LIME PLASTER - Faux
Finishing's Self Inflicted Wound.
About 10 years ago, Buon Fresco got an email from
a total stranger. They wrote to us, 'Hi, you don't know me but I
know your web site and work very well. Wonderful Stuff! Today
I'm writing to let you know that your photographs are being
posted on someone else's web page".
We followed the link this artist provided and
found that indeed, an artist in Atlanta, one 'Luciano', had a
web page up celebrating his 'Lime Plaster work', complete with a
BLOG article lamenting the doleful reality that ANYONE (in their
right mind presumably) would deign to use synthetic plaster.
The guy went on at
length elucidating his shock over the fact that some artists use
Synthetic plasters for decorative work . If you are to believe
Luciano, he would never stoop to such depravity.
Next we saw his 'stencil page', and found that
all of the 8 Stenciled Art photos were pirated from the Buon
Fresco web site, so we wrote him a letter. After pointing out
that copyright law in the USA makes it very expensive to exploit
the copyrighted materials of another entity without their
permission, we informed Luciano that each of the Buon Fresco
Venetian Plaster projects which he was passing off as his own
work, were completed using SYNTHETIC Venetian Plaster. OMG!
Eventually he took
the photos down, hopefully the wiser,.. or so we thought, until
a year or so later, we found him with a different web site,
still posting Buon Fresco work as his own. So much for artistic
Some years back too, I stumbled across a
finishing forum (I don't recall which one).. where an artist
from the Netherlands was asking anyone who might help with the
wet edge issues he was having while applying Lime Plaster to
Did anyone have an
answer to the problem of how fast the plaster dries?
The answers came
back by the dozens;
Some artists keep spray bottles on hand to
spray their work as they go.
Others said they
would hang wet paper towels to prevent the edge from drying and
messing up the connection..
others had still
So I suggested
simply that, since the artist was working indoors, since his
walls were not destined to be sitting in canal water or out in
the pouring rain, that he might "try a quality synthetic"...??
Which have no wet edge issues?..
What is a synthetic
anyway? A Venetian Plaster in which the lime is replaced with an
acrylic or other material. The benefits are several. The drying
time is slowed considerably so that there is absolutely no wet
edge issues whatsoever, and the stuff doesn't dry out in the can
as fast as Lime (by far).
Also rendering a
high polish is much easier.
And finally the
synthetics we use tint beautifully and lend themselves to the
exquisite translucence that renders marvelous marble
artist's reply? He wouldn't "dream of using a synthetic". If
hubris was Venetian Plaster, I could have finished a room with
Which is why I call
LIME Plaster the decorative artist's self inflicted wound.
Is it a terrible plaster? No. Do we use
Lime plasters in our studio? Occasionally. Is there anything
wrong with them? Yes.
But the real issue
is choice. The hubris attached to the 'made in Italy' cache of
"Lime Plaster' (though some are made in the USA) is what some
artists can't get beyond. Their sales pitch to their clients is
'This is LIME Plaster'.
As if the label is going to make the end
result any more beautiful.
It is what it is. Lime or no lime. Among other
things I object to the short shelf life is of Lime. It dries
nearly as fast in the can as it dries on the walls.
Which is why
our store has mostly DRY powder Lime Plasters for sale (with
indefinite.. infinite actually,. shelf life), Then we have 2
grainy and one shiny Marmorino because the makers in Italy have
the best recipe for Marmorino I've ever found. These plasters
look great and live LONG in the can.
(We still have
gallon sized containers left of the soft grain Lime Marmorino,
which are on sale now, before we move the studio)
Which brings up my
final point. Marmorino, Venetian Plaster or what have you..
they're all 'recipes'. Like paint. Plaster doesn't bubble up
from a spring somewhere outside of Parma. It must be made.
And even the best recipes can be improved
upon, which the best sythetics have done just that. They've
replaced the quick dry lime with a less caustic, slower drying
element, and the resulting Italian Plaster - based on the
Italian Recipes, and performing as every other Italian plaster
(just a bit easier).. is at least as stunning as anything that
still has lime.
We prefer results
to sell our work, not ingredients. Which is what just happened
for the umpteenth time yesterday. A client who thought he wanted
a lime plaster, saw our VP Marble, and is a new convert~!
When push comes to
shove, this is about choice. In an article on Wood graining, the
master craftsman, Pierre Finkelstein remarked that a 'true
artisan' ought to have MANY different skills and techniques in
his portfolio. We couldn't agree more. The point applies to
plaster. If all you know how to do is put down LIME, there is a
world of finishes out there that you're missing.
learned, Lime prejudice can be counterproductive.
Victoria Bingham 10
The funniest, most absurd of
all of the 'Lime Pride' episodes has to be the time about 5
years ago when a Decorative Artist in Atlanta pirated an entire
page - with 8 images in all - of photos of Venetian Plaster work
from the Buon Fresco web site, positioning them on his own web
site and presenting them as if they were photos of his own work.
What made the piracy amusing
was the artist's astonishing display of ire on his 'about me'
page, going into a LENGTHY diatribe lamenting the astonishing
habit of cretin artists who stooped to using Synthetic plasters
instead of 'genuine' lime based recipes that hail from Italy.
(Clearly to this fellow, product selection eclipsed truth in
What seemed to escape this
artist's supernatural sense of lime based fidelity was that each
and every photo that he had downloaded from the Buon Fresco web
site, and was parading as evidence of his limitless decorative
gifts, depicted a work of Synthetic Venetian Plaster!
This is the debate that just
won't go away. If the oldest profession is prostitution,
then the oldest peccadillo is pride. The problem is that
in the world of art and creativity - product hubris - that is -
the adherence to a 'name' rather than performance, is a self
defeating ritual of the first order.
Pride led Whistler to be
booted out of worthwhile Art Academies, and later to spar with
his first class clients.
Pride got the devil sent down
from heaven where he roams the earth looking for ways to add
company to his misery.
And pride, so it seems, makes
otherwise talented and reasonable people (in the art world)
eschew the finest of products in lieu of those that cost more,
produce less, are endlessly inimical in their application - that
is, they wind up creating more problems than they solve.
So it is with Lime
Lime based plaster is the
darling of the hubris club, for nothing other than its birth
certificate. Not that Italy has the corner on the world's mining
production of Lime. But, still, like Champagne in France, bubbly
by any other name can't possibly be as good! So we happily pay
an arm and a leg for the name.
At Buon Fresco, an American
company known for distinguished decorative art, we have been
sent almost every plaster manufactured on the planet, from Italy
to Canada and Wayne New Jersey. The upshot of the testing, on
behalf of our clients and students is that we prefer top quality
synthetic Venetian Plaster. We'll never go back to
the drying mid wall & waste of $ - 'castanet cans' of
dried-before-its-time Lime based plaster, even if shipping from
the boot was free. (Particularly if you're working on more than
500 square feet of wall surface. We're simply not gluttons for
When you add up shipping costs
and the cost of waste and the detriment and hassle of the drying
time of Lime, there's just GOTTA be a better way.
There is. It's called
Synthetic plaster. The top drawer synthetics are to
Italian Plaster as today's Cerulean Blue synthetic paints are to
the Lapis Lazuli of Vermeer's erstwhile genuine Oils. Practical,
affordable, efficient and just as blue.
One could be excused for
suspecting that - for some artists, the lime affection is
grounded in the same impetus for the Atlanta based artist's
piracy. That is - self promotion. I believe simply, that
if artists are producing truly beautiful works of art - they
would need neither to pirate photos of the work of other
artists, nor to cling
to a fancy label for their creations. The art would speak for
Over time I've had the
opportunity to discuss the merits of synthetic vs. lime based
plasters in such platforms in such venues as the Faux Magazine
"Hawk & Trowel'. "Venetian Plaster" March 2008. And the
forum debate is always the same. Since a discussion of the
application of Lime vs. Synthetics and the durability of the
Lime vs. Synthetics and appearance of the Lime vs. Synthetics
offers little to no variation to deliberate on, (the only
significant difference being their drying times) then the merit
of the lime based plaster that is held as eternally sacrosanct
is a product only of its ethereal birthright. Born in Italy.
For some people - the talk breaker.
Just last week what could have
proved a worthwhile discussion was nipped in the bud at the
outset. Into my email box popped a question posted on a
decorative art discussion blog. Somewhere in the
Netherlands an artist sought (ostensibly) for suggestions from
readers, to address his ongoing difficulty [of having the lime
plaster he was working with] stop drying on him,
before he could finish the surface at hand.
With empathy (though no small
caution) I broached the subject of the marvels of Synthetics.
The answer returned with words that dripped down the computer
monitor, that , "No", he was just 'somehow
not interested' in working with 'synthetics'.
The word 'somehow' had a gag reflex written
into the HTML.
The eventual discourse,
winding up with over 1,400 words between mostly 1 artist [this
Lime aficionado] and another artist, [presumably] both of whom
were determined to keep up the appearances at all costs of Lime
over alternatives clogged my email box for days, in an
in-your-face rebuke to the viable and reliable solution.
Se la vi!
(Reminds me of the person who
asks for your opinion and then spends the next several minutes
telling you why you're wrong.) Then again, some people just like
to hear themselves ask questions and answer it themselves.
The entire issue finally is
about the impossible task of stopping a guaranteed result -
specifically - the uneven and advance drying of Lime
Based plaster during the application process! A
tedious and also expensive problem when you add up the wasted
material that dries in the can also before it can be put to use!
This problem, familiar to the artists who work with lime, is
known as the 'wet edge'. This problem with
Lime will not be going away any time soon. Unless of
course you remove the lime from the recipe and replace it
with a synthetic substance that duplicates the performance but
eliminates the drying issues..
..Welcome to the happy world of synthetic Venetian Plaster!
The synthetics are so much
more worker friendly and far more economical! They are
also versatile, and - as I believe the work on the Buon Fresco
web site will prove - just as beautiful as anything born of
Finally you know what? ...Once
the walls are done, the scaffolding is down, and the containers
are gone, the beauty will be in the eyes of the beholder -
and the compensation will be in the bank.
The simplicity and economy and
beauty of the synthetics notwithstanding, it seems there will
always be artists who choose name over performance no matter
what hardship ensues. To such as these, I would say, 'True
brilliance is having the courage to be better rather than