I can think of some really great craftsmen in the art of painting athletic fields: Ross Kurcab and his staff (past and present) with the Denver Broncos; Steve Wightman at QUALCOMM Stadium; George Toma and the folks who year after year have made the Super Bowl a super canvas for their talents and creativity; Eric Fasbender and his staff; as well as Mike Hebrard, who does some really creative freestyle – no stencil – works of art on turf. I know there are hundreds of you out there in our great industry that are so much more creative than I, but I am honored to have been asked to do an article on athletic field painting.


A long-range view of soccer and lacrosse lines painted on our carpet.

I have been blessed to be in the industry for over 40 years now many different positions. I was lucky enough to start my career in the Air Force and was blessed to have had one of the best NCOIC’s in the athletics and recreation industry, Master Sergeant Floyd Hughes. He told me to do things once the right way, because you really don’t have time to do it again. This was really true in Fairbanks Alaska, where we had about 90 beautiful days to run all our spring, summer and fall sports.

I was taught to measure twice, and always use strings because you can’t trust your eye to follow a pre-painted line. Many times that message was burned into living memories, when in a hurry I thought I was doing a great job following an existing line only to have it come out looking like a snake had crawled through a bucket of paint and wiggled across the playing surface.


A paw print logo.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MIKE SCHILLER.

I have painted with the upside-down cans of just about every manufacturer who has produced paint for use in parking lots and athletic fields. I have used the wands and long handles. I have used the little four-wheel unit that can paint with one or two cans at a time. I have used walk-behinds, self-propelled walk-behinds and even a couple riding units to paint on clay, grass, tennis courts, asphalt, limestone screenings and ag-lime and turf. I have mixed paint at many differing dilution rates trying to emulate my brethren at the professional stadiums and their artwork on the playing fields. I have had some limited success and want to share some of the things that have worked for me.

It is not my duty to recommend a particular brand of paint or liners, but to share some of the things I’ve learned and shared with all the folks I have been blessed to work with during my career in the industry.

I think the most important thing is to learn what your budget is going to be for painting your fields. Next, have a handy guide of your field dimensions and have a couple copies stored away, because one day the work copy is going to get ruined in a deluge or dropped into a bucket of premixed paint. Cross train some staff members in the art of field prep and painting, so if your key painter is on vacation or sick, you have a backup plan. While training them to paint and mix and blend – if that is your choice of materials – teach them how to properly clean the equipment you use.

Painting

Proper disposal of buckets or cases and cans is also important. It may sound trivial, but if not thrown away properly could lead to some issues at a later date. If you decide you are going to mix, teach them the proper dilution rates, and since each field you have could have slightly differing needs, a written checklist is always a nice touch. When using spray cans, make sure they understand that they have to mix the paint until the B-B rattles around in the mixed paint.

Make sure you have a kit put together that includes some 300 and 400-foot tapes; several spools of twine or rope; a book with the dimensions of each field you are responsible for; pins to hold your ropes and tapes nice and tight; some clean-up rags, maybe even a towel; a bucket of clear water; and for that boo-boo that always happens at least once a year, green paint to cover a mistake.

If you paint many fields, look into purchasing a tank to mix and dilute your paint, a backup method of painting is always important as somehow something always goes wrong with your main unit at just about the most inopportune time of the season.

A good friend, Dr. Richard Canton, shared this bit of wisdom with many of us a few years back: “Prior planning and prudent preparation prevent poor performance.” Make sure the paint supplies you have on-hand are adequate to keep your fields ready for play all season. Ensure that your equipment is in working order and kept clean and ready to paint. Keep your kit with lines, pegs and tapes in a place where everyone on the crew can find it, as time is of the essence during the heat of the playing season.

I know I am dating myself, but back in the days before all the OSHA requirements changed the mower industry, we were able to buy mowers with 14-inch decks that we could use to run along the lines we had to paint in the grass. We could set that mower .25 inch lower than our mowing height and that slight difference helped our paint last just a bit longer as it was not mown off as quickly as the grass surrounding the painted lines.

A trick passed down to me many years ago, I think by Steve Wightman, was to add a bit of growth regulator to your paint mix. Not a lot. For my crews here in the Chicagoland area about 1/8th ounce per gallon of premix paint worked well through our line sprayer. You will not have that luxury if using the cans. We mixed this in every other time we repainted the fields when the grass was actively growing. The growth regulator slowed growth down just enough to help extend the paint line on the turf. You will need to check on what type of growth regulator will work properly on the turf in your region; what works here in Illinois may not work well down South or on warm-season grasses.


End zone field painting.

Harry Gill and Gary Vanden Berg up in Milwaukee taught me a trick: They said if you had a really big game on your baseball or softball fields, and you really wanted showplace lines, you could take a 5-gallon bucket about half-full of warm water and mix in your field marking chalk until you had a nice even flowable paste.

Then stretch your lines out tight and use a 4-inch paintbrush and paint your foul lines with this mix. This laid down a nice bright line that, as it dried, would harden and last throughout the game and look just a bit neater than a regular chalking of the field lines. It took more time, but maybe you could use it for a special event.

Sharp, bright lines really make a bright green playing surface stand out. If you are creative, you can do logos and graphics to make your facility really stand out, but that is another article for those who have taught me and made athletic field painting an art form. Not sure I have taught you anything new, but it has been fun running through my files and remembering back when I was young and just getting started. I hope you found even one little tidbit to try.

The author started his career in the U.S. Air Force back in 1969, working in morale welfare and recreation, caring for athletic facilities of all types. He is past president of the Illinois Chapter of the STMA and the national STMA, was the fifth member to have acquired his CSFM, and is a past recipient of the Harry C. Gill Memorial Award. Schiller is currently serving as a sales/consultant for Van’s Enterprises, Ltd.