Amber McRae: Women in Drywall

Amber McRae won’t back down. Early on in life, the Ontario taper found she had a knack for the drywall/plaster finishing and painting trades. But then, when life threw a whole heap of obstacles in her way that might have scared some folks off from accomplishing their goals, she kept going, kept hustling — and, today, she owns her own thriving business: Muddy Girl Taping Plastering Painting.

Amber’s journey all started, like any drywall job, with a wall.

“My parents were always handy with stuff,” Amber told us. “They ran a few different businesses before my dad started working at the nuclear plant in Oshawa. They ran a painting business, and when my brothers destroyed the walls [of their bedroom], my mom said if I wanted their bedroom, then I had to fix the walls and paint it. That's, I guess, where it started. Then I moved in with my dad, and there was a guy that was staying with him to do this retirement home in Peterborough, and he asked me if I wanted to learn … I left high school to learn how to tape.”

After about a two-year stint learning the tools of the trade, Amber ran into her first wall, when her mentor moved to Toronto. She tried to make the long commutes work on weekends, but after some bad experiences, she took a break from the trade; she went to college and got into a career as a social worker for four years. Soon enough, though, Amber felt herself almost magnetically pulled back into her true calling and re-entered the taping world. But, even with all her experience, she ran into several more walls, with employers who were unable to pay her and a local union that refused to let her join up.

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“This is I guess where I started having the fire under my butt to start my own business, because the union said they didn't want to take me,” Amber says. “This was six or seven years ago, but they didn't take me. [chuckles] I was like, ‘Well, enough of this. I'm just going to start my own business.’ I didn't take a business program, I just dove head-in, like, okay, I need to have a name for my business. I need to get registered, I need to get liability insurance, all these different things. It was heavy. I think I'm relatively savvy when it comes to social media, so I created a page, and then I shared it with all my friends … It just spread like wildfire.

“I was busy for like a month, and then I was busy for two months, and then I was busy for three months. Now I just had my seven years in March running my own business. I have two other people that I've hired … It's going really well now. We're really busy. We're doing a lot bigger projects than the ones that I was used to working on, which were a lot smaller, like renovations and things that I could handle at the time. Now we're doing houses and we're about to start probably the largest project I've ever done.”

So what was it about finishing drywall and plaster that made Amber keep going, even when everyone else was telling her no?

“It's an art — if you really enjoy music, you keep doing it,” says Amber. “If you really enjoy painting, like a picture, you keep doing it. It's just something that's in me, I guess, that I didn't want to let go of. I love working with my hands. I love being able to manipulate my tools to do what I want the mud to do now. For a long time, it was teaching me what it needed. It taught me a lot of patience and it taught me a lot about myself.”

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