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Finish of the Month About Kathy Contact Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes

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Debby Spertus and Paula Clayton
Signature Mural & Finish, Inc.
Evanston, IL

Before their paths crossed, both Debby Spertus and Paula Clayton had successful careers of their own.  Debby is a classically trained artist.  She has studied in Paris at Ecole du Louvre, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and with practicing artists.  While working as a studio artist, she was invited by her child’s school to paint a mural.  From there she started taking faux finishing classes and loved it.  In January 2006 she formed her own corporation, and figured that she would always be working by herself.  That was until October 30, 2006, when she bought the business that Paula had been working for.

Paula, originally from New Zealand, enjoys working with sculpture and bone carving, as well as mural work.  She has a BFA in painting from Western Michigan University.  Of earning her degree she says, “I always knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a mural artist ... I wasn’t one of the kids still trying to figure out what they wanted to do.”  It is that vision and determination that has taken her to where she is today.  She has spent her last ten years in the states working in mural and faux finishes.

When asked about their meeting Debby says, “When we met, although we were both very talented and successful on our own, the whole became greater than the sum of each of us individually.”  Once you speak to them you immediately understand this statement.  The energy that the two give off is immense and extremely contagious.  They are the perfect compliment to each other’s work.  Debby says, “When we work together we don’t care who does what, there is no ego involved.  It’s all about the final product.”

The two especially enjoy working with plasters, stencils, and concrete, as well as their individually designed free hand murals.  They pride themselves on not being limited to “traditional” surfaces and materials and say, “People don’t understand what we mean when we say we paint everything.  We mean we’ll paint everything that can take paint.  Cars, sidewalks, floors, walls, ceilings, furniture … you name it.”  In fact Paula’s own car is a powerful visual form of advertisement for them. 

Their versatility shows in their completed work.  They completed a mural in a Winnetka home of the family’s favorite beach to vacation at.  They worked from photos that they were provided and added the family dog as a finishing touch.  In the same home, they also made stencils from gingko leaves in the customer’s yard and applied them to a textured linen background.  It’s these personal touches that make their work so unique and special to their clients.

One of their recent jobs was working on Wishes, Toy Wonderland at The Glen in Glenview.  They painted freehand murals and were requested to turn a support beam into a tree.  Paula’s experience with sculpture was invaluable in this instance.  Showing yet another one of their strengths as a team, they are not only skilled artisans; they are also creative problem solvers.  A current job at Sunrise Assisted Living is another example of their problem solving ability.  The facility was looking for a way to make the doors less noticeable to potentially disoriented residents so that they would not cause harm to themselves by leaving the facility.  They painted the doors to match the wallpaper using stencils and glazes and also added still life.  Debby explains, “It was a more elegant way of making the doors discreet.”

In the summer of 2007 the pair had the opportunity to work on two globes for the Cool Globes project in Chicago.  They had originally missed the application date to contribute, but when the Sierra Club globe ran into problems, Paula was invited to work on it.  After organizers saw the results and dependability that the two delivered, they then were invited to complete the Lollapalooza globe as well.  The Sierra Club globe is currently on exhibit in San Francisco as part of a touring show featuring some of the Chicago globes.

Continuing education is also a very important aspect of their business.  In addition to their previous training, they continue to learn at the Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes.  Recently Debby has taken Kathy’s Professional Update course.  She says of Kathy:  “She stands behind what she does.  Kathy knows everything.  The Chicago Institute is our go to resource to learn and purchase supplies.  Everyone there is so helpful.”  They also love to take advantage of the “pay by the board” aspect of open studio time at the Institute. 

At one time in particular, while working on sample boards, they saw a sample board done in gold hologram foil and fell in love with it.  They learned how to create the effect while in the studio and had been waiting anxiously to use the technique.  They found their opportunity when working on the Brian Andrew Design Center in Northfield.   The trompe l'oiel archway shown is embellished with gold hologram foil, clear crackle, and stain using the very technique that they learned in Kathy’s studio.  Paula says of Kathy’s product selection:  “Someone once told me that if you can paint well, you can use anything, even peanut butter and jelly, and make it look good.  We can paint well, but we find Kathy’s products far more durable and her selection superior.  Not to mention the support she provides.”  Debby adds, “She cheers you on and laughs with you.  Kathy is always there for you.”

Debby Spertus can be reached at 847-477-1853 or for more information visit their website at sigmufi.com.

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