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Wallpaper Installer: My Gig

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Elizabeth Johnson is a wallpaper installer. She spends her days with her husband Matthew. He puts up the paste and she installs the paper. They work in high-end neighborhoods, handling hard-to-hang materials such as silk or specialty papers. Johnson is also a fine artist, and her wallpaper career allows her the time to paint.


CW: What is a typical day like?


Johnson: I get booted out of bed, get my coffee, and I usually have to do a little bit of phone messaging. The hard thing about having your own business is of course the communication part, the business part, as well as the work. Then Matthew puts all the tools in the truck. We have quite a load of tools that we carry from job to job. We’ll drive to the job, set up. That takes about an hour. We inspect the goods we will be hanging that day to make sure there are no faults in it. As Matthew is checking the paper, I will be planning out the job, where the seams will fall, how I will engineer certain tricky cutting issues, like if we have to cut around a pedestal sink. Then we start the physical labor. We will sand the walls to make sure the walls are really smooth and properly primed. We don’t usually do the priming. A house painter usually does that. Then we just hang paper. A small room will take a day.


CW: How did you get where you are?


Johnson: I was an art major at Bard College. I got my BA. No jobs were jumping out to grab me, so I became a house painter, which many painters do. I met a woman on a job. I find that women are always happy to help other women. I apprenticed with her. I also apprenticed with a guy who was from Chile who was also working in the area.


CW: What do you like most about your job?


Johnson: The freedom. I make my own hours. Outside of pleasing the customer, which is of course always the most important thing, I can schedule long vacations. I travel. I don’t have a boss to answer to. And it is really good money.


CW: What do you like least about your job?


Johnson: The biggest thing is the wear and tear on your body. We do yoga, which helps the body stay more balanced and more stretched out. It is really important to stretch out your muscles because they bunch. I am coping with it at the moment. I really can’t quit. I am not going to go to college and learn computers at the age of forty-four. I am too stubborn for that.


CW: How much money do you make?


Johnson: About $1,000 a day. I share that with my husband. If I worked on my own, I would not accomplish as much. I could probably make $700 a day.


Check out Elizabeth’s art at ElizabethJohnsonart.com


My Gig is a series of stories about different careers. Trying to figure out what to do when you grow up? My Gig, which provides a quick glimpse into a person’s work life, may inspire you!


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