“The best part about running my small artisan business is being able to make art that I love for a living.”
–Polly Doolittle, Speciality Plaster Painter, Charolette, N.C.
Always artistically inclined, Polly Doolittle started working with ceramics while earning a science degree. After college, she built props for Pride floats and found that she enjoyed working as an artist’s assistant, helping to create bigger projects. A cross-country move to New York led her to artist Ben Lai, who specializes in high-end finishes. He saw that she had a background in ceramics and had a hunch she’d like working with plaster. She fell in love with it.
Doolittle specializes in veneer plaster, a multilayer finishing system used to add color, texture, and dimension to a wall, fireplace, or—most popularly for Doolittle—range-hood cover. She also does veneer plaster on accent walls and in powder rooms on the residential side, where folks are looking for subtlety.
Doolittle is passionate about her materials, which directly impact the quality of her work. The plaster she uses is made from limestone, water, and sand at different aggregate sizes depending on the final texture she’s trying to achieve. “I am super loyal to Master of Plaster, a family-owned and woman-run business based out of South Carolina,” she says. “It’s organic, and there are no acrylic additives.”
Doolittle’s tools and process require an artist’s touch and plenty of patience. Trowels, scraper blades, putty knives, and palette knives all play a role. “Plastering can be a tricky artisan craft that takes real dedication and attention to detail,” she says. “You really have to love the material and love the outcome to have the patience required to use all your tools the right way and learn how to correct mistakes.”
While having an artist’s eye is helpful, plaster veneer is also a trade that someone with a willingness to experiment and learn can pick up, though Doolittle encourages novices to be ready to do the less glamorous work like prepping floors and taping ceilings first.
“The most fulfilling part [of being a professional artist] is being able to create something that looks and feels organic, from the earth, existing right on the line of order and chaos. I feel like working with plaster is in a way a tribute to nature,” she says. “Bringing texture into someone’s home is like a little bit of life coming back into sterile modern homes that can otherwise feel so separated from nature.”
—Andrew Zoellner, executive director, Keep Craft Alive
From Fine Homebuilding #315