Painting Techniques – Wall to Ceiling

The truth about me is, I hate taping before painting (aka “masking off”). I find it tedious and my paint always always always bleeds under the tape – therefore – tedious and useless! However, I love a good straight paint line, so what’s a girl to do? I cannot pull off the free-handing that the pros show so beautifully online. I’ve tried the funky tools for cutting in the walls to ceiling joint (messy, ineffectual), painting up against a straight edge (bleeds), tiny paint brushes (the worst!) and patience (sigh).  I’ve given this a lot of thought, probably way too much if I’m honest – but I think I’ve found something that works for me, and just might work for you too. It’s my favorite strategy of drawing on the walls…

Here’s my latest painting technique for the (nearly) perfect straight line, plus a few tips at the end:

  • No coffee until I’m finished painting ( I know! Sorry!)

I gathered these tools:

  • Lots of good light – I used shop lights, flashlights and a headlamp. The headlamp plus shop lights was the most useful.
  • Water-based paint and stir sticks
  • Good ladders, because a trip to the ER is no fun!
  • Drop cloths (old sheets are great, double up if you need to)
  • A good Purdy nylon angled 2 1/2″ brush (or so)
  • The lovable “Handy Paint Pail”
  • Wet, lint free rags for wiping off errant paint
  • A small putty knife, for wiping off errant paint in tight corners (wrap your wet rag over it)
  • A tiny paint brush from the kid’s art supplies, for impossible spots
  • My reading glasses for magnification
  • A good headlamp (bears repeating!)
  • A pencil to draw on the walls with. Either a colored pencil that closely matches your paint or a hard lead pencil, maybe 5H or so. Never use a pen, it will bleed through.
  • A pencil sharpener
Painting tools

The basic painting tools

Part of the difficulty of painting a straight line is being able to actually see where it should be, especially if your walls have texture. Lightly draw your pencil along the joint, twirling it as you go because any wall texture will dull your point fast (an old drafting trick, it will self-sharpen the point somewhat). A sharp point is important so that you can be sure to paint over it (fat lines didn’t work well). Put on your headlamp and glasses, light up your space, and paint to your line. Here are a few great tutorials on painting technique. Pay special attention to loading your brush!

How to paint a straight line

Drawing a light line for painting

Painting to ceiling finished, interior design

The finished wall to ceiling line! Interior design tip – fir woodwork is orange in aged color, so choose wall paint that complements it ( ie: red and orange paint are going to be tricky ).

Here are a few other painting techniques I think are useful:

  • I painted the ceiling first, overlapping a tiny bit onto the walls. This will guarantee that the ceiling/wall joint is painted and gets the most difficult job done first (overhead painting).
  • I loved working with the headlamp because I always had excellent light, and I needed my glasses – a very good look for sure –
  • Shine any shop light onto the wall from an angle, otherwise you’ll be blocking the light with your body
  • The wet rags work like a paint eraser (using low VOC water based paint of course), cleaning up most mistakes quite easily – not all though, if you have porous materials then obviously it’s trickier. Tape may be the answer here. Wipe off mistakes asap. If you can’t get paint out of your wood you might consider covering it with a furniture repair pen.
  • A wet rag over a putty knife also works great for mistakes
  • You may need to touch up your cutting-in, just to be sure you don’t get the “hat band” effect of looking like another color/texture. It’s OK, it goes fast, since you don’t need to be so careful about the line (paint just below it).
  • I’m tempted to try using colored pencils in lieu of paint in difficult spots – I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll post about it if I do!

Do you have any favorite painting tricks? Share with us! We would love to know!

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6 thoughts on “Painting Techniques – Wall to Ceiling

  1. Wow, great job! I never knew about the pencil trick. This Post is so timely, I swear you have esp. The hubby and I ran out to an open house tonight in a neighbourhood we really like. The floor plan is perfect for a couple…the entire upper floor is master bedroom and ensuite. We liked many things about the house. The biggest problem was the entire house was painted in one horrible muddy brown colour….the window trims, baseboards, ceilings, walls and even the duct work. I’ve never seen anything like it. The cupboards were dark wood, counters dark….apparently it was done by a professional decorator? I would have fired them in a heartbeat.

    We talked briefly about what it would cost to replace all the baseboards and repaint the whole house (the carpet is also crazy). In the end we decided it wasn’t priced with that in mind. We did the painting ourselves in our last reno and said never again. It’s sooooo much work. We sanded, primed, sanded, primed again, sanded, painted one coat and sanded and painted again. I will brag and say it was 100% better than most homes we’ve been in but a crazy amount of work. I think sanding is the trick to seamless paint jobs.

    Here’s the house we went thru….looks impressive on the net, but it was like a cave.

    • It looks so classic and modern online! At least the walls wouldn’t need a lot of repair before painting (I would assume). You’re right tho, ouch, what a lot of painting. I think I would need a prescription for anti-depressants and a cheery husband to get that job done…I’m thinking of colors that might work, I have a favorite in my house called “Rye” which describes the color pretty well, it’s in the yellow family, a muddy, muted color. It might work in a situation like that.
      Thanks for the note, we always love hearing from you! Someday we’ll have to connect. I think my family is heading to Silver Star or Peaks here in a few weeks – taking in the awesome Canadian snow!

      • Ski Holiday in Canada? That’s awesome. Silver Star used to be one of my favourite destinations. My Ex bought a place somewhere there (I’m told). I love the whole village thing…like Whistler only not so crazy on the cost…well nowhere is cheap anymore. Hope you’ll have an awesome time. I haven’t been for years. I guess a helmet is the norm now?
        Thank you for linking to the listing and your colour recommendation. We actually heard from a builder we interviewed last summer today. He has bought a lot in another neighbourhood we liked, we’re going to cruise by it tomorrow. That would be my dream is to start from scratch….so we’ll see.

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