Nathan Giffin, owner and director of Hickory Hills, Ill.-based Vertical Artisans, has spent nearly a decade specializing in hand-carved vertical concrete, after a South African friend turned him onto the technique. During the 2008 Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstrations, World of Concrete attendees will get to see firsthand how he's made a name for himself turning humble concrete into beautiful 'stone' masterpieces. You can also see more of his work in the November/December issue of Concrete & Masonry Construction Products, available in the publication racks around the Convention Center.
Question: What do you like best about your work?
Answer: I enjoy creating something of value, something desirable from mere sand and cement.
Question: What's your favorite project so far?
Answer: If I had to choose one, I would choose the Baroque Basement, featured on my home page (www.verticalartisans.com). Really, my favorite job is the one I'm on. It doesn't start out that way, but halfway through the project, I begin to really get excited about my work. I am constantly trying to outdo myself.
Question: Do you have any words of wisdom to offer someone just starting out in decorative, or considering jumping into it?
Answer: The decorative concrete market is still an untapped marketplace. Even with the popularity of the stamping industry, my craft (hand carving) is still virtually unknown. I have been hand-carving for eight years in the Chicagoland area and still have not even scratched the surface. If you are considering the decorative concrete markets, I would suggest the vertical markets. The manufacturers of wall mixes are really starting to hit the marketplace. When people discover this, and it becomes as popular as the flat stamping has, I predict that even though flat work may be more popular, vertical will capture the big dollars. People will always spend more money on the inside of their home than on the driveway or patio.
Question: How has the decorative industry changed in recent years?
Answer: I might step on some toes, but here it goes. . .I remember when stampers would get $18 to $22 a square for their craft. Now, with manufacturers all producing essentially the same stamp sets, every body has the same stuff. Contractors are competing with other contractors with the same styles, and for what? A bag of peanuts. The markets have dropped to $9 to $12 a square, sometimes even less than that.
However, just the opposite in the decorative countertop arena, you have individual skills at work. There is more education with the coloring and styling that make that market continue to grow. You will still have the hacks out there—people that just don't care about detail—but those who invest in themselves will prosper. That is why I have chosen the vertical markets to work in and to teach my particular methods. The marketplace is wide open. With education and individuals expressing themselves through their work, you will always see the markets go up.
Question: What advancements have you noticed?
Answer: I am very impressed with some of the individuals that are teaching about custom countertops.
Question: Any final words of wisdom?
Answer: If you are interested in the vertical markets, don't just settle for a couple of stamp sets. I have made it my job to teach more guys to tap into this market, where they can show up with a suitcase full of tools and carve anything that the client can imagine. The only limitation is imagination.
The sixth annual Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstrations—presented by Concrete Construction magazine—take place in the Silver Lot outside the Convention Center during exhibit hours through Thursday. The presenters' masterpieces will remain on display on Friday. For more information, visit your Program & Exhibits guide.