Sunday, August 14, 2011

"It Looks Worse Before It Gets Better!"

Faux finishing, to me, is like cooking.   

Caveat:  My husband broke into gales of hysterical laughter when he took my baked chicken out of the oven last week.  I’d placed some chicken breasts in a pan and set them, unflavored and unadorned, to bake until “done”.  No salt, no spices, nothing to alleviate the blandness.  (“What?” I asked him sweetly.  “They’re baked now…”)   

Clearly I’m no Julia Child.  (Perhaps this isn't the best analogy of what I do for a living.)  Nevertheless, cooking takes a certain degree of trust – in the recipe, in your neighbor’s helpful hints, in the quality of your ingredients.  You buy the right produce, make various modifications as directed, set the whole thing to “bake”, and trust that it’ll come out delicious.

The same goes for many of the decorative finishes that I do.  Take a glaze finish, like this one:

Glazed finish by San Antonio Murals in the 2008 Parade of Homes

To get this, you add color to clear glaze, which is sold in quarts or gallons like regular paint and which looks like Elmer’s glue when wet but dries clear, to allow your added color to show through.  You roll this on the wall and then go to town, manipulating it with various tools to get the effect you want.  Now…  imagine using something like an Elmer’s-glue-and-color mixture.  The glue's whiteness makes your color look off, and its wet sheen on the wall hides any wayward brushstrokes.  You can roll it on, push the glaze around a bit to soften it, and never see the roller tracks or splotches...  until it dries.  By then it’s too late to make changes.  You’d better know what you’re doing ahead of time… and trust it’ll come out delicious.

Some finishes require more trust than others.  Lime plasters, for example.  Most modern-day Venetian plasters (highly polished smooth plasters, first used centuries ago in Venice) are made from marble dust combined with acrylic binders.  They trowel on like extremely thick mayonnaise and they dry fairly true to color.  Venetian plasters made the old-fashioned way, with activated lime instead of acrylics, are darker – a lot darker – when wet.  So if I’m custom-tinting a batch of lime plaster, I bring out my hairdryer and meticulously tint, and dry, tiny quantities at a time until I get it right… and I still need to cross my fingers that the larger, final batch will tint the same, and will dry the same, as I expect it to. 

Here’s my crew applying lime plaster this past week.  Yes, this looks god-awful.  (And it’s no picnic to apply, either.  Like troweling wet sand onto a wall.)  You can see where the plaster is still extremely wet… and where it is starting to dry.  No one was more relieved than I when the whole thing came out beautifully.  In this next picture, the plaster is drying at left, but you can see the finished product above the arches.  It looks and feels like softly polished stone… I literally sighed with relief.  Delicious.

Lisa – dusty, exhausted, but very, very pleased


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