by Donia Moore
Does that grey have too much blue in it? Will that taupe wall color clash with the beige and brown furniture you have? If you’re planning to paint your house this year, inside or out, you might want to catch up with Jeff Smock before you start.
Jeff is a “tinter” – or paint matcher – at AR Paints and Flooring on El Camino Real in San Clemente. (Previously Merrill Paints.) With 20 years of experience, he has an artist’s eye for matching colors – without the computer spectrometer used by many of the home improvement stores. Although AR Paints has a spectrometer, Jeff finds that the old-fashioned way of using his trained naked eye, is far more accurate.
“Your eye becomes trained after so many years of color matching. Often, a trained eye is much more accurate than a computer camera,” he says.
If it’s good enough for Oingo Boingo…
Jeff talks about one of his most interesting and challenging projects. He was asked to come up with a coordinating color scheme that eventually involved 120 custom colors for a 1920s mansion in West Los Angeles. It was owned by musician Danny Elfman, lead singer of Oingo Boingo and wife Actress Bridget Fonda and her husband. They wanted a selection of colors to choose from for their home and Jeff gave it to them. They eventually selected 40, and Jeff mixed every one perfectly by eyeballing it.
A talent like Jeff’s is partly natural, but he had some very talented mentors along the way who helped him develop his skill. The Downey, CA. native began his career at a small paint store there. He was working as a driver for the store when the store’s owners noticed his talent in deciphering colors. They pulled him inside to teach him their trade. He remained there for 17 years, learning how to really see colors.
When the store closed after 32 years in business, the owners of AR Paint and Flooring contacted and invited him to come give San Clemente a look. He and his daughter Ashley came to town and promptly fell in love with the beaches, the palm trees, and of course the ocean. Andres and Natalia Rodriguez were purchasing the store from the old owners and the three of them knew they had made a match. They hired Jeff on the spot, and it wasn’t long after that Jeff and Ashley relocated to San Clemente.
Five-years-later, Ashley is entering San Clemente High School this fall. She has inherited her dad’s artistic talent but in another direction. “She draws way better than I do”, says Jeff.
The Science of Paint Matching
While color mixing may bring up childhood memories of experimenting with gooey finger-paints, the actual talent it takes requires much more than adding a little yellow and a little more blue to make green. All paints begin with a base color. There are four different ones that Jeff uses, ranging from light to dark, all shades of white. Of course, it’s not just adding degrees of white paint to the color. Every color on the paint spectrum has a formula. The tinter’s bible is the formula book, a mix of symbols and mathematics that must be mastered before there is any chance of accurate matching. It lists almost every possible combination and resulting color. And that’s just where a skilled paint matcher starts. After learning how to read and understand the formula book, the accuracy quotient takes over as the human eye accepts or rejects the “mixed” results. Jeff is able to match colors from some if the smallest samples imaginable, but he prefers at least a one-inch square sample. Paint dries darker than when it is wet so Jeff uses a blow dryer to check for color.
“It’s far easier to use that size sample to create the scale I use when I am mixing paint for a customer. As I move from one color level to the next, I dot the sample with each new paint mixture until I can no longer see it on the sample.” He has had some interesting items to use as color samples, especially from some of his celebrity customers. They have included clothing, surfboards and even a coffin.
Jeff works closely with interior designers and general contractors when matching paint color schemes. “It’s very different working with designers because they see the whole picture, where I only see one piece at a time. They see the entire color scheme differently than I do. Sometimes it has to do with the amount or type of lighting that they will be using, or maybe even the reflection of furniture colors in a high gloss paint they want for trim.” Often the customer tells the designer what he wants, the designer interprets that for the contractor, who then relays the information to the paint matcher. Then there are the colors of the area’s “golden hours” to contend with.
Golden hours are those early am or late pm hours when the sun is at a specific angle, giving colors a warm glow.” The color or hue of an object is actually generated by the light that's illuminating the object.
For example, at noon on a cloud-free day at the Grand Canyon, the contrast between the red rocks and the blue sky is amazing. But wait until later, just as the sun is about to set. All of a sudden, the reds and oranges in the rock formations are far more vivid. You're in what's known as the golden hour. The sun's light is now passing through the atmosphere at such a low angle in the sky and the blue and green light rays of natural light are getting absorbed by the atmosphere. Only the reds, oranges and yellows of the color spectrum are making it through all the air and they enhance anything that's red, orange or yellow.
The same phenomenon happens at sunrise for about an hour.
If you live in a place with low humidity, it's a cloud-free day and the sun is high in the sky, the colors you see of things outdoors are pretty much the true color of that object.
Shopping Small Businesses in San Clemente
Jeff is a big believer in “Shopping San Clemente”.
“If you go out of your way to help a customer with something, even if it’s a little off your normal track, that customer will remember and come back to you the next time he needs your services.”
When I had him match a 1/2” square, took the paint out to the car, and promptly spilled the whole quart in the driveway, he and Natalia graciously cleaned up the shimmering Marine Blue from the driveway and insisted on mixing a new batch at no charge. You can bet I’ll be back. Oh, and the match? It was perfect.
AR Flooring & Paints is at 142 N. El Camino Real, SC • (949)498-0900.