Saturday, November 22, 2008

Concrete Construction Online is a really useful resource for concrete sculpture, mainly because of their large inventory of articles from back issues of Residential Concrete and Decorative Concrete magazines. The following link is for an article which gives a good overview of several artists' approaches to concrete sculpture. It was originally published in 2006 in Residential Concrete Magazine.
Several other excellent articles about concrete sculpture are available as PDF downloads, by searching through the "news and articles" link on their menu bar using the word "sculpture." You'll find information about the artists as well as technical information such as mix design and process.

Friday, September 26, 2008

At Ease with the Material

I received an email today, an edited version of which follows:

Dear Mr. Goss,
I have your book and I have been trying to read, research, and experiment as much as I can before I start in my quest of creating sculptures using concrete. During my research I came across an amazing artist named Mike Moran who uses a technique that makes the concrete look like clay ( There is nothing out there that explains how to get this look on concrete and there is no way that I can get that look experimenting. By any chance do you happen to know how it is done?
Thank you

This is what I replied:

Thank you so much for telling me about this artist. The work is really amazing. But to your questions...

The simplest answer is that this artist has obviously been working in concrete for some time and understands its qualities and limitations. I'm sure you could get the same effects, but it takes time and lots of practice. I wouldn't worry too much about mixes and recipes–the main issue is understanding the qualities of the material. These pieces weren't done in the same way that you would work with clay. The armatures are carefully worked out; there is probably steel mesh wrapped around the steel rods so that the concrete is given support while it is applied. You cannot get these kind of forms in concrete without that steel structure underneath. You can make concrete more clay-like by adding fibers and pozzolans (e.g. metakaolin, as I described in the book), but it never becomes as malleable and sticky as clay. You have to learn to work within those limitations.

If you look at the clay head pieces as an example–
The gallery describes it: "With very expressive features, this large head appears to rise out of the ground or table top. Moran etched, burnished, and stained the concrete to convey the illusion of weathered clay." As the description says, it's trying to look like clay, but that's an illusion. My best guess is that the head was basically made around steel mesh, from a fairly stiff grey sand/cement mix. Then thinner layers of black-dyed mix were applied by hand (you can see the marks of some of his tools). It looks as if he's using a fairly stiff mix and really pushing it hard against the surface. When it's partially set, he may be scraping some of that off, burnishing it with wood or steel tools, or rough sanding it a bit, then adding a slightly different tinted mix. The white Portland cement (or maybe that's even paint?) appears to have been added last.

As I've implied, this works looks easy—just as an experienced clay artist can make working with clay look easy. But it's not. It looks easy because he's had lots of experience understanding the material and is at ease with the material. I think one of the signs of what we call good art is that it appears to be effortless. But it can only be effortless when the materials are mastered.

I wouldn't worry about doing more research into concrete before starting. My advice would be to just start, and keep doing it, working through the failures until you develop this ease. I know you asked a technical question, and in a sense I've answered from another direction, but I hope it helps.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Concrete Transmits Light

LiTriCon has been around for a few years now, but it still sounds like science fiction to those who think of concrete as massive, opaque and heavy. Essentially, LiTraCon is a fine concrete mix with about 4% of its volume taken up with optical glass fibres. What you end up with is translucent concrete, that is, concrete that light and shadows can be transmitted through.

This blog has good summary of what it is and where it's heading:

Of course you don't get complete tramsission of the scene behind the wall, but you do get the play of light and shadow, the shadows of leaves or people walking by. So instead of concrete becoming a visual barier, it's suddenly opened up. The uses in architecture are immediately obvious, but in small-scale work lamps and light surrounds come to mind, and LiTraCon is already making those for sale.

Andreas Bittis in Germany is also making "translucent concrete," so it appears this is a trend.
And here's a third one:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Little and Lewis

Little and Lewis
create concrete sculptures for the garden in bright colours and shapes that are inspired by both plants and classical Greece. Their book, called A Garden Gallery, by George Little and David Lewis and published by Timber Press, is now out of print but you can get it from their web site at I already link to them on my Art Concrete web site but saw a recent article and photographs of their work in the online web site of the OCRegister.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Concrete Sculptures in Catalonia

The Guardian website for May 28, 2008, has an article about some life-size and (be warned) x-rated concrete sculptures in Catalonia just north of Barcelona, Spain. You'll also find a small slide show there. Since the 1970's, artist Xicu Cabanyes has been adding to his private sculpture park.
You can also do a search on Flickr for Cabanyes' work:

Friday, May 30, 2008

More About Simple and Fast

In my last post I was talking about using modelling clay as a fast and easy mold material. Here are a couple of "IDEA" pins from a series I have been working on, for a show at Shaw Jewelry Gallery. The exhibition is called "Set in Concrete" and will be the work of six jewelers who all make jewelry in concrete. It will be on July 3 to 16, in Northeast Harbor, Maine.

For this series, I used rubber letter stamps impressed in a hard modelling clay, then pressed a softer clay into that. Then I pulled the soft clay off, distorted it, sliced it up and reassembled it so it was skewed, then cast a fine concrete mix into that mold. In the one pin you can just make out little pieces of clay imbedded in the folds. In the black one I applied gold leaf to the recessed letters. The pin backs are two tie tacs (not shown). They are fusion welded onto thin bronze strips that are cast just below the back surface.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Keep It Simple

In my own work, I try to keep things as simple as possible. With a material like concrete (or even clay or metal) it's really easy to get bogged down in the details, the additives, temperatures, tensile strengths and so on. It's not that these details aren't important, but you don't want to lose sight of the fact that creating something, expressing something, making art - these are the reasons you are using that particular material.

As an antidote to that technological bog, I often use modelling clay as a quick mold. I use Plasticene®, but any oil-based modelling clay works. You can work directly in the material with rubber stamps, carving tools, or even your fingers. It's a relaxing creative process with no worries about making mistakes - just roll out some more and try again. I work with two hardnesses of modelling clay. For example, if I wanted letters to be raised on the surface of a final concrete piece, I would use rubber stamp letters (like the kind you find in children's printing sets) pressed into a flat sheet of the harder Plasticene, dust it with talcum powder, then press the softer clay into that mold. When pulled apart, this softer clay now becomes the mold for the final concrete. You have to be careful placing the concrete into the soft mold as the surface is easily marred.

In this concrete pin, I created a simple mold from modelling clay, by pressing a ridged form into the soft clay, texturing the negative space with lines, then cast concrete into it. Later I applied gold leaf.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Concrete Reveries by Mark Kingwell

Mark Kingwell, cultural theorist and University of Toronto philosophy professor, has just published a new book called Concrete Reveries. Although it is not really about concrete, it sounds like an interesting read – dealing with the ideas of cities as creative works in progress. I heard Kingwell speak at a lecture at Harbourfront in Toronto recently, and he has a unique yet understandable way of helping you see large issues. He uses "the urban experience to illustrate the dynamic between concreteness and abstraction that operates within us," says the publisher, Penguin Group Canada.

"Any material becomes the sum of its treatments," Kingwell says in the introduction to the book. I think this is particularly true of concrete.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

New 'Green' Fibres for Concrete

For those interested in reinforcing fibers for concrete (these are the chopped strands that help prevent shrinkage cracks and on small scale work help increase tensile strength), there's a new fiber making process from Nycon. They are using post consumer carpets (that translates as old carpets that are about to be thrown away) remade into polypropylene or nylon fibers for added strength in your concrete mix. Old carpets are a huge landfill problem, so this is a great solution.

The new fibers are called Nycon-G. From a recent news release:
"Available in both nylon and polypropylene blends, Nycon-G fibers represent a break-through in green building technology. They are the only fibers on the market today that have no net negative impact on the environment."

I've recommended using fibers as a concrete additive both on the Art Concrete website and my own book, Concrete Handbook for Artists. I particularly like PVA (poly vinyl alcohol) fibers, although these are not part of this green initiative.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Here's a start...

I already have a couple of websites, one about art concrete. It's not like I need another, but this one will give a more personal point of view about my concrete life, or more accurately, the part of my life where I work in concrete.

What does that mean? Sharing my thoughts on creating concrete objects whether they be jewellery or sculpture, dealing with technical problems and hopefully solving them, letting others know what interesting and relevant new developments and web sites are out there.