LIKE THE great French writer Antoine de Saint Exupery ("The Litle Prine," "Night Flight"), most of us began an artistic career of one type or another as children. Like Saint Exupery, who aspired to great works as a painter, we were forced by older and wiser persons to abandon art in favor of something more practical.

Adults never understood Saint Exupery's childhood drawings no. 1 and no. 2 of a boa constrictor eating as elephant. They thought he was trying to draw a hat. Consequently, he gave up drawing to become a writer.

I gave up a career as a baseball pitcher to

I gave up a career as a baseball pitcher to paint house. My father made me drop out of the Little League for an entire summer so I could help him paint our new house.

I never pitched again, and spent the rest of my subsequent Little League days being shunted from one infield position to another. Finally to third base, where I never learned to nab hot grounders on the line. They constantly went by me into left field, dashing my World Series hopes.

Since growing older and wiser, however, I've learned to put this experience into proper perspective. I have benefited from it in many ways. For instance, I was after-ward able to use my painting talents to paint other houses and earn enough money to pay high-school tuition (our new house was in the neighboring township -- I commuted to my old school). And to maintain a 1957 3/4-ton Ford pickup truck, with electrician's body and hydraulic lift tailgate, that drank a quart of crude oil every week.

I also developed the habit of scrutinizing the paint job in any unfamiliar house I am allowed to enter. Each time I see a paint job that obviously was done improperly, I think of my father and give thanks. Each time I see lines in corners that squiggle and dnace because thepainter didn't know what he was doing -- and get that feeling some people have when they hear chalk squeaking on a blackboard -- I think of my father and give thanks.

Most people apparently don't know there is something to painting straight lines in corners and along ceilings. Just as they don't know you are supposed to punch holes around the lip of a paint can so the excess drains inside rather than over the top. Many people pick up a roller, rolling pan and paint and simply have at it.

My father and I worked as a team. It was one of those combined efforts whose result was greater than the sum of its parts. Except for some odd car repairs, we never attempted anything like it again.

We started with the woodwork. One of the most enjoyable painting tasks is punching finishing nails in woodwork. One of the least enjoyable painting tasks is putting spackle into the holes left by punching finishing nails.But it must be done. Then rubbing down the wood with steel wool to make it perfectly smooth. Then painting the woodwork -- including the windows -- with oil-based enamel.

As much as possible, we let mother do this because as everyone knows it is the most tedious job requiring the most patience. Since she had once drawn fashion designs, we figured she was best suited for it. Besides, she was more interested than we were in it being done correctly.

My father thinks he is of German descent, so of course we had to have a system for painting. He did the trim, which consists of all the corners where wall meets sists of all meets ceiling and around doors and windows. Before I came along with the roller, he painted the corners, overlapping about two inches on either side.

The ceiling is painted first, for the simple reason that it sometimes drips onto the wall.

Most paint rollers can be attached to a broom handle, and this is how you paint a ceiling. When Dad had gotten far enough ahead with his trimming, I started in, estimating how big a chunk I could paint withour much walking, then splitting that in half. With the first roller full, I made a "Z" in the space I wanted to fill. The second roller full went on over this in the other direction. Then back and forth to fill it all in evenly.

We applied two coats of white latex to the ceiling.One coat never covers adequately. You can count on it.

When we started on the walls, there was a strip of white running all the way around under the ceiling. The job of the trimmer is to cover this with the wall paint (blue, green, yellow or whatever) and leave a neat little line, about one-16th of an inch or less wide, extending from the wall onto the ceiling.

Why the reverse is not done (namely, why the white ceiling paint does not extend why the white ceiling paint does not extend in a neat little line onto the wall) was never explained. Nor was the reason for any neat little line at all. Perhaps the wall extending into the ceiling is supposed to remind one of the Sistine Chapel and the creation.Anyway, Dad paid a lot of attention to it.

Dad also painted around the baseboards and the doors and windows before I got to them. His great skill was in making neat little lines on these as well without my ever catching up to him. It is not done by laying down masking tape, as one might expect.

By flattening the brush up into the corner and twisting it just a bit, he caused it to fan out, creating a tiny tip at one end that made these neat little lines. He pulled the brush along (do not push it) very slowly and carefully, so the slines never deviated even the slightest in width.

Sometimes I got so caught up in watching him perform this magic I brought the roller up too fast near the ceiling and of course it sprayed little blue dots on the white. Or I would stop and stare so long that where I had painted in the middle of a wall had already dried (water-based latex will do that) and then left a telltale line for all to see.

All I can say is you must keep doggedly to your task and not watch the trimmer much. Also, do not put down a roller full of paint too close to a corner because it will leave wavy lines where you couldn't get in with the roller to flatten them out.

We painted about 12 rooms, six baths, a kitchen and a triple-car garage in this manner. The house has since gone up for sale and my parents have so far been unsuccessful in selling it. Many people interested in buying it were discouraged because there was no air conditioning and no dining room. But they all knew a superb paint job when they saw one and said they were sorry they couldn't take it.

If you are a beginner intent on taking a creak at interior painting, Sylvia McGrath, formerly the paint and housewares merchaniser for Hechinger Co., advises:

Prepare the wall carefully before painting over it. "A lot of people try to hide everything." But paint will not hold up loose plaster. It may peel off greasy spots. Loose dirt that is not washed away will get in the paint and make ugly lumps and bumps.

Flat latex paints may not cover glossy enamels if the enamel is not lightly sanded first. There are liquid sanders that do this job.

If you are painting with enamels and latex in the same area, wait till the oil paint has dried before starting with the water-based paint. You can wipe dripped latex off dry enamel, but not easily enamel off latex.

Buy rollers and brushes good enouth

Buy rollers and brushes good enough to give the results you want. a roller for $1 or less probably will not. Nor will throwaway brushes, McGrath says. consumer Reports magazine recommends natural brushes for oil-based paint and synthetic for water-based. Natural bristles absorb too much water.

There are paints and then there are paints . Some are "little more than tinted water." Stick with reputable name brands, says McGrath.

Unless you want a new pattern on your rug, it's best to cover it and any other adjoining floor surfaces, as well as furniture that can't be moved out of the room.

Cleaning the painting tools is a ritual on the order of strict Japances tea ceremonies. You can spend hours with rollers and brushes under the water faucet; scraping the rollers and kneading the brushes. It is worth it to clean them well. Most paint brushes have a mysterious hole near the top of the handle. This (or another hole drilled closer to the bristles) is to hang them up in a coffee can full of water or turpentine. A brush curled up because it was stuck in the can -- as opposed to hung correctly -- is a discouraging sight that among some cultures is said to cause the dreaded "painter's shakes."