Friday, July 2, 2010

Concrete Sculpture Finished

Well, it took me two weeks to finish off the sculpture that I showed last time on this blog. It took several thin layers of cement on top of what I showed June 14, one of them dyed with a brick-coloured pigment, as you can see from this image. The two parts rest against each other and form a tripod as a base.

Leaning, concrete sculpture, 2010

I toned down the stripes quite a bit from the last images; they seemed to detract too much from the forms. One thing you can't see are six-inch rods coming out of the base of the forms. They are embedded in the grass for additional support. I set the bolts in the concrete by drilling then filling the holes with a concrete epoxy, the kind used in the construction industry for setting lag bolts into foundation walls.

The sculpture is now in the Artful Garden exhibition at Jon and Suzann Partridge's studio in Muskoka, Ontario.

Monday, June 14, 2010

More on the Concrete Sculpture

I took some photographs of the recent concrete sculpture I have been working on. The structure (armature) is steel rebar with steel mesh wrapped around that. The sculpture is in two parts that will be resting on each other, separate but together, in the final piece.

My original idea was black and white stripes on the branch-like forms, but I toned down the really strong contrast. The first photo shows the thin black-pigmented cement after being applied. I used masking tape to keep the smooth mixture in the right places. When the cement had cured enough (about 24 hours) I peeled off the tape and wet sanded the piece. Then I scratched grooves in the surface with very coarse sandpaper (16 grit) and an old file, followed by an application of a thin layer of white Portland cement and metakaolin that covered everything. The next photo shows the application of that thin white layer.

You can see the scratches made in the black in the photo. The white smooth mix is rubbed into those grooves so that when most of the white is sanded off, the lines would show as white. After I did this I then did the revese colour process—scratching that surface again, but this time rubbing a thin black layer over everything. After this cures I will wet sand it off with something like a 320 grit paper to reveal (hopefully) a very complex and interesting surface.

In the meantime both pieces of the sculpture are wrapped in plastic to allow them to damp cure.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sketches for a Sculpture

I've been working on a concrete sculpture for a couple of weeks now. My ideas started with some very brief sketches with the idea of dependency and relationship. I like the idea of one object leaning on another one so that they are both in a sense holding each other up. I have also been thinking about the number of projects I had been working on all at the same time, and debating internally whether that was a bad thing ("to do anything well you have to do only one thing without distraction") or a good thing ("creativity comes out of chaos").

The first images in my sketchbook were simple line drawings, and then I tested some of those ideas by bending the forms in copper wire, to see how gravity and geometry would work with those ideas. Then I made two separate armatures out of steel rebar and expanded steel mesh (stucco lath), then made a mixture of cement, sand and polystyrene beads which I pushed into and through the lath. I used this lightweight mixture because the pieces are about six feet long, and I wanted to be able to lift them. Over a period of several days I applied thinner layers of white Portland cement mixed with white sand onto the surface of the growing shapes. That's about where I am now, applying thinner and smoother layers of alternating bands of white cement and black pigmented cement as final finishes.

This morning I found a scrap of paper on which I had written some notes and done a couple of little sketches. It was about half-way through the design process, so I thought I would scan it and share it. I also seem to have resolved the conflict about working on many things at once. I had written "creativity is something your brain does when you're working on something else", then edited it to "creativity is something your brain does when you're thinking of something else." This must have been influenced by the Zen directive in brush painting: "It is not I that am doing this." Under that I wrote: "That's my excuse for doing so many things at once."

I'll post some pictures soon of the sculpture as it develops. At the same time I am continuing to make and market jewellery, and I am also trying to tie up a project I started a few months ago which is neither concrete-related or jewellery-related.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Concrete Statue at Denver Airport

A seven ton 26 foot concrete statue of Anubis, Egyptian god of death and the afterlife, is being installed at Denver International Airport. The statue will be there for the duration of a King Tut show, June 9, 2010 to January 9, 2011. (The King Tut show closed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in May. The statue appears to be the same one used outside the AGO.) According to, the jackal-headed statue will weigh in at 9000 pounds, and is being assembled in sections.

The statue appears be controversial on a couple of levels. A statue of the god of death in an airport might make some superstitious passengers nervous,  and the American end-of-days movement is concerned about the growing number of "pagan statues" being erected.

I for one don't mind the idea of a god of death (pagan or otherwise) overlooking an airport. I confront my own mortality every time I fly, so why shouldn't everyone else be reminded of theirs? The end of days argument is that we are putting up idols against the wishes of a jealous god. "After all of God's warnings we just have got to tempt fate," they say. Surely we all recognize that this is a Egyptian god from a long-dead religion. Or do these people believe that art is even more powerful than I imagined.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Concrete Survey, Part 2

These are the last half of the results of the concrete as an art material survey I did last week.

In  question 4, we asked about concrete's main strengths. Low cost was the most popular choice, with appearance and durability coming in close behind.

Concrete's main weakness was seen as its weight — and by a wide margin. I had put "weight" as a choice in the survey in both both strengths and weaknesses questions, so it was no surprise that weight was the least popular in the strengths section. The public's perception of concrete as cheap building material put it as the second biggest weakness of concrete. Permeability to moisture and susceptibility to frost were tied for third place as weaknesses.

There were lots of comments for both these questions.
  • "It is what it is," wrote one person.
  • Someone else asked: "By 'shock value' I assume you mean you can make it look like another medium?! Yes, I love it when I hear observers look questioningly as if to ask: what IS this material..." No, actually I meant shock value in that we think of it often as a building material but it can still be beautiful in its own right. I don't actually want my concrete to look like something else. I might paint it bright red, but you would still know it was painted concrete. "It is what it is." In the "strengths" question, I should have put a choice that said: "Quiet presence."
  • Someone else commented: "People are strange in their perceptions of value, they can be put off by the use of concrete through thinking of it as "cheap" instead of recognising the skill it takes to transform a pile of sand and minerals into a work of art."
  • "Any weaknesses are a reflection of the artist, not the material."
Which sculptural medium appears to be the most valuable to you? That was the last question in the survey. Bronze 36%. Concrete and stone, both 26%. Steel and wood, a distant fifth and sixth place. People seemed reluctant to answer this last question, judging by some of the comments:
  • "The medium is not the source of the value. Rather the value comes from the artist's vision and skill expressed through content."
  • "Each has it's own life and are equally valuable."
  • "I don't value one over the other, they all have strengths and weaknesses."
  • "Purely because of the cost of using it as a medium."
  • "Hard question...any medium that the artist has pushed to the limit. I like to be surprised by what was done with any medium where the envelope has been pushed."
Thanks to everyone who participated in this survey.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Concrete Survey, Part 1

It's time for a report back on the ArtConcrete non-scientific survey, now that responses have slowed. This is how it breaks down for the first three questions.

83% of the respondents have actually made something artistic out of concrete (question 3), so this is obviously not a general-public sort of survey, but more a survey from those who know the material. People reported they made mostly sculptures, along with lots of other functional objects like bowls, birdbaths and even furniture and jewelry.

Speaking of jewelry (question 2), 66% said they thought concrete was an appropriate material for making jewelry. 6% said "no", and 29% said "maybe." Maybe? Surely this is a black and white issue. There were lots of interesting comments here:
  • "Wonder a bit about the long term wearability of concrete jewelry and how it holds up to skin oils, perfume, etc."
  • "Stretch the boundaries, why not."
  • "I am a jewelery maker who works in metals but cannot wait to try concrete... just a little scared about dropping it."
  • "I would have to see, touch, experience the piece, to decide fully whether it was what I would consider wearable art."
  • "Art is alchemy."
  • "If comfortable and more refined than a lot of outdoor sculpture."   
  • "In small scale other materials may work better. However, depends on the artist and what effect you're looking for."
  • "I've made some cast concrete (really heavy) large scale 'martyr' necklaces (completely unwearable, but funny)..."

Overall (question 1), 97% agreed concrete was an appropriate material for art, with only 3% saying maybe. Nobody said "not appropriate." About a third of the respondents added comments to this question, and some of them were really good:
  • "Any material - or non-material - is appropriate for art."
  • "Just look at how gorgeous Rachel Whiteread's sculptures are. The surface and the way it ages are beautiful." (Whiteread is the British sculptor who filled the inside of a house - about to be demolished - with concrete, then took the building away, exposing the volume of the spaces inside.)
  • "Beats pickled shark." Where did that come from?
  • "Have been experimenting with papercrete (recycled/shredded paper, concrete and bit of clay) working through head issues such as, is this a legitimate art material. Like the lighter weight, green reuse/recycle aspects."
  • "I love the fast results from Wet Concrete carving. I have also worked with armature and hve enjoyed that also."
  • "As a casting, laying-up, and carving material, it has superior qualities."
  • "I consider concrete appropriate material for art works as long as it's durable. Sometimes, I'm astounded by the beauty of concrete used in everyday, construction purposes. The other day... I came upon some very old concrete footings in the woods, probably to hold up a bridge... I guess I consider "appropriate" a bit of an understatement! It can be most desirous, in my mind."
  • "Emphatically yes. Ideal for the artist that has plenty of inspiration and little cash."
  • "Strong, cheap and convenient. Downsides are weight, lack of detail."
  • "Absolutely the most versatile medium going!"
I couldn't agree more. Those are the responses to the first three questions in the survey. I'll summarize the final three in the next blog post.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Art Concrete Survey

I have posted a survey about concrete as an art medium on Survey Monkey. It's nothing very scientific, but the results should be interesting. There are only six multiple choice questions, and room for comments if you want to leave them. I'll post the results back on this blog (and in Google Group's Art Concrete email discussion list) after a week or so.

1. Do you consider concrete an appropriate material for art works?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: Concrete Crafts, Alan Wycheck

Concrete Crafts: Making Modern Accessories for the Home and Garden is a new book about creating simple concrete objects. The subtitle: Making Modern Accessories for the Home and Garden pretty well summarizes what the book is trying to do.

Briefly, the book covers such items as pavers, tiles, tabletops, stepping stones, planters and bowls, all in a a step-by-step format using clear colour photographs. This is a really useful way to learn; you feel like you have stepped into the author's own backyard and watched him make the pieces. The instructions are simple and straight forward, nothing fancy here. If you haven't made wooden forms with plywood and lumber, the book shows you how. The strength of the  book is that if you are a complete beginner in concrete craft it gives you enough information and confidence to start. If you wanted to make some simple production molds for geometrically based production work there is also some good information. And there is good precautionary safety advice about wearing gloves, dust masks and protective glasses when necessary.

But don't look for much creative inspiration, advanced techniques or mixes here. The shapes and forms that Wycheck uses are in keeping with an introductory book. If you've been making concrete garden accessories or sculptures for some time, there's not much you can learn. (Although I did learn that two-part polyester makes a great wood sealer for forms that you want to use repeatedly, and I was reminded that vegetable oil makes a good non-toxic release agent.) My summary of the book is that it is useful for beginners, not so useful for experienced concrete artists.

Concrete Crafts: Making Modern Accessories for the Home and Garden
Alan Wycheck
Stackpole Books, 2010, 155 pp

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Concrete Arc Table

This links to a picture of a beautifully simple table shown at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2010 in Milan. It's a catenary arc made from concrete. Other than that I don't know much about it, except that it comes from Foster and Partners, a London-based architecture and design firm. 

Thanks to Dwell magazine's Tweet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The "Other" Concrete Art

If you search for "concrete art" on the web, as I often do, you'll find yourself stumbling across another type of concrete art. I've never been quite sure of what it meant, so I thought I'd investigate it further and come up with a summary.

This other "concrete art" developed in the 1930s in Europe, and was a form of visual art, in particular a form of abstract art. But in this abstract art nothing stood for or represented anything else. Nothing was symbolic; the shapes and colours of the work were simple lines and rectangles, primary colours. Max Bill, a Swiss artist and designer, was part of this movement.

The term came from the first and only issue of a magazine called Art Concret. "There was nothing more concrete or more real than a line, a colour, or a plane  (a flat area of colour)." [Quote from] The idea was to create new works of art from simple forms and colours, yet having nothing to do with any symbolic or representational meaning. The strength of the work would be in this simplicity which Art Concret said would "represent abstract thoughts in a sensuous and tangible form."

Concrete art was closely related to constructivism, an earlier movement that tried to reflect the industrial world by constructing art or sculpture through processes similar to what industry might have used. "Constructivism is a purely technical mastery and organisation of materials," said a 1923 manifesto. You can understand how constructivism influenced concrete art in the avoidance of meaning and symbolism.

This image is  Max Bill's sculpture, Endless Ribbon, granite, 1953. You can see it's origins in the concrete art and constructivist movements.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Patina on Concrete

I wrote about casting small parts of camera lenses back on June 21, 2009. Now I'm experimenting with applying a chemical patina to some new castings in that series.

Concrete Pins: concrete, copper leaf, patina, 2010

The effect is just what I wanted: to make the camera parts look almost as if they had been buried and dug up. After the castings were cured (about two weeks), I applied copper leaf to the smooth lens areas, and left them so that the gold size was completely dry. Then  I painted on a thin wash of copper nitrate solution, exactly what I use for patination of copper and brass jewellery. To "set" the patina, I heated it very gently with a small propane/oxygen flame. Some of the patina is a very pale greenish blue, some is a light brown.  The black colour is an earlier application of dyed cement that was rubbed in, rubbed off and allowed to cure.

There is the potential when doing this for water trapped in the concrete to turn to steam and either crack the concrete or cause a mini-explosion, so I always were face protection, and never heat the concrete beyond what I would call a skin-burning temperature. And always heat the pieces slowly and evenly. When the colour is right, don't quench them in water, but let them air cool, or they might crack. I finished the pins with a flat acrylic sealer to make the patina waterproof.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jeans Filled with Concrete

Why not do something interesting with your old jeans?

 In 2006, artist Ron Pruitt was part of an exhibition in New York where he filled old jeans with concrete, arranging the objects in dance-like poses on the floor of the Gavin Brown’s Enterprise Gallery in Greenwich Village. You can see a couple of images on this web page:

In this 5 minute video the artist talks about his motivations. Warning ;) video contains some artspeak:

Other artists and architects have explored the idea of using flexible material as a mold. After the concrete sets, the mold is removed. In Pruitt's work, the denim jeans are left in place.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Available as PDF

I have just made my Concrete Handbook for Artists: Technical Notes for Small-scale Objects available as a PDF download from my web site. The 12MB digital file is available for $15. I'm confident that once people see and read the PDF version of the book many will want the "real" version in its original paperback form. I'm also hoping the PDF file will get wider distribution of the book.

One of the big advantages of a PDF file is that it is searchable on your computer. I searched for the word "metakaolin" for example, and Acrobat Reader found it 26 times in the digital file, including the definition and sources of supply. In the paperback copy you can use the index, but the PDF version is much faster. You can also print out the whole book, but this is 135 pages, so I don't imagine too many people will do that. It's at that point where I would personally buy the paperback edition. And the PDF file doesn't include the color cover. I had to cut that to keep the file size down to a reasonable amount. Other positives for the digital format? No shipping costs, which for the paperback is now $3 in Canada, $7 to the US, and $13 to all other countries. And no paper is used, just ones and zeros.

If you're interested, here's a link directly to the PDF order page:

You might be wondering what got me started on all this. Someone emailed from Chile with a request. "Do you have a PDF version of the book? The post office here is so slow and unreliable." That got me thinking about the process so I gave the first digital copy to him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Social Networking and Concrete

I am continually amazed at how information spreads through the internet, and how we discover people that we never would have discovered 10 years ago. I have several Google Alerts set up so that when particular words appear on the web or in the news I get a notice. Today this led me to a Facebook group for an artist from Covington, LA who works with concrete and glass. Michael S Eddy is the sculptor's name, and you can join his Facebook page here. From his page I discovered many other sculptor and sculpture groups and concrete connections.

On the negative side, there is one concrete sculptor whose work comes at me through Google Alerts almost every day: videos, new photos submitted to many web sites, promotion for a book. It almost verges on spam and I suspect a full-time promoter working behind the scenes to get this work noticed. I must admit this kind of overwhelming coverage turns me off the work. I guess it's a fine line between ignoring the new media, and spending too much time on promotion. Perhaps this is the old war between what is considered "art" and what is a "business."

If I have any advice to give, it would be this (based on my own personal reactions) — do the work, put your energy and your creativity into your art. If the work is good it will be noticed. But don't deny the new media either. If it feels comfortable and natural, use it. And if your work is good, you'll have the confidence to write about it, blog about it, create a Facebook page or maybe even tweet about it!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sculpture Winner

Congratulations to Ian Wyndlow of Ladysmith, BC who has won the 2009 Best Sculpture Award from Cheng Concrete Exchange for this pedestal sink. The sink is constructed of stacked polished concrete blocks and glass. The stack gives the illusion of being precarious, but is actually well-balanced. Wyndlow's concrete business is Liquid Stone Studios.

Here's a link to more images of the structure.

(An interesting footnote to this blog post would be whether something is considered a "sculpture" when it has a function, but I'll leave that discussion for another time.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Gallery Artists

Grayson Malone: Persephone: metal-infused concrete

I have just updated my ArtConcrete website, the "guest gallery"section. Five new artists have been added: Edward Gennetten, Grayson Malone, Christopher Gronbeck, Carole Vincent and DrCraze.

The work ranges from concrete jewelry that incorporates recycled glass (DrCraze), to sculpture (Carole Vincent), to two-dimensional concrete wall art (Edward Gennetten).

DrCraze: concrete pendant: concrete, pigment, recycled glass

Friday, January 1, 2010

Web Site for Concrete Book

The New Year brings a new marketing idea for my Concrete Handbook for Artists. Because the book is self-published and mainly available through the Art Concrete web site, I thought I would try splitting it off with its own domain name and independent web site. You can see the results here:

The book was originally published in 2002 and updated in 2006, and has sold around the world. It's really fun to communicate with someone in the Jersey Islands in the English Channel, for example, about concrete technology and how it can be applied to creative art. Or having an email exchange with a student in the south of France attending an art college. I keep a large world map on the wall in my office and stick pins in locations where the books are mailed. About two years ago I gave up trying to fit any more pins into most of the United States and the United Kingdom. For a while I tried changing the pin colour for multiple sales, but soon gave up. Now I just add a pin for an interesting new location.

European sales of my book reflect where English is spoken.
That pin in the Azores on the left represents my first book sale.

North American sales reflect population density.
Most sales are to California, Florida, New England and New York.

I like the idea of selling Concrete Handbook for Artists directly because it often opens up a two-way communication. It is however sold through Powell's Technical Books, the Portland Cement Association in Chicago, and the Compleat Sculptor in New York.