Roy Snowball no longer has a staining business in New Zealand. His dream had always been to live on a sailboat and sail around the world. In 2011 his wife, Jose, passed away, so he made his garage-studio into a rental apartment and rented both units out while he traveled to San Diego, California to purchase a live-aboard sailboat. This arrangement worked well, as he could live off the income while he fixed up his new boat, keeping it in a marina in Baja California (Mexico). The rental agency, however, chose tenants unwisely. One renter was a meth addict who trashed the entire apartment and pulled the door off a locked garage, in which Roy had stored all his concrete artworks, his truck, diving gear, & tools. Everything was stolen in one go. Suddenly Roy’s rental payments came to a halt.  The rental agency was oblivious, until an old friend drove by the house and surveyed the damage. Roy had to return to New Zealand for a year to make repairs and sell the house. He is now happily back living the mariner’s life in Mexico, sailing between the mainland and Baja.  I really miss having Roy’s sage advice about the chemistry of stains and sealers and being able to do experiments in his studio.  (Editor, 2018)

Roy & Jose in their garden

I apologize for announcing my new blog, then being slow to begin it. I recently returned from a five-week trip to spectacular New Zealand. Since my floor staining business is slow in December and January that is when I schedule my vacation trips. This year I went to see Roy and his wife, Jose (spelled “Josie” in American English) Snowball, who live in the countryside about an hour north of Auckland. They invited me to stay in their rambling home, which Roy calls “the mausoleum,” and treated me like visiting royalty. December and January are full summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so we were able to experiment for hours in Roy’s open-air studio.

Autumn Vista, an art board we did

On my first visit two years ago we worked on landscape boards which Roy trimmed down to about 2 feet by 4 feet.

While our experiments were curing we could take side trips to any number of spectacular coves and beaches near Roy’s home. This is not a bad way to work! . I also spent three weeks on my own touring the South Island and staying in inexpensive hostels – the best way to meet other travelers.

Gaye taking a swim break

Roy is an old hand at concrete placement and stamping and has been doing decorative acid staining ever since he took one of my Albuquerque seminars five years ago. He knows a great deal about chemistry and manufactures his own stains. His website is www.quantumacidstains.co.nz.

For studio work he has developed a super fine-grained microtopping which can be thinly troweled onto concrete backer-boards and stained in multiple layers. If the first coat of topping is tinted gray and allowed to dry and a second coat of white is applied very thinly over it, you can see swirling trowel marks showing through the upper layer of microtopping which is translucent.

An oval tabletop Roy made and stained brown, laying pieces of dried grass into the wet stain.

If this is then stained with brown, the color will be nicely mottled instead of solid.

One can continue adding “veils” of translucent microtopping and staining them until a great deal of depth is achieved. When Roy applies his solvent-based sealer the result looks very much like fine polished marble. The photo below shows a blue and brown tabletop Roy did in this way.

Blue and brown tabletop

Acid staining as a floor finish is virtually unknown in New Zealand, so clients wanting interior floors are rare. Local stainers have to use acid stain in other ways and are finding that garden furniture, large planters, and garden wall plaques are more often in demand than flooring.

New Zealand has a temperate, lush climate and homeowners spend more time outdoors than in. Roy and I visited the studios of four of his artist friends and I was impressed with the variety and ingenuity of their work. I will report on their work in future blogs.

Roy is specializing in creating outdoor furniture of polystyrene glued and sandwiched between two concrete boards so as to make tabletops which are lightweight, yet durable enough to withstand heavy rains. He has been experimenting with central motifs using stencils of local fauna such as the image below of the “Leafy Seahorse.”

Leafy Seahorse

It is a rare joy to be able to collaborate in the studio with another artist (since egos and opinions about art often block consensus). Roy allowed me to make decisions about composition, while I followed his lead on what chemistry and layering might best achieve the look we wanted. We worked on multiple boards at a time so that the serendipitous events happening on one work could then inspire a new direction on the second or third board. Certainly we had some failures and created some messes, but nothing that could not be resurrected by another layer of Roy’s miracle microtopping!

It is invigorating to take time out from the business of staining floors and repairing floors to look around and see what other concrete stainers are doing. I returned to the U.S. with new energy and a more expansive view of the possibilities inherent in our craft.

Staining boards in Roy’s studio

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