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A Fresh Approach to Plaster Colors

Interview by Jim McCloskey

4-25 Still mugshotIn his role in developing business for Olympic Pool Plastering of Norcross, Ga., Shawn Still has spent a lot of time in front of classrooms for trade groups, including the National Plasterers Council, the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals and Genesis 3.

His next educational venture, in which he partners with Shawn Hayes of Delta Performance Products (Covington, Ga.) to teach “ART: The Color of Water,” will be part of the first-ever weekend of classes for Artistic Resources & Training (ART), scheduled for May 19 and 20, 2012, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

That same weekend, ART’s Mark Holden and David Tisherman will teach a separate course entitled “Advanced Design Techniques.” In this class, students will refine their established skills by working on a real-world project with defined property lines, structures, geology and expressed client needs and desires. Based on this documentation, students will generate general design layouts, specify materials, set structural directions, define mechanical systems, select products and provide overall programming for the project – all in preparation for a full-pressure client review.

Still and Hayes will teach a course of similar rigor, but as Shawn Still explains in this exclusive interview with WaterShapes EXTRA!, there’s nothing familiar about the direction their course will take.

What’s the story behind your course?

I’ve taught lots of classes in the past, and they’ve always been about one aspect or another of what plastering is all about. In some cases, for example, I’ve covered the selection process and how you work with different materials or aggregates or products to achieve desired results. In others, it’s been about specific application techniques and how plasterers can get the job done.

What we’re doing in “ART: The Color of Water” is trying to tie everything together in ways I’ve never seen before – new knowledge about color and about how designers and builders can control and produce interior watershape finishes from concept and sample through to batch preparation and surface installation. It’s a radically new angle on what might seem a familiar set of processes.

Who should attend? Do they need to be color experts to benefit?

No deep expertise is required, nor is the class targeted exclusively to any one level. As we envision it, the information will appeal to anyone from a beginner to an expert and will have value for plasterers as well as designers and builders.

The key to the approach is its scalability: We’re going into the lab to teach participants how to blend their own custom colors in tiny quantities that can be scaled all the way up to thousand-pound batches.

I’ve worked in “custom colors” for many years, and the practice has generally been to use a little of this and a little of that to come at colors by approximation. That approach is fine, but the results you achieve in one project will be almost impossible to reproduce in another. By contrast, what we’re teaching here is a precise, formula-based technique that gives the plasterer, designer or builder complete control.

The analogy isn’t exact, but it’s like a paint store’s coloring technology, where measured quantities of tints are added to a base color to yield buckets of paint that can be reproduced with great accuracy the next time paint of a particular color is needed. In the approach we’re covering, there’s no guesswork anymore: A plaster color can be selected and used from project to project.

What about variations that come with different aggregates? How do these selection issues come into play?

Once you have the knowledge required to mix the materials, the type of aggregate used is just another factor rather than a determining one. The formulas change if you’re using flat plaster rather than a pebble aggregate, for example, but the mixing principles are the same. And the key is focusing on color and batch-to-batch reproducibility rather than the ins and outs of working with different materials.

My teaching partner Shawn Hayes is a pigment expert, and what he knows about achieving colors lines up perfectly with my awareness of issues facing plasterers in the field. In developing the course, we’ve done all we can to cover all the bases. In that sense, this goes far beyond anything we’ve ever done with the National Plasterers Council, for which I was Education Chairman for a number of years. And NPC is aware of and understands what we’re doing.

The fact that the school takes place at Pebble Technology’s training facility adds to the process as well. The company is giving us access to talented technicians who know what’s going on in the field, and we’ll be adding considerable amounts of their practical expertise to the classroom experience.

And I might add that this won’t be eight hours of lecture. We’ll be spending lots of time in the lab getting our hands dirty and trying out all of the techniques we’ll be describing.

How does your own company’s experience come into play here?

It’s a big part of the course’s foundation. In recent years, we’ve been aware that of the 50 colors and surfaces offered by Pebble Technology, for example, fully 75 percent of the specified watershape finishes use just five of the available possibilities. We also do custom work for watershapers on request, but it’s apparent that few of them have a lot of confidence when it comes to motivating their clients to explore a fuller range of options.

Despite that experience and perhaps because of it, we see the ability to develop truly custom, fully reproducible colors as a great potential marketing edge for us. But we also recognize that it’s something we want to share because we think this capability – giving clients real choices and a real chance to get exactly what they want – is something the entire industry needs to pursue on a widespread basis.

Some of our professional clients have even taken to branding colors as uniquely their own. There’s a company called Hilltop Pools in Jonesboro, Ga., that worked with us to develop Hilltop Blue, a plaster color they use to distinguish what they do from what anyone else in the marketplace can offer. It’s a nice color, but it’s not dazzling: What they’ve done is use it to great advantage in positioning themselves with their clients.

This isn’t rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but as we see it, we’re opening eyes to a pool of knowledge that’s never been presented systematically or all in one place. It runs a range from the academic to the hands-in-the-mud work of people who get down in the hole and apply the material, and I believe it will make a difference.
Shawn Still is general manager and partner at Olympic Pool Plastering in Norcross, Ga. He may be reached by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  For more information on the class discussed in this interview, click here.

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