Today we have a guest post by Lee Bell. She made an amazing 80″ tall sculpture of a seahorse using a few products she’s never used before, including cement. She agreed to share her process with us. You can see more of her work at Blacklilystudio.com
The making of Serefina, a Cement Sculpture
© 2018 Lee Bell
Hi my Name is Lee Bell and I am a ceramic artist. I love clay and its building qualities, but I have been searching for about a year for a way to build bigger sculptures that are suitable for outside installations that I don’t have to cut and fire in pieces and then put back together again. My kiln is 27 inches tall and I have made 5 foot clay sculptures, but as stated above then have to cut , fire and re build them.
Anyway this is how I found Ultimate Paper Mache.com and Jonni. I tried some of her paper clay recipes, investigated Pal Tiya , epoxy clays ( really expensive if you’re making large work) and finally wound up looking at paper crete, concrete and cement.
Serefina is my first cement sculpture and I see more cement in my future!
1 – The armature:
I built an Armature with a steel rod cast into Rapid Set cement mix from Home Depot and added plastic bags, pipe insulation tubes and recycled , waterproofed giclee canvas from a digital printing shop (pool noodles would work too). I wrapped my form in plastic wrap tightly to stop water penetration and get a more solid form. Here she is at just the canvas stage.
2 – Coating the armature with Quikrete:
I continued to add to the armature until I had her shape pretty well defined, then coated her with a slurry mix of Quikrete vertical repair cement (available at Home Depot). It has extra polymers and strength and sets pretty quickly. I also dipped plastic window mesh screen in this and built layers on in a paper mache style, getting a good overall added strength and my first layer of cement mix over the entire form.
I was sooo excited – she was standing and solid. I let this dry overnight wrapped in plastic as I would treat a clay piece.
I made a 5 gallon bucket of recycled junk mail paper pulp. I filled the bucket with shredded old paper and covered it with about an inch of water over the top of the paper, let it sit overnight and then used a drill with a glaze mixing attachment to mix it into a fine wet pulp. This was my building material, mixing small batches in a gallon ice cream container.
I mixed 2 cups (handfuls) of squeezed-out pulp with a 1/2 cup at time of plain Portland cement (not in the picture) about a 50 / 50 mix, and a capful of acrylic fortifier bonding agent to make a mix close to a clay consistency. I patted this on in a layer approx 1/2 inch thick over the entire form and smoothed as much as possible. Let dry again, wrapped overnight.
3 – Adding more Quikrete and Portland cement
The next day I sprayed her lightly with a water bottle and brushed on a slurry mix of the structural cement all over.
I then mixed Portland cement with as little water as possible for a normal batch and added 2 – 3 capfuls of the acrylic fortifier. I would guess approx 4-5 cups of Portland cement to approximately 1 cup of water. I used a palette knife to skim coat over the paper pulp layer. This gave her a nice smooth finish once it was brushed out with a soft brush. Then I let her sit again for a few days, occasionally giving her a spray so she would dry slowly and cure nice and hard.
I tried adding some kaolin (talc) from my ceramic supplies and mixed this with the Portland cement and washed that on as a slurry and did some sanding and smoothing further to the surface. I let her dry for about a week and a half then proceeded with a hardener mixed with small amounts of Portland cement slurry and acrylic paint and dry pigments for the color. I had some copper pigment and used that as an accent in a few places, followed by 3 coats of straight sealer and hardener, drying in between each coat.
My husband person:) Mike, poured me the “paver” and we re-situated her onto the base filling about 18 inches of her tail and adding steel rods to secure her with steel staps sticking out from under the paver so she can be mounted to a concrete slab. I hope she is going to a sculpture exhibit and they require that for public display.
And Wah-La, Serefina was born.
I am very very excited about the potential of working in this medium .
Things I learned: I don’t like sanding it, my lungs literally hurt even wearing a mask – so smoothing while building is important. I am sure she is waterproof, but the color may fade. I plan to buy concrete pigments to mix in for my next piece. I really like the idea of using recycled materials and the freedom to build directly so large without having to fire it and re build the parts back together.
Now I am just holding my breath hoping to win a spot in the sculpture competition and worrying about moving her to the site (she weighs approx 150 – 175 lbs. ) Thank you Jonni for the Ultimate paper mache site! I may not be paper mache-ing per se , but your site led me down this path and to viewing the makers gallery site and others that brought me to discovering this way of building. Ceramics will always be my true love , but I find it rewarding to learn new things, from cement to silk painting, and always try to continue to grow as an artist and sculptor.
Serefina and other work can be seen at Blacklilystudio.com