My father taught me that the work you put in before you paint is more important than the time you spend actually putting the paint onto the walls, and in spite of the incredible changes that have happened in the painting industry, it still holds true.
The first room I painted was the front room in house where I grew up. My father took me through the process, step by step, to ensure that he would be happy with the end result. I was 15. I remember the color too, it was the palest grey-lavender. He had me use latex paint on the ceiling and walls, but for the semi-gloss bits it was oil-based paint.
Yes, that was the job where I flipped my braid off my shoulder onto the oil paint and despite my efforts with a bottle of conditioner and lots of shampoo, I had bits of white paint in my hair for months.
For my dad preparation was not just to fill cracks but to pull off any loose material in a crack, “be brutal” he said, “any loose material will come out long before you are ready to paint again.” To this day I cannot clear a crack in a wall or in concrete without hearing him him say “be brutal, you’re not doing yourself any favors to be gentle here.” Then there was spackling and sanding. Holes in wood were filled with wood putty and sanded. Wood putty is tough to get smooth and even tougher to sand. Walls and ceiling and trim, all surfaces were sanded first for superior adhesion, then dry brushed and the room vacuumed. To this day I feel strongly that paint comes in two coats or not at all, and second coats come only after appropriate drying times.
Other great advice he gave me was never paint a line twice. Start with the ceiling (two coats) but paint over the edge of the ceiling by at least an inch. Then you paint the trim (two coats), making a clean, straight line where the ceiling meets the crown molding, and painting onto the wall by at least an inch. Finally the walls get painted, you guessed it, with two coats, and since you have overpainted the lighter colors you don’t need to worry about the old paint showing through. You have a smooth coat of paint everywhere.
What I have learned since working with my dad is that cracks will appear where different materials meet. This is usually where wood trim meets plaster or drywall, and they occur from the different rates of natural expansion and contraction of the materials. Leave these untouched and the freshly painted wall looks untidy. Many people today use a paintable caulk for these cracks, because caulk is flexible and will move. I do not like to use caulk because it gets ugly with time. When you regret using the caulk you cannot sand it, you can only scrape at it. I use spackle and sand it smooth. Compulsively. By the same token I am happy to re-spackle periodically, so don’t be surprised to see the spackle can out in the living room for no particular reason.
I also have learned that I am bad about using drop cloths and quite good at getting paint where it doesn’t belong. Where carpet is concerned you must clean up spills right away. Use a clean but wet rag and scrub the paint up. If your scrubbing leaves some paint still visible use an oxygen-based cleaner. Follow the label directions for spot cleaning with a stiff plastic bristle brush.
When painting carpeted rooms it helps to use masking tape on the edges to give an easy edge for painting–you do not want to overpaint THIS edge by an inch.