Born To Paint

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Contractor Profile, Features

Matthew Drinnon hails from a family of contractors

There was a sick kid in the preschool class, so Dad pulled him out, and thus started Matthew Drinnon’s painting career. Not that it was ever much in doubt: Dad was a painter, Mom was a painter…uncles, cousins, and now his brother and sister all have “painting contractor” after their names.

Rather than drop him off at day care, Dad had young Matthew join in the fun. “I started puttying holes, sanding, and doing all the grunt work no one wants to do,” he recalled. “I didn’t know any better—I thought ‘this is fun, I’m puttying holes!’” The fun wore off, and after the millionth hole (by a kid’s count) he decided he was never going to putty again. But the decision wasn’t his. “I did it just about every day as a small child, then every weekend growing up, and then every summer,” he said. And it wasn’t like he could escape to a relative who didn’t paint, so might as well work with Dad. “I was pretty much born into it.”

As Drinnon got older, there was one piece of equipment that Dad tried to keep out of his hands, so he waited to get acquainted when no one was looking. “I’m mostly known for spraying,” he said, “but when I was younger my dad tried to keep the sprayer away from me. He said ‘that’s where the money’s at and once he gets a sprayer in his hand he’ll take off and won’t help me anymore.’”

Well, we all know what happened. “I watched him and his guys and paid attention to what they did, then I took it from one of the guys when he wasn’t looking and learned it myself.” Now Matthew Drinnon, painter, operates Matthew Drinnon Painting out of Douglasville, Georgia, on the west side of the Atlanta Metro.


Pull the Trigger

If you’re known for something, you might be able to share some wisdom, so we asked Matt to pause the history for a minute and give us some pointers on spraying successfully. First, he said, take the time to learn it. Spraying saves a lot of time, but not if you have to do it twice or go to the store and get more paint to do it over.

Matt’s posted some Facebook videos that show him whizzing through a spray job, and to an untrained eye it looks like he’s on “fast forward.” That wasn’t always the case. In the beginning a good-looking spray took him a lot more hours and head space than it does now. “I don’t take my time as much as I used to because I got more familiar with it,” he said. “Don’t try to rush it—speed will come with time. Try to do it right and you’ll get faster at doing it right the more you do it.”

Another important tip—and since this is a sprayer tips are important—is knowing how far you can spray at each pass. Prep is important (protect non-paintable areas), and no need for high pressure when low will do. “Don’t overspray your shield or your masking,” he advised. “Leave yourself plenty of room to stop before you reach the end of your spray shield or your masking, because when you let off the trigger the overspray may still go a good way past wherever you try to stop it.”

A lot of this is based on how you hold your wrist, he said, which will determine where to start and stop with each pass of the sprayer. “If I am using a four-foot spray shield I am going to have to spray an area shorter than that,” he said. “Cutting in up against a ceiling, I have to be careful or the overspray will get on the ceiling, and once it’s dry you’ll be able to see every shield move you made.” Outside, of course, watch how the wind blows.


Mom Said So

Matt’s got three kids at home, and he and his fiancée have another coming soon, so he can’t just roll over when the alarm rings—he’s always on the lookout to connect for work. Someone always needs a painter, so it’s often about finding that wall that has no one yet coating it. “A lot of my work comes from Facebook,” he said. “Also, my mom stopped painting—now she cleans houses and takes care of her mom and her grandkids.” When her past customers call up for a repaint, she’ll send Matt their way. “She knows I’m going to do a good job and she doesn’t have to worry about it,” he said. “They call her and she says ‘I’m not painting any more but I’ll give you my son’s number. He’s good and will take care of you.’”

Plus, he’s got a roving eye for general contractors that might need a painter, often hitting someone up as he sees them on a job. “Sometimes I just run into contractors. I’ve stumbled across a roofer, carpenters, general contractors on the street or was introduced.” If that doesn’t pan out, he’ll call on past customers or network with other painters; there are several area painters he knows that try to keep each other working, either hiring them as help on their own projects or alerting them to jobs they can’t get to themselves.

Plus, don’t forget, there are lots of Drinnons who paint, and they’re not afraid to help each other out. Matthew has put his sister on the job in several instances; she works hard because she doesn’t want to disappoint big brother. “She knows how to take my instruction, and if she has a problem or she thinks she’s not doing something right she will ask for help,” he said.

Matt was easygoing in our chat over the phone, and a lot of northern folks would say he’s got somewhat of a southern accent. He’s not scary or belligerent—but he still needs to get the job done right, and some painters he hires fear his disapproval. They’re more used to a boss sending them out on their own. “They’re intimidated when I’m on the job, but I’m on every job! Oh the bossman’s here watching me. They’re worried they will do something wrong.”

More often than not, however, Drinnon will train a novice. “I don’t know a whole lot of good painters,” he said. “I usually just train new people as I go.” The trick here is to find what they do well so they can succeed as soon as possible, then teach them new skills as things proceed. “If they can’t do what I put them on at first, I’ll move them to something different.” They might do that grunt work Matt did as a toddler before they graduate to the brush and the sprayer.



In Plane Sight

That looks easy, I can do that no problem! You know where this is going, so come along for the ride. We might even fly there. Matt strikes us as down to earth, but one of his recent interesting jobs was painting a small aircraft hangar at DaKalb Peachtree Airport, where he learned as much what works as what doesn’t.

“Yeah it was a lot…” and he paused for the painful memory…“a lot different than what I’m used to. Usually I just do high end home interior or exterior repaints and new construction.” He was renting a house near Douglasville in Hiram, GA, and when a contractor came to put a new roof on the house. talk came around to painting. The roofer began to hire Matt for various jobs. “One day he hit me up with ‘here’s a job at the airport.’ I thought, that’s intriguing, let’s see what it is and I looked at it from the ground not thinking about what all there was to it…” Matt wasn’t sure what to look for, or look out for, and it didn’t fly well because sometimes you can’t start from the ground up.

“I underbid it. I underbid the labor and the materials and things didn’t quite go as expected,” he lamented. “I was supposed to have a JLG lift and everything was supposed to be out of my way before I started, but everything was still in the way and I was stuck with a scissor lift. Also, the ceiling beams, due to how they were installed, were much harder to reach and paint than it looked like from the ground. I was under the impression I could put some masking drop cloth behind each beam in the ceiling to paint it and due to how they were installed, that was not the case.”

Long story short—well more like a short story long—the job took about twice as long as he thought. “So…yeah…I lost on it, but it was a good experience. I learned a good lesson from it. I learned the hard way on a lot of things.”


And, Again…

Who doesn’t love to get up every day and to go work? Most people. Some days you do, some you don’t. How do you get motivated on those off days, because every day isn’t a carnival? “Every morning I have to have coffee! A big cup—like 32 ounces—before I get going, I can’t think until I have my coffee.” Another motivational tool is his growing family. “I have my 4th kid on the way so that kind of motivates me, thinking that if I don’t work my kids aren’t going to have this or that or I can’t pay for something. I need to keep my bills paid!”

Plus, it’s painting, so that’s enough to keep him going. “I feel like this career picked me, but I’m glad to be in the paint industry. I try to keep a positive mindset and know I can make it happen and do it right. If you’re scared that you’re not going to be able to do something, or afraid to make a mistake or mess up, you’re never going move forward in your career or your life. You can get stuck in hesitation mode; you will slide backwards and stay in the same place. I like to be safe, but at the same time I don’t like to fear a lot.”