Detail of Acid-stained Concrete
I asked the uber-talented Richard Holschuh of Concrete Detail to contribute to the #LetsBlogOff brouhaha today by talking about his highly creative medium. He decided to drop acid for the occasion and I think everyone will be impressed as to how coherent he is! In his own words…
The good folks at #letsblogoff (read: “Everyone has a right to my opinion”) – and I am pleased to say I manage to insinuate myself into the lot occasionally – have selected a wide-open topic for this week’s edition. We have been challenged to tackle the subject of creativity – What is it? Who has it? How does it work? A subjective topic if there ever was one… Following is my skewed take on the matter, from a hands-on-concrete point of view, since I spend an inordinate amount of time doing just that! I propose that sometimes there is another element, beyond experience, expertise, and expression: to continue with the alliteration, I might call it “exhale.” Ok, take a deep breath…
Concrete Freshly-stained with Acid
One of life’s harder lessons to learn is that the more one tries to control things, the more success eludes. Coming from a concrete artisan who deals with hard things all day long, it is an especially potent revelation: whereas familiarity with one’s medium lends a certain ease in creative undertakings, as any highly skilled métier might demonstrate, some materials extract more than a little trust in the unknown.
One of the finishing techniques unique to concrete (itself a very fickle mistress – How something so ubiquitous can be so mysterious is a constant source of amazement) is the process of acid-staining, or as some say, acid-etching. Simply put, a mild solution of (typically) hydrochloric acid with various mineral salts in suspension is applied to a clean concrete surface using sundry methods, allowed to interact with the substrate, and then rinsed away, leaving the evidence of the chemical reaction characterized by color changes of varying hues and intensities. The palette (determined by the type of mineral salt/acid solution) runs through many shades of earth tones: yellowish to browns to near black, along with greens and light blues. An innumerable number of combinations and textures are possible, drawing upon blending and painterly application techniques such as spraying, spattering, brushing, dilution, masking, etc.
Before the Acid Has Its Way With the Concrete
The results (when done well) are a beautifully organic, random pattern which recalls the look of ancient stone, burled wood, leather patina, or rusted metal. It is a magical combination of intent and fortuity. The artisan sets the wheels in motion, steps away, and returns to find the dull gray surface transformed into a panoply of nuance: random patterns of intensity, small details of differentiation, a canvas composed jointly by the hand of the artist and the ephemeral nature of his palette. There is a certain grace in sizing up the matter at hand, choosing one’s tack, and then surrendering to the moment and allowing destiny to manifest, even with something as prosaic as a concrete slab.
This technique may be employed on floors, countertops, and other architectural-grade surfaces; in the hands of an artist attune to the possibilities and with a client savvy enough to accept the eventualities, it is a happy confluence of nature and craft. A willingness to accept often allows the unexpected to appear, much to everyone’s mutual delight; creativity starts when control stops. And we hold our breath, gasp in wonder or sigh in amazement at the demonstration, once again, of “accidentally on purpose.”
Fireplace Surround In Its Acidic Glory!