How to Earn Your Stripes With a Paint Brush : Decorating: There are ways to help you make a straight line without having to do it freehand.

Just about everyone, at some time or other, has been confronted with the problem of painting neat, clean stripes. Maybe you want a bold graphic treatment for the wall of your child's room, or possibly some delicate lining to highlight a piece of French Provincial furniture.

There are various tools and techniques for striping, and the one you choose will depend largely upon the width of your stripes.

For narrow lines, the easiest way to get the job done is with a striping tool like the one shown in the sketch. It consists of a small glass jar to hold your paint and a narrow, serrated metal wheel that lays the paint down. The wheels come in various widths to produce lines to different widths, and you can even use two wheels at once to produce a pair of parallel lines.

For painting stripes along edges, there's an adjustable guide. Just hook this over the edge of your work as shown in the sketch and draw the tool along.

To work away from an edge, run this guide along a straightedge. For curved lines, you can either work freehand, or make a template out of something like quarter-inch plywood or hardboard.

You may be able to find this tool at a good paint store. If not, you can get it with an assortment of six different wheels from Constantines, 2050 Eastchester Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10461; (800) 223-8087.

The easy way to get wide, bold stripes, is with masking tape. There are two ways to do this. You can lay down your stripe color first and let it dry. Then apply a strip of tape as wide as you want the stripe to be and paint over it with your background color. When you remove the tape, it will reveal a neat stripe in the first color you applied.

The other approach is to put your background color down first, then outline the stripe you want to paint with two strips of tape. This method lets you make wider lines than the first. Keeping your two strips parallel is a bit of a challenge, but you can handle it by laying out your lines first with a pencil, straightedge, and compass.

Another easy way to stripe with paint is to use special striping tape. This comes pre-slit and supplies perfect spacing right off the roll. You should be able to find this tape at a good marine supply outlet. It's most often used for painting waterline stripes on boats.

If you have a steady hand and a good eye, you can always earn your stripes the old-fashioned way . . . with a brush. For fairly wide stripes, down to about three-quarters of an inch, you can get by with ordinary paint store brushes. If you want to go much narrower than that, you'll probably have to go to an art store.

For the delicate lines often used to embellish furniture, try something like a "rigger." This is a long, slim brush made for lining with watercolors, but it works well with any kind of paint. I've had the best luck with oil paints, however. They flow out well, and their slow drying time gives you the chance to wipe them off and make corrections if necessary.

To use one of these brushes, load it well with paint, then stroke it on a piece of scrap to flatten the bristles into a knife-like shape. Now you can paint a razor-thin line with the edge of the knife or a wider stripe with the flat edge.

Practice a bit before you tackle the real thing. The trick is to hold the brush at a low angle, and pull it along. I find it helps to look ahead as you paint, concentrating more on where the brush will be than where it is. It's like looking down the road when you drive.

You can run the heel of your hand or your ring finger along a straightedge if you need to make straight lines. You can even run the ferrule of the brush along your straightedge if you use something thick like a 1-inch board. If your paint doesn't flow nicely off the brush, try thinning it slightly. Keep practicing painting stripes and lines until you get it right, and lay off the coffee!

Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

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