Is query by visual example an intuitive method for visual query formulation or merely a prototype framework for visual information retrieval research that cannot support the rich variety of visual search strategies required for effective image retrieval? This paper reports the results of an investigation that aimed to explore the usability of the query by paint method in supporting a range of information problems. While the results show that there was no significant difference, p>0.001, on all four measures of usability, query by paint was considered by this sample not to support visual query expression. It was also observed that the usability of the query method combined with the mental model of the information problem affected both visual query expression and retrieval results. This has important implications for the efficacy and utility of content-based image retrieval as a whole and there is an increasing need to examine the usefulness of query methods and retrieval features in context.