Some Cement Sculpting Tips

Pre-mosaicked cement chair with throw over arm

Since my show at Guardino Gallery, I’ve had a few inquiries about how I make my sculpture (and a few sad stories about failed sculptures).  While I think it is always best to take a hands-on class, I thought I’d answer a few questions here…afterall, not everyone can take my class.

First thing to know: not all cement is created equal.  Cement products are made for specific purposes – some for flooring, some for underwater applications, and so on.  Little is made specifically for sculpting.  Before you start – know that the product you’re using is suited to your needs.  The material I use, Parex Optimal Adhesive Base Coat, is part of an architectural system for facing buildings.  It is made specifically to coat a building’s facade to make it weather resistant and so that stucco will stick to it.  It was developed in Switzerland and is used from Germany to Minnesota to Alaska…I know it will withstand all kinds of weather.  Some other materials will last outside for a while, but maybe not as long as you hoped.  I’ve got a piece – my test piece – that’s been standing in my yard for 6 years and not a blemish is on it.   It’s the only product I use.  One of the great things about it is once it is cured, it becomes a totally independent structure, meaning that whatever armature you used doesn’t matter anymore…One other great thing is, you can add small amounts of water with a bristle brush to get a completely smooth surface…lots of other cement products don’t hold up to additional water once it’s mixed.  Also, it is lightweight…seriously light weight for cement…Of course, if you need to make it heavy, you can always weight it.  Lastly, there are some other good products out there but the price point of Parex is really good by comparison.  There are other brands of this same type of product – Drybond is one…it just depends on what’s available in your area.  The other thing you’ll need is fiberglass mesh – sold at the same places as Parex; this is in large quantities (rolls of about 100 yards for $80)…there are some mosaic places online that sell much smaller pieces…or see if some folks want to go in on it together…

Now, start with an armature – use styrofoam, hardware cloth, plaster of paris, whatever you’re comfortable with…cut your fiberglass mesh into strips (wear gloves – it is fiberglass after all), mix your Parex to a brownie mix consistency (I use a paint mixer on my electric drill), put a layer of Parex down – approximately 1/4 inch, embed your fiberglass mesh and smooth it in with a Bondo scraper (available at auto parts stores); repeat 2 more times, smoothing each coat with a dampened bristle brush.  Each layer should dry somewhat before you add the next (say until the shine goes away)…but you can also let it dry completely. If it is particularly hot, mist the cement so it doesn’t dry too fast and leave hairline cracks. Let the cement cure for 30 days (I’ve cheated a few times with this step but this is a do as I say kind of thing)…Once it’s dry, if you have some bumps you can rasp them out.  If you have some indentations, you can add a bit of Parex to level them out.

Voila!  You can cover it with mosaic, spray paint, whatever or nothing…Obviously, this is a crash course; if you want in-depth information, you’ll have to take my class…but I’m here if you have any questions.  Try it – but don’t blame me if you find it addictive…


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