Decorative Concrete: Creating Outdoor Statuary
While concrete can be seen as an industrial building material, in fact it is used to make many decorative elements. One of the most common and fanciful uses is to create concrete statuary. Imitating classic carved sculptures, concrete statues have been crafted and used for decorating for centuries, even millennia. As far back as ancient Rome, concrete statues have been used to augment landscapes, homes and even public spaces. They can provide points of interest for the eye to rest upon, give contrast to the green softness of a landscape, be a part of religious iconography or simply stand as a piece of art.
Concrete statuary requires not only a technical knowledge of concrete, but a willingness to experiment with mixtures, an artistic sensibility, and more than a little patience. Especially if you are just starting out, do not expect this to be an easy or inexpensive process. Most modern concrete statuary is made using molds, which may be aluminum, steel, rubber, foam or some other substance. The molds must be coated with some sort of easy release solution, such as oil or a specialized product.
The concrete mix
Mixing concrete for statuary may be the most difficult part of the process. It can take years or decades to perfect the mix needed to accomplish the various shapes.
As with all concrete, the ratio of water to cement to aggregates may need to be changed depending on the weather, temperature, elevation and many other conditions. However, with statuary, you must also ensure that the concrete is able to flow throughout the mold and permeate all crevices fully to create a whole structure. If a piece of aggregate that is too large becomes wedged in a small area, such as the leg of a standing deer, concrete may not be able to flow to the rest of the mold and create gaps that cannot be repaired.
Concrete statuary has been a small scale, artisan process for many years. However, most modern statuary producers operate on a large scale. They may have hundreds or thousands of molds and specialized equipment to ensure the best possible product with every pour.
One of the most important pieces of equipment is a vibration table or similar machine. This is an area where the concrete can be placed after pouring and vibrated slightly to ensure that all air bubbles escape, the concrete permeates the mold completely, and the aggregates move away from the surface to ensure a smooth outer layer. Smaller statuary businesses may attempt to do this by hand. However, this is a very difficult process and may often result in cracks and gaps in the finished product. Small cracks can sometimes be repaired with additional concrete. Unfortunately, larger gaps and cracks can cause the entire statue to be discarded.
Please be patient
Working with concrete is an unforgiving undertaking. It can be extremely frustrating when figuring out how to use new molds or the best ratio of components to use in the concrete mixture. When a large piece does not come out correctly, it can seem like a tremendous waste of time and resources. However, hard work and perseverance can pay off and give the opportunity to see the artistry that is possible with concrete.