Buon Fresco Decorative Art  


or 'Lime Pride' - A Study in Creative Futility'.

Shown Above:  Sample Boards from a variety of Venetian Plaster projects, all finished with top quality Synthetic Venetian Plaster, self burnishing, blade mark free, un-waxed

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. Ehew.

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 integrity.

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 walls.

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 other recommendations.

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 reproductions.

The Netherlands artist's reply? He wouldn't "dream of using a synthetic". If hubris was Venetian Plaster, I could have finished a room with his reply.

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.

Like Luciano learned, Lime prejudice can be counterproductive.

Victoria Bingham    10 March 16


'Lime Pride'

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 advertising!)

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 plaster.

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 punishment.)

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 itself.

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 Lime.

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 acceptable'.

By Victoria J.C.Bingham    Copyright 11/27/2011