Painters work both indoors and out. Outside work is done in relatively mild weather. In some jobs, especially maintenance and redecoration of offices and buildings, the painter may be required to work evenings or weekends. Work is seasonal; however, new materials and methods tend to give more steady employment throughout the year. Physical and health hazards include the dangers of poisoning, falling from ladders and scaffolds, breathing paint fumes and dust. The work involves standing, bending, climbing and working with arms over the head much of the time.
Painters apply paint, stain, varnish and other finishes to buildings and other structures. They select the right paint or finish for the surface to be covered, taking into account durability, ease of handling, method of application and customer's wishes. Painters first prepare the surfaces to be covered, so that the paint will adhere properly. This may require removing the old coat of paint by stripping, sanding, wire brushing, burning, scraping, or water and abrasive blasting. Painters also wash walls and trim to remove dirt and grease, fill nail holes and cracks, sandpaper rough spots and brush off dust. On new surfaces, they apply a primer or sealer to prepare the surface for the finish coat. Painters also mix paints and match colors, relying on knowledge of paint composition and color harmony. They also cover walls and ceilings with decorative wall coverings made of paper, vinyl or fabric.
Color, made up of hue, saturation, and value, dispersed over a surface is the essence of painting, just as pitch and rhythm are the essence of music. Color is highly subjective, but has observable psychological effects, although these can differ from one culture to the next. Black is associated with mourning in the West, but in the East, white is. Some painters, theoreticians, writers and scientists, including Goethe, Kandinsky, and Newton, have written their own color theory.