Paint pro Steve Lockwood

When My Craft Became My Calling: How Two Paint Pros Turned Jobs into Careers

Every painter has an origin story. An aha moment when they realized their true calling. And while each story is unique, there are often common threads that tie them together. When we sat down to chat with two expert pros, we discovered it is their love of the trade, a desire to build their knowledge and skills and an openness to collaboration that led them to turn “just a job” into businesses and lifelong careers.

These craftsmen – Joe Hiera, owner of Papa Joe Paint Co in St. Louis, Missouri, and Steve Lockwood, owner of Lockwood Finishes in Springfield, Illinois – shared how it all began, as well as how they grow their skills, what tips they have for other painters and what they’re excited about right now in the world of painting.

How Joe Hiera became a rockstar

Ask Joe Hiera why he learned to paint, and he’ll tell you a career in the trades is in his DNA – many of his uncles were carpenters. Joe always liked painting, but he never thought he would become a painter. He went to school for business management and started heading in that direction when along came family life.

“There’s a time in life when you’re ready to commit to something, and for me, it was when I had my kids,” recalls Hiera. “That’s why it’s Papa Joe Paint Co.”

Joe Heira of Papa Joe Paint Co

Hiera said he’s always been nerdy about topics that interest him, like music theory, and eventually, he transferred that nerdiness to painting.

Along his path to becoming a painting pro, he experimented with some of his passions. “I tried a bunch of things, failed a lot and got really good at some stuff,” reflects Hiera. “I thought I would be a rockstar musician. Now, I’m a rockstar painter.”

As the owner of a small residential painting business, Hiera wears all the hats. A typical week for him includes 40 hours working as a painter and another 10 hours of administrative tasks and project organization.

One of Joe’s latest projects is a 150-year-old home full of historic architectural charm like millwork, crown molding, Waldorf trim, chandeliers, interior brick walls and intricate windows.

“We’re doing a lot of masking and spraying to protect the historic features, so there’s orange and blue painter’s tape everywhere,” he says.

For residential projects that require a lot of spraying, Hiera offers some tips that help the project move along more efficiently.

“I like to wrap my shield in tape to prevent the paint from building up,” he says. “I cut the tape off when I’m done, and I have a clean shield. I also learned not to tear tape. Instead, I fold it when I come to a corner and lay it down in one continuous piece. Then, I can pull it all up in one strip. It saves time and prevents a lot of bending over.”

To feed his inner painting nerd and stay on trend, Hiera takes time to continue learning. His go-to source is Nick Slavik’s “Ask a Painter Live” series on YouTube.

He’s also a fan of the “Contractor Freedom” podcast by Jason Phillips, which he said is great for learning about the business side of painting, and he frequently checks out the Painting Contractors Association (PCA) app Overdrive. What he’s most excited about right now, though, is a new line of paint. “I do a lot of cabinet painting, so I’m excited about Sherwin-Williams Gallery Series, which is a waterborne topcoat,” he says.

Steve Lockwood of Lockwood Finishes

Steve Lockwood’s journey from “car crash” to craftsman

Steve Lockwood was 18 years old when his roommate mentioned that their landlord was a contractor and encouraged Steve to give him a call.

“Our landlord asked if I knew how to paint. I said yes because I had just finished helping my sister paint her living room, so I knew the basic concept of putting paint on a wall,” chuckles Lockwood (pictured in photo at the top of this story).

The laughing stopped when his landlord set him up to do some painting at a rental property.

“I didn’t know what I was doing. I got paint everywhere. It was a total car crash,” Steve recalls.

To Lockwood’s surprise, his landlord didn’t fire him. In fact, he stayed on for another nine months, painting and drywalling. Later, he went to work for his future father-in-law doing similar projects – and he stayed for 19 years.

“That’s when I started to take the craft seriously,” says Lockwood. “I worked to understand coatings and application techniques. And when someone asked me what I did, I said I was a painter.”

The painting life didn’t fully click for Lockwood, though, until one night when he was reading a magazine article about a painter. That was the moment he went from someone who paints to truly adopting his craft.

As the owner and operator of Lockwood Finishes, Lockwood ends plenty of his days covered in paint. He also makes time to schedule estimates on Fridays, and he often has to be on project sites.

A believer in collaboration over competition, Lockwood even visits other painters’ job sites.

“I often call other painters so they can show me things they’re working on,” he says.

After the PCA began encouraging its painters to get together, Lockwood took his collaborative spirit a step further and started a Central Illinois group. “We’re open books for each other,” says Lockwood.

Eager to share some hard-earned wisdom with other painters, Lockwood offers several useful tips, particularly with painter’s tape.

“When we are getting ready to prime doors, we mask the hinges with painter’s tape,” he says. “We also wrap new rollers in painter’s tape to de-fuzz them and keep them from shedding, and we tape off baseboards and other horizontal surfaces like countertops and backs of toilets to keep the micro spatter from creating tiny little polka dots everywhere. Tape is a great way to protect surfaces, and it makes the finished job look super clean.”

Like Hiera, Lockwood believes in building his skillset and uses many of the same resources, including listening to “The Elite Business Advice” podcast with Chris Moore.

He also calls attention to the important role his local Sherwin-Willams product rep and others have played in his continued learning.

“One of the reps has been in the business for 35 years,” he says. “He’s a wealth of knowledge.”

Painting your own path

Becoming a “real painter” is an individual journey, but one thing these successful painters have in common is a desire to continue learning about their craft and a set of resources that helps them do it.

Seeking knowledge and insight from your own network of professional resources is a great first step in turning your job into a career and painting your own path to success.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of PPC magazine. ©2024 Fusable. Story by Diane Walsh, Vice President, Sales & Market Development for Shurtape Technologies, LLC, makers of FrogTape® brand Painter’s Tape. Walsh is a frequent contributor to PPC magazine. Photos courtesy Shurtape. Read more about what pro painters have learned on the job in the PPC magazine archive.