. Finishes, Textures, techniques, decorative ornamental plaster, stucco
A brief note on plaster and stucco finishes and techniques . . .

Being the most versatile of all building materials, plaster and stucco can be coaxed into almost any shape, textured and colored to mimic just about anything.

Polished plaster is the best way to describe the finish of some plasters, and how it relates to traditional plaster finishes. Often, most people confuse the terms scagliola / sgraffito with venetian / veneziano, as in plaster vs. stucco's, interior vs. exterior debate. In many circles, scagliola is best described as an imitation of stone or marble, with veining and patterns scratched into the surface revealing underlying colors. Used to cover entire surfaces like slabs or columns,or being pressed into molds for ornamentation, then highly polished with successivly finer abrasives, revealing the sparkle of the marble chips and dust used in the mix. Where, venetian plaster is produced by layers of contrasting colors and texture, then polished and patinated. Most scagliola work today can be accomplished with the acrylic paints and sparkly additives of the faux finishing community, and much more economically too. However, with venetian plaster, you just can't get the depth of texture with paints, leaving ornamental plasterers with a little something to do... And keep food on the table!

Stucco textures are accomplished in an alomst unlimited variety, by using the simplest of hand tools. Spray textures can only be changed by the volume of material hitting the wall or ceiling, (controlled by nozzle size and horsepower) And by leaving it sprayed, or "knocking it down" with a trowel at different stages of set or drying time. There are literally hundreds of models, sizes and brands of texture machines out there, probably blowing on hundreds of thousands of square feet a day. But they still can't hold a candle to a master mechanic with his hawk, trowels, floats and brushes. A true sand float finish wall is the hardest to accomplish, being that timing is so critical in order to hide the joints between scaffold levels, and maintain a consistant amount of sand brought to the surface. The only other alternative is to let the material set, then rub out all imperfections with a sponge float, which produces an almost smooth troweled finish. Hand textures can be one of the most satisfying and rewarding parts of an acomplished plasterers job, and yet one of the most frustrating for a novice. My only advice for the do-it-yourselfer would be, practice on a small, out of sight area and using a margin or pointing trowel, develop a rythm, then run with it. Or try a good stiff brush like a wisk broom, loosen up the mud, dip in the brush, then throw it at the wall(important note... don't let go of the brush) Leave the big trowels to the experts. But you can use one, if you want to flatten your work out when it starts to set. You might even have fun, until you remember that you still have to clean up your mess.

Stucco simulated brick and stone are really a crude form of scagliola, minus the filling and polishing. A qualified applicator can produce some really convincing results in brick and dressed stone patterns. Variegated coloring in mud is added after the previous layer of gray mud has started to set, then dry-brushed to blend colors and shape, then joints are cut through just to the first layer. A mistake often made when creating rubble face stone is by making the joints all the same width as the cutter. Loosen up a little, and go look closely at a real stone wall sometime. The more irregular the joints, the more convincing it will be. EIFS has a very limited amount of available textural choices, but it more than makes up for it in consistant color, color and more color. And shapes, WOW, who would have ever dreamed that you could glue a 3 foot tall styrofoam crown and dentil molding on a 12 foot tall building. Exposed aggregate or pebbledash is another finish that falls in the plasterers domain, it was popular because of it's very low maintenance properties, but it pretty much died out in the 70's and 80's. It still has its place as an accent here or there, but let's not over-do it. My personal favorite stucco texture is what I call the "bump". It's nothing more than a bunch of gobs, piles, spatters and smears, all brushed and floated together to resemble a rubblestone wall that has been whitewashed, painted and patched countless times over the centuries. Straight from the hills overlooking the Mediterranian. I can't go, because I hear they already have plenty of plasterers over there ;)

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