When Warren Ness was invited to be the vertical concrete carving instructor for Cody Carpenter’s Plan B Studio training program last fall in Tacoma, Washington, Ness detailed plans to make a coffee table resembling a large boulder with pops of color, dendritic plant embellishments and a flat top. The latter had a note saying: “Top surface colors to be selected on site.”
But once he got there, colors were not the only thing selected. In a departure from the norm, the typically rough-hewn table would be topped with a polished concrete surface.
“That was Cody’s idea,” Ness says about the top created with a planetary grinder. “I never would have thought to polish that piece. Now I’m hooked on the look.”
Ness, owner of Rock Sculptor in Spokane, Washington, began with a foam core that was cut and covered with a hard coat consisting of sand and cement combined with Trinic’s AR (Alkali Resistant) glass fiber and Car-VZ, an admixture created by Ness and Trinic co-owner Bob Chatterton. The carve coat’s makeup was the same except it omitted the AR fibers.
“Car-VZ already has the ingredients mixed in to make it more durable for outdoor performance,” Ness says. Unlike other systems that involve two different admixtures, “It’s a universal product that works well for hard and carve coats.”
The plant imprints were made with actual fern fronds embedded into the surface and pulled out once the mud had hardened. “I wasn’t sure if that part was going to turn out because the plants were only about 1/16 inch thick,” he says. “But it was thick enough to create a pattern.”
And successful enough that some of the attending artists plan to adopt the technique and incorporate the look into future pieces. “I find that part invigorating,” Ness says, and another discovery that “helps keep the industry alive and well.”
The 190-pound coffee table — which measures 16 inches high, 44 inches long and 20 inches wide — was left granite gray for the most part, “with thick slashes of robust color in places to give it pop and sizzle,” Ness says. It was topically colored with Simsonite Yellow and Primitive Red acrylic stains from Trinic’s ColoRZ line. The two combined to make a beautiful orange, as well as a wide array of brown tones, he adds.
The tabletop, which Ness likens to the look of agate, was polished the day after the foam core was coated with the admixture. “It was cold and rainy in Tacoma,” Ness notes, but it didn’t adversely affect the set time.
To enhance the final look, the top was glazed with two washes of Earth Brown. “Most acrylics don’t penetrate a polished surface,” he says. “That’s why it’s glazed in, a technique that was mastered during the Renaissance.”
The Plan B Studio program is three days of training geared for professionals in the decorative concrete field. It’s been held in the fall for the past few years.