Sheila did a great job transforming their cabinets from white to a rich dark brown with red tones. They also upgraded their countertops to this:
The backsplash and floor tile are both tumbled marble looks toward the lighter end of the spectrum.

The adjoining walls are painted in a neutral beige color, again leaning more to the lighter side.

Now for the common dilemma. What will balance the darkest element-in this case the cabinet-with the lighter stone, counter, and paint color in the kitchen?
Using the lighter paint color is a flat contrast to the cabinets.
The couple tried a red.
But this proved too close tonally to the cabinets and a sharp contrast to the adjoining rooms. The other option would be a color with a green base (think your color wheel compliments).

The above color works with the cabinets and tile but does nothing for the countertop.
This is when I pull out a paint deck and find the strips that most closely match the lightest and darkest elements in the room (for color range). Then I narrow the strips down to the few that match the piece with the most color (in this case the solid surface countertop) to get my color tones.

In general, concentrating on the middle 3 colors of a strip will give you a lot to work with.  I pulled the darkest brown fleck from the countertop to make my final 3 paint strip selections for Mark's kitchen.  But color is only part of balance.  The other consideration is texture.  Again, a middle layered finish (not too flat and not too chunky) is just right.

Finish Number One:

I started with Brown Sapphire Venetian Gem troweled in a high/low coat.  This is a warm red brown color that is two shades lighter then the cabinets and very similar to the darkest fleck in the counter sample.

The easiest way to get a high/low coat is to flat blade out some plaster and then butter your blade with more plaster and pop it on in connecting areas.  Then use your blade at a 45 degree angle to lightly smooth.  Put a thin amount of plaster on your trowel blade but spread it over the surface of your trowel.  Think of buttering a piece of toast.

Over the dried Venetian Gen, I applied a layer of Antique Parchment Lustersuede.  This shade is two shades down from the lighter colored stones/paint color and is also found in the countertop sample. The Lustersuede is left heavier in areas and pulled tighter in others.

 I use a damp cloth to soften the Antique Parchment as I trowel it over the surface.
When the Lustersuede dried, I mixed a tinted glaze of 3 parts Aquacreme and 1 part Asphaltum Trans-oxide color.  I brushed on my glaze and softened/removed some glaze with a damp cloth.  Spritzing the surface with water and blotting with the cloth will remove more of the glaze.
A pretty mid-range finish with enough texture and sheen to be interesting.
Finish Number Two:  This finish begins with a rolled coat of Brown Suede Lusterstone. Again, a color selected because it is close match to the darker colors in the solid surface.

For the next layer, I popped on more Brown Suede and some Antique Parchment Lusterstone.

This is called working "wet into wet" as the two colored are applied at the same time and lap on top of each other.  When a 2'x2' section is popped on, use the trowel at that 45 degree angle to gently flatten the tips and blend the plaster. 
Go for 60% Brown Suede to 40% of the Antique Parchment for 90% coverage over the base rolled coat.
This is the most important layer in a Lusterstone finish. You want some highs and lows. If you get the finish too flat then you will have a dead looking finish in the end with blade marks.  Plus a high/low coat will hide bad walls better.

For the final layer, I tightly blade Antique Parchment over the high/low coat.  I have the trowel blade more on the edge.  Spritzing the surface with water will allow you to spread this final layer more finely and show more of the under color.
This is a pretty mid-range finish that has less color and shine then the first finish. 
Either finish would be a great compliment to Mark's Kitchen and are easy DIY projects.  Both finishes are 3 steps working over a base of eggshell paint with a product price of about $122 - $110 (that is .61 cents a square foot for 200 square feet).
So don't dismiss the middle. Lots of good things happen there!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9-11: A Lesson in Perspective

This morning I was in physical therapy for my hip injury when the moment of silence began for the victims of 9-11.  My therapy partner today (shoulder surgery) stopped and put his hand over his heart like one would for the Pledge of Allegiance. When the moment was concluded, he asked me where I was that day.  Surprisingly, I was in physical therapy for a shoulder injury (2 falls).  So here I was in almost the same place thinking about the events of September 11, 2001.  Had I learned anything as an artist, as a person, in the past 12 years?

I rushed from my therapy appointment on 9-11 to a scheduled job. All I really wanted to do, like most people, was listen to the news. When I arrived at the job site, the homeowner immediately wanted to discuss with me the "plumpness" of the coral roses I was painting on a bathroom wall. "You realize that New York CIty in under attack right now?" She looked at me shocked. "Well, I still have to get this bathroom done right."  And that is when I really thought about perspective.

I am not a great muralist. The best mural I ever did was in a class taught by Jeff Raum (who is a fantastic muralist) and it was because he taught me perspective. As most of you know, this is the art of drawing something on a two-dimensional surface to give the right impression of height, weight, and depth.  It is the ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparitive importance. 

Someone made a poster of the famous photograph "Into the Jaws of Death" by Robert Sargent that shows the storming of Omaha Beach .  Above the photo it says, "Your day has been neither this challenging nor this significant." And underneath it says, "Man up and get back to it."

On that morning, I thought the worst thing that would happen is my shoulder would not get better and I would not be able to work as a decorative painter again.  Then Hell broke loose and the worst thing really happened to thousands of people. From that day on, 9/11 has been my height, weight, and depth.  It is how I measure relative  importance.

There are times I stress about getting a job done. Or worry about keeping my business competitive. I fret about the tape on my walls and the To Do List that never seems to get done.  I've slipped and put petty injustices on my Facebook status. Just yesterday, I was starting to feel defeat-that my hip wasn't healing and it was hard just to get through a whole day at the studio.

And then I think, "What is really the worst that will happen?"  I reflect on the  image of 9/11 that is the most personal to me. The one that reminds me of the unimaginable choices people had to make that day.  And above that it says, "Your day has been neither this challenging nor significant" and below it says, "Man up and get back to it."  And I know it is true and that I am lucky.

The injured young man asked about my shoulder.  I told him it took two years for the pain to diminish but it was the reason I decided to pursue teaching and start Surfaces.  And I know that the pain I feel today may not ever go totally away and that I will always have my fears and worries.   But we all have our trials and maybe all we can do to honor those that are no longer here is to be optimistic and try living our lives in a meaningful way. Once we keep that in perspective, it might be the most important lesson of all from 9/11.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Get It In Writing

One Ringy Dingy
Two Ringy Dingy
"You've reached the Surfaces' law offices of Hooke, Lyne, & Sinker. How may we help you?"
"Oh Hi! I have this client and when I gave them my bill they started arguing with me on the price. And now I've been waiting 2 weeks for my payment! What should I do?"
"Did you have a contract?"
"Well no.  I only gave them a price before the job."

"Wait while I transfer you to the firm of Grin & Barrett."
Working without a written contract is a little like doing this:
without this:
I had a client once express surprise when I presented him with my contract to sign.  He said his handshake was his word. I said, "Then I will go into your liquor store and just give the cashier my handshake. If the wine is good, I will come back and pay for it." He signed the contract. He was  totally a pain. But I did get paid. BECAUSE I HAD A WRITTEN CONTRACT.
You don't need an attorney to draw up a contract-most of the time a dispute will not get that far.  But putting your expectations in writing will save you many misunderstandings and give you a signed agreement should the issue go to litigation. Plus it makes you look like a professional business person. So what should be in your contract?
Start with a heading. This should be the name of your business followed by the document title.
Example: Surfaces Fine Paint & Decorative Arts Studio
Terms & Conditions

Briefly re-outline the scope of the work you presented in your bid.  A detailed bid of your work including labor/product pricing, work schedule, and completion dates should be submitted before you present a contract for signing. In this section include your policies regarding sample boards, surface preparation, insurance, hours, and guarantees.
Living area bid prepared for Smith Family Residence. Prep and faux finish per approved sample boards for 800sq.ft. at $7.50 per square foot = $6,000.
Deposit: $3,000. Balance due on job completion.
All boards and sketches are the property of Surfaces Studio and may not be kept by client. Swatches are available for decorating purposes. All materials and labor guaranteed specified in the accepted bid. All work to be completed in a professional manner according to standard practices including hours on site (8am-5pm), safety, and the respect of personal property.  Workers are insured.
Our finishes are guaranteed for normal wear over walls/cabinets prepped to Surfaces Studio standards. Surfaces Studio does not guarantee finishes applied over pre-existing wall paper or paint applied by another company/individual. We will make every recommendation possible to ensure a satisfactory and long-lasting finished product.
It is always helpful to define Normal Wear for your clients. I would do this in an attachment called "Care of  Your Finish." Normal wear is exposure to body oils, cooking, cabinet closing/opening, dripped water, and bumps. It is not a leaky shower, cutting with a knife, kicking the wall, or putting a golf ball. Include and outline covering curing instructions and cleaning recommendations.
The next section came in very handy.  A gentle reminder that you are there to work.
Instruction in faux painting techniques is not offered through this contract. Client agrees to limit interruptions and questions regarding techniques and materials to normal inquiries regarding color choices and material properties (i.e., wash ability, safety, and durability.) We will provide the client an outline of the day's activities on arrival and a summary of work accomplished before leaving each day.

Outline what your contract does not include.  Clients will assume you are a moving van, cleaning company, babysitter, and dog walker.
The bid and contract does not include:
Moving or removing furniture, drapes, or rugs from the area.
Disconnecting electrical equipment such as lights or stereos.
Removing pictures or mirrors or rehanging.
Cleaning ceiling fans, windows, or accent molding.
Moving appliances such as refrigerators, washers, and dryers.
It is important to acknowledge the unexpected and explain how you will handle it. Expect the Unexpected.  It is not like the Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python joke).
Our proposal represents a GOOD FAITH ESTIMATE. All aspects of the job were considered. However, occasionally unforeseen issues arise that require more time and material.  These unforeseen circumstances may carry an additional charge. Surfaces will do our best to keep the client informed of potential additional charges. Telephone and estimates made without measuring or visiting the site are purely speculative. Final price quotations are only for work produced according to original specifications. Client additions, revisions, changes, and alterations will carry additional charges determined through a written addendum. Project issues directly related to work performed by Surfaces will be corrected by Surfaces at no additional charge to the client.
You need to lay out a payment schedule.  Some people do a 1/3 to schedule, a 1/3 on the first day, and final payment on the last day.  We charged 1/2 or 50% to schedule and order product and final payment by one week after the job was completed. And there should be a penalty if someone doesn't pay.
Unpaid balances following job completion will be charged 1% of the total bill in a service charge per month until the full payment is received. In the case of client default of payment, the client agrees to pay in addition to sums under the signed contract, reasonable court costs and fees incurred by Surfaces Studio in the collection of outstanding monies. Interest charges shall continue to accrue over the coarse of collection, including periods pending litigation where there is adjudication against the client.
But you also have to spell out what responsibility you will take if something happens to you.
In the event that Surfaces Studio may not complete the job within agreed upon time frame due to unforeseen illness or injury, the client will receive a full refund for areas not completed.  Surfaces will make every effort to find a qualified replacement to complete the job.
Add a liability warning! I added this after I came in one morning to find the client's 6 year old kid on top of  3 stacks of scaffolding!
Warning. Dependent on the job, scaffolding may be set-up and left in your home/work for the duration of the job. It is your responsibility to keep children from climbing or pushing equipment. Surfaces is not responsible for you or any other individuals using our scaffolding, ladders, or equipment. Every effort is made to store equipment and product in a garage, unused room, or out of the way storage area.  
Finally, you have to state that this what you and your client are signing in a binding agreement.


Terms and Conditions. The terms and conditions of this agreement are binding in their entirety between the client and Surface's representative upon the signature of both the client and Surfaces. The agreement is amendable with a specific written agreement signed by both parties.  Please indicate that you have read the agreement and understand the stated term with an authorized signature.  Your signature is also authorization to commence work. A copy of  this contract will be provided for your files.
Provide a line for client's signature and date. The scheduled work dates. And a line for your signature and date.  I would go over each section with the homeowner to make sure they understood it and answer any questions. You really need to do this face to face. It will reassure them that you have not had problems in the past and don't anticipate problems on their job either.
We made every effort to get our contract with the homeowner and not the builder or designer. You want the person most impacted by the work to be responsible for paying you. In the event a builder or designer asks you to sign their contract, read it very carefully and don't be afraid to flag and question areas you don't understand. 
Anyone that doesn't offer you a written contract or refuses to sign one is giving a BIG RED FLAG.   In my 18 years of contract work, we only had to threaten a lawsuit one time.  And it was resolved to our satisfaction within 2 weeks.
If you don't get a signed contract, you might as well do this: