- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Walter Arana arrived in the United States from Guatemala 15 years ago on a Saturday. Sunday he rested. And Monday he started work as a house painter.

He hasn’t put down a brush since.

“When I came to the country, right away I started work painting,” said the 43-year-old Mr. Arana.

Now Mr. Arana has his own crew, but around suburban Maryland he is better known as a University painter.

Mr. Arana has worked under the University name for about five years, though he hasn’t been a student since he arrived in the United States. He left the University of San Carlos, in Guatemala City, after two years studying communications before heading north to follow a new vocation.

“I came to another university, but this one for painters,” Mr. Arana joked.

University is a nationwide painting firm that trains college students as managers and, if they perform well, grants licenses to them to operate under the company name. The licensees, who pay a fee, also tap into regional marketing and sales networks.

Mr. Arana’s boss, Andrew Blate, is one of those licensees.

Mr. Blate, a 22-year-old graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., entered University Painters’ management training program his freshman year and now, one year out of school, runs painting operations covering Gaithersburg, Potomac, Rockville and Germantown.

Mr. Blate, in turn, has about 12 crews that subcontract for him. Mr. Arana is one of those 12.

“I don’t have any students who work for me. I tell customers, you’re not getting my friends, you’re getting professional painters,” Mr. Blate said.

Mr. Arana is the best of that bunch, Mr. Blate said.

To win the high praise, Mr. Arana must pay close attention to detail. Working on the interior of a Gaithersburg town house this week, he gets hands-on with his crew sanding walls, spackling holes, caulking cracks and priming off-color spots.

He spends a good part of the morning running to paint stores to match, exactly, the white paint already on the home’s ceiling and stairwell. The customer is only paying for one coat of the white paint, so an exact match will cover better.

“It’s too yellow,” he said of one slightly tinted bucket.

With another dose of pigment, the paint takes on the right hue and Mr. Arana is ready to head back to the work site and start rolling and brushing white.

With other colors, he is waiting for an interior decorator to stop by or call with the exact tones of tan, yellow and green. The $2,000 price tag for the three-day job at the town house includes the cost of paint, so Mr. Arana does not want to have to buy extra or redo any work.

“If it’s not the right color, I have to do it again and nobody pays me. I do it for free,” he said.

At the town house Mr. Arana — wearing a blue University Painters polo shirt, jeans with only a few paint smudges and sneakers — gives a few instructions to his two-man crew.

Then he takes a small roller and covers some recently patched wall with primer, demonstrating proper technique: Move in a floor-to-ceiling direction and allow the primer to fade out, not come to an abrupt, squared finish.

“Otherwise, you can see it through the next coat of paint,” Mr. Arana said.

Mr. Arana got into the profession by chance — a friend was working as a painter and told him they could use help at the job site.

Now married and the father of 7-year-old twin boys, Mr. Arana said the job as a painter may not be exactly what he imagined before he arrived in the United States, but he has enjoyed it.

“It’s good exercise every day,” he said as he worked a brush around the edge of a ceiling. “And it pays a lot of money.”

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