How to do Concrete Art

The term ‘concrete art’ probably sounds puzzling to a lot of people. But it is real. There are people in the world that use concrete to produce art. It takes a lot of practice and persistence but anyone can sculpt with concrete.

If you are new to concrete art and you are struggling to find your bearings, this is what you should know about the process:

1). First of all, if you’ve never seen concrete, it is a blend of cement, aggregates, water, and various additives. When you mix the various components, a process that produces heat eventually makes the concrete so hard that it is comparable to stone.

Some common aggregates include stone, sand, stone dust, silica, and metakaolin. The aggregates you select will determine the scale of your project, not to mention the strength, and color.

2). There are three ways to make concrete art. You can cast into a form, apply to an armature, and carve a solid block. The approach you want to take will affect the concrete mix you will produce. Every component that is associated with a concrete mix is quantified using volume.

3). Water is important to a concrete mix. To make a concrete mix, you have to add the dry materials first. Mix them before you inject water into the equation. You have to pay close attention to the amount of water you add.

This is because the driest mixes tend to produce the strongest concrete. The reverse is also true. An abundance of water will compromise the strength of your concrete. Though, this is what some people want.

If you are thinking about casting in a mold, for instance, you might prefer wetter mixes because the way they slump into place enhances your results. On the other hand, you need a drier mix that stays in place if you wish to apply it to a wire mesh. Your mix has to support your project and the techniques you intend to deploy.

4). It can take as little as 4 hours and as long as 12 hours for the concrete to become hard enough for you to carve. It will become even harder in a day or two. At this point, with the aid of materials like wet sand, you can still manipulate its shape, making refinements where necessary.

If you wait for too long, the cement will become so hard that working with it will be no different from working with stone. You can give yourself more time by adding new layers of concrete. You have to do this in the first two days before complete bonding happens.

5). There are so many types of sand on the market that the prospect of choosing the right variety might confuse some beginners. The key is to identify sharp grains of sand to which the cement can adhere. Mortar, sharp, and brick sand typically manifest these characters. The same cannot be said for beach sand whose grains are too round.

6). Every significant concrete art project requires plastic fibers. Yes, concrete is strong all on its own. However, it tends to shrink after setting. That probably sounds like a minor issue for beginners but it matters because that shrinkage can cause small cracks to form.

Over time, those small cracks can grow until they destroy your entire project; plastic fibers like nylon and polypropylene will prevent such situations from developing. But you have to select plastic fibers in the right length and thickness.

7). Fiberglass sounds like a superior alternative to plastic fibers but it rarely produces the results people expect. This is because the cement reaction tends to break the glass down. Of course, you have the option of buying alkali-resistant fiberglass that uses an epoxy coating to prevent the alkalinity a cement mix produces from breaking the glass down.

8). It might come as quite the surprise for some beginners to learn that you can attach concrete to concrete. You don’t have to cement the two pieces of concrete together. Glue works just fine. This isn’t ordinary superglue or office glue but rather, an acrylic (or latex) admixture. Like normal glue, you have to paint the latex on the concrete surface in question.

9). You don’t have to stop at carving interesting figures out of concrete. You also have the option of coloring your artwork. But you can’t use common pigments. The cement’s alkalinity will break them down.

Look for special dyes that were designed to adhere to the surface of the concrete. You can find these dyes in various colors, including gray, dark red, and black. Yes, all those are dull colors. You can get brighter tones like blue and green but they are more expensive.

10). To work with concrete, you need a watering can, concrete mix, mixing containers (preferably plastic), a measuring cup, rubber gloves (or nitrile), a mask, a spray bottle, utensils such as mixing spoons, and color, to mention but a few.

The utensils should be wood or plastic. The spray bottle allows you to efficiently mist dry concrete.

11). When you finish mixing your concrete, fight the urge to wash your containers. You are also discouraged from pouring anything down the drain. Leave the containers alone. Eventually, the cement in them will dry.

At this point, you can cause the cement to chip and fall out by simply flexing the container. If that doesn’t work, knock on the walls of the container. Once you pour the concrete out, the container should be clean enough for you to re-use. This is why you are encouraged to use plastic containers.

They can be flexed to remove the concrete and that makes them much easier to clean. You can do the same thing with your spoons. But you shouldn’t be so quick to throw the chipped concrete away, not when you can use it as aggregate down the line.

There is more to concrete art than the points detailed above but this is a decent starting point for anyone that wants to figure things out on their own.