Way back in the dark ages, for my eighth birthday, my dad made me a sign that said "Happy Birthday Ashley", followed by the date. It was a thin piece of wood, perhaps 3/8", or maybe even 1/4". I think he routed the letters freehand, and it may even have been his router's first test drive. Anyway, back to painting...
He painted the letters black. I'm not sure if he spray painted or brushed, but all the recesses sucked light like a black hole. Then he sanded the face of it to remove paint from everywhere other than grooves. Then he stained the face, I think applying the stain with a very short knap paint roller.
I didn't see any of this, but I asked, because I was fascinated by the detail and the perfect separation of the black in the letters from the stain on the face. To my memory, his explanation of that procedure was my first appreciation of how a good sequence can create a nearly foolproof procedure. Since then, I spend way too much time enjoying the art of perfecting a build sequence, and perhaps too little time developing surgical skills. So I empathize Mike on firing the painter. It's one of those things I just don't do if I can help it.