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Sometimes You Gotta Let Go: A Concrete Tale

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!

To see posts by the entire #LetsBlogOff gang, click here. My post today is on The Road to Promise.
Florence von Pelet

Florence is a senior editor at Modenus.com. Aside from her natural passion for interiors, kitchens and baths Florence also leads the way on Modenus’ BlogTours around the world so please follow her on Twitter to get the latest information and inspiration about design trends from around the world.

  • http://chamwashere.blogspot.com Chamois

    Perhaps the one and only time you will be told that experimenting with acid isn’t such a bad thing – stunning work as usual!

  • http://www.buildingcontent.highercontent.com Collier Ward

    “Creativity starts when control stops.” Well said.
    That’s one of my favorite nuggets of this round of Lets BlogOff.

    Great post – I only wish there was a video of the acid-staining process.

  • http://roamingbydesign.com Saxon Henry

    You’re so on point, Chamois! No body rocks acid-dropping on concrete like Rich! So love the finish he achieved in this post! Are you hitting the books again yet?

  • http://www.concretedetail.com Rich Holschuh

    Coming from you, Chamois, it’s carte blanche! Kinda funny, too, considering the fact I won’t go anywhere with the complete lack of a proviso.Thanks for the kudos!

  • http://www.buildingmoxie.com jb @BuildingMoxie

    making concrete pliable. (pretty good at bending words too). Agree with the lot — many lessons to be taken here …some far extending — “magic with concrete”. (in fact not far off from what I have been studying recently.) And … of course, none of that over shadows some of the practical knowledge passed. hat’s off, as always — brilliant work here.

  • http://www.concretedetail.com Rich Holschuh

    Saxon: Thanks for backing me up and bringing me on board the Modenus blog. I need every kick in the pants I can get! And I am in such good company…

    Collier: Thanks for the comment. I am not the best at practicing what I preach with regard to letting go – ironically, it’s an acquired ability. The evidence helps to instill the lesson.

    jb: I am always amazed at the crossovers between disciplines: the fact that we can all learn something from another’s experiences and the realization that we have more in common than separates us is an insight that is driven home daily. Thanks for weighing in!

  • http://www.trikeenan.com robin holland-ratheau

    rich -love the hearth. i NEED a sample of just that! assuming you have any left? one of your hearths with trikeenan’s new glazed brick would be gorge! let’s make that happen this year! good reading! thanks!

  • http://www.cft411.com Joseph

    Wow. I read the most of the entries on Tuesday, thought I had them all, then stopped and, frankly, got busy with other things. Right now I have some time and am making my way through those I missed. This is definitely one of the better ones, although judging from the work you guys do (I blogged on you once, so you know how I feel about you), you definitely have the inside track on this creativity thing. I am very comfortable with it when I write. Not so much with other things. And to do what you do, let nature do its thing any way it wants to, is frankly scary. And awesome, I think we have to say that!

  • http://www.concretedetail.com Rich Holschuh

    Robin: my friend, neighbor, and colleague! Thanks for swinging into Modenus, a repository of wonderful design-y goodness. I agree, trikeenan’s glazed brick (hot item if there ever was one!) is a perfect accompaniment to concrete. Ceramic glazes and acid stains have much in common: their organic variability is their greatest attribute. Looking forward to further adventures…

    Joseph: Thanks so much my faraway friend. The web brings our distance into perspective and allows us to connect over the shared love of process. I appreciate your comments and continued encouragement for my craft (both artisan concrete and writing). Fight the good fight: which, after all, is not a struggle when learning to let go.

  • http://www.joppacommunications.com Erica

    Rich, thank your for a great, and well-timed, post! I’ve been struggling with a project and, yes, I’ve been trying to control the outcome (over which I have absolutely no control). This is a nice reminder to stay focused on the process, to be present in what I am doing right now, to provide a safe place for clients to share their concerns and decide upon the path they will follow, and then allow the outcome to evolve naturally from an honest and conscientious process. When I let go of my obsessive need to control the outcome, the process becomes more enjoyable and, in the end, the outcome is usually so much more fulfilling. I’m a huge fan of your lessons from concrete!

  • http://concretedetail.com Rich Holschuh

    Erica- So glad my musings come across in a relevant manner for you, in your own ventures; the transference is an unexpected blessing, or benefit. I love to sit over a beer or coffee and exchange insights and impressions with almost anyone, abut almost anything. I do draw the line at sports – but that’s just me!

  • http://floorsconcrete.com Acid Stain

    Nice and very interesting post. Your opinion is more or less the same as main. Thanks!


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