Crystal Ploszay’s path to acclaim as an expert in concrete artistry actually began at a Youth Guidance summer camp she attended in Vero Beach at just 9 years old. Having signed up for art classes, she was fortunate to have as her teacher retired Navy Capt. Vining Sherman, a world-traveled artist who generously volunteered his time as a mentor.
Sherman took a liking to her and provided her with six months of art classes, $500 in art supplies and, more importantly, a long-time friendship and apprenticeship. Ploszay says Sherman her how to view and perceive an alternative reality; a perspective that ultimately engendered a journey as a working artist with a career path that has been more trial and error than lineal and clear.
“I loved every aspect of the creativity in all forms of art” Ploszay explains. “I just wasn’t sure how to approach it.”
Ploszay attended Indian River Charter School, obtaining a GED in 10th grade while taking duel enrollment classes at Indian River State College.
“I briefly entertained the idea of studying nuclear science and eventually pursued an education in business, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that I much preferred making things with my hands,” she says. “So, I took classes at the Vero Beach Museum of Art in welding, painting and sculpting. I can really make anything from anything.”
Ploszay entered the world of concrete artistry about a decade ago, quickly absorbing every bit of knowledge she could. She now works with more than 200 products and is familiar with all of the specs on every one of them.
“I consumed myself with studying worksheets and learning OSHA compliance guidelines so whatever I installed would stand the test of time,” says Ploszay. “Concrete can be used to make sculptures, countertops, showers, waterfalls, furniture, flooring and even trees. My clients may not necessarily be looking for concrete, but they just don’t know that concrete is their answer yet.”
She has been involved with more than 400 unique installation projects and consistently creates stunning, functional works of art that can express an individual’s personality, passion and emotion.
“My job is to manipulate a feeling and create a vision of my client’s style. If someone asks me to design a seascape floor, I want to find out if they want it to feel serene or bustling with life. Those are two very different images.”
That discovery process includes full consultations, personal style worksheets, and even asking clients for a list of adjectives to describe what they hope the overall feel will be.
Although concrete can be applied over an existing concrete slab, tile, wood or vinyl, Ploszay says the finished product is only a good as the underlying base.
“We grind down tile and sand wood to create a flat, adhesive surface. We then work in layers, starting with the concrete base, painting, texturing and sealing. I work very quickly, sometimes with two or three paint brushes in each hand, so most flooring projects can be completed in about a week’s time. I use polymer acrylic concrete, so it should last 20 years so with proper care and indefinitely if it’s inside and protected from the elements.”
Her mastery of the craft has become so proficient that her techniques are known worldwide and her expertise in this niche industry is often sought out. Such is the case with the construction of the new Children’s Garden at McKee Botanical Garden, slated to open later this year.
Ploszay and her crew were brought in to collaborate on the painting and final finishing touches of the massive mushrooms, pirate ship and wildlife designed by Cockram Scenario of Orlando, the contractor hired for the project. The global firm has worked on theme parks around the world; locally including Disney, Universal and Sea World.
“It’s an honor to work with such a renowned company,” says Ploszay. “I’m humbled to be consulted.”
At age 31, Ploszay is now a highly successful entrepreneur. She is CEO and lead artisan of Unmistakable Flooring and is making a living with two thriving concrete companies: Badass Floorscapes, which focuses on the emotional impact of a physical space, and Unicorn Epoxy, which puts a more traditional spin on artistic flooring.
She has been featured in publications, podcasts and radio shows around the nation and is a member of various trade organizations, including the International Decorative Artisans League and the Sherwin Williams Advisory Board.
Ploszay says she is committed to changing the paradigm of the starving artist by uniting her skills in the concrete industry with the arts world.
“Concrete is my vehicle to a career in art. But I am working on a project which will unite artists under one roof and empower them with education, support and the business savvy to obtain sustainable, lucrative and fulfilling work in the arts,” says Ploszay.
“In my opinion, the key to being a prolific artist is constantly being in a state of discomfort. Comfort is a cocoon where artists go to die. I like to do things that make me feel uncomfortable and push me to my limits. … I’m constantly trying to take me out of myself because that’s when growth occurs.”