Cement Seahorse Sculpture by Lee Bell, Ceramic Artist

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Serefina, cement seahorse sculpture

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

Cement Seahorse Sculpture by Lee Bell, Ceramic Artist 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!

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.

The armature for the cement seahorse sculpture.
The armature for the cement seahorse sculpture.

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.

The armature for the cement seahorse sculpture.
Quikrete, Sealcrete and Acrylic Fortifier

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.

Cement applied to the seahorse sculpture.
Cement applied to the seahorse sculpture.

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.

Full view of Serafina, the cement seahorse sculpture.
Full view of Serefina, the cement seahorse sculpture.
Serefina from the front.
Serefina from the front.

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

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32 thoughts on “Cement Seahorse Sculpture by Lee Bell, Ceramic Artist”

  1. Congratulations on being accepted!!!! We are coming to FL next March. Maybe we will see Serafina or ol ne of your other sculpts!!!
    She is S T U N N I N G!!!!

    I create much smaller sculptures. S ok ne are only 5″H with others bigger but still less than 2 ft high. I’d like to create a more medium sized, for outdoor exhibition/scalability, but am not sure I’m up to speed on exactly what medium to use at what stage. I may try my hand at the quickcrete with mich smaller projects first!

    Does the concrete paint the same as clay or other mediums or are glazes necessary instead of acrylics?

    How did you actually sculpt her or did you sculpt her primarily as an armature then just cover and smooth her with the crate and clay?


    I’m so enthralled by her beauty!!!

  2. Wow this is beautiful. I too stumbled across this site exploring paper mache and added the mortor mix to mine for outdoor use. Thanks for the tip of adding bonding mix. Good luck on competition. So far mixing with drywall mixer on drill made it smooth enough. I hate sanding!

          • It is a long time! Though I am thrilled she is there , it is kinda funny to not have her looking over my shoulder in studio. I think it is fairly well covered in the local media and the voting will be on the Lakeland, FL city parks and recreation facebook page once all the other sculptures for this years competition are installed. I have submitted a press release to the Sarasota newspaper and hope they may include me in the arts section as an article of interest – Sarasota artist installs 7 foot seahorse in Lakeland , that kind of thing. She can sell anytime during the exhibition , but must remain on site until next Feb.

            • That makes her even more valuable, because the buyer’s friends will all know she was there – it gives them bragging rights. I do hope she finds a good home.

  3. I am very Happy to tell you Serefina is Accepted to be displayed at The Florida Outdoor Sculpture competiton in Lakeland , Florida! Yay ! !!
    Now must arrange getting her there in one piece and crossing fingers for an award and / or having her sell. Oh , did I mention , I think I love cement more everyday 🙂

    • Hi Lee, congratulations on your acceptance. I h ave been a shipper for many years and the best way to get her safely is tons of the large bubble wrap and blankets. That way the sculpture will not absorb the inertia of the bumps and lumps transportation will subject it to. Another way is to put her in a big box and have a shipping company enclose her in foam. That will really protect the sculpture. Transporting unfortunately is a pain and and times not cheap but the cost is worth it. Good luck and I hope you get a sale. If I were richer than I am now, I would buy her in a heart beat.

      • Hi Christine , Thank you. I have shipped ceramics and packed a lot ; Serefina is a new challenge to pack for sure. I think my husband will probably wind up having to build me a crate and we will pack or have her foamed in for added safety. Who would you suggest for a shipping company that would simply come to the studio , pack her up and deliver her to the site ? Any particular company referral?

        • I have not been in the shipping business for quite a few years, and my knowledge of shipping companies that do that kind of thing is a little fuzzy. Like you, I would have to look into the internet for companies that will do that kind of thing for you. If your husband can build the crate and you buy the foam your self; Fed EX will come and pick up the crate and send it over. I have played with doing foam packing myself and that guarantees safer transport. Let us know how it went. I wish I were more helpful.

  4. Hi Lee! Serefina is magnificent! Please let us know if you get in the exhibit or not – although I don’t see how you couldn’t with that piece.
    I’d like to make a suggestion – when you sand any cement project be sure to do it wet. It helps eliminate the dust – which is dangerous stuff – and keeps your diamond sanders from wearing out quite so quickly.
    And always wear gloves – cement is a caustic and sensitizing agent – something we should limit our skin contact with until it’s cured.
    Just want everyone to be safe!
    – Lucinda

  5. Thank you for the compliments. I will let you all know if I get into the competition. It always seems a mad rush to make the deadline and then a long wait for the judges results. I am experimenting more with white portland cement , metal mesh and silk combo today, a possible tabletop sculpture chime . will post when a bit further along. Hope everyone has a beautiful day.

  6. Wow, Serefina is stunningly beautiful. I love the colors and the copper accents are perfect. Good luck in the competition and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  7. This is an EXQUISITE piece and the type of work I’m most interested in creating. Bravo! Thank you!

  8. Thank you for sharing your process with us Lee. We can’t get a lot of the products you have in the US (I’m in UK) so I can only admire others work. Your seahorse is amazing. I do like paper clay very much and do some work with that instead. So I get my fix through that medium and paper mache.

  9. Wow, Thank you. I think I really have needed to find a good friendly community for a while. I am pretty isolated in the studio ; mostly I really like that – quiet time is working time, but contact is good to and sharing is good too:)
    Christine I did see the lovely mountain lion , perched in his garden he is very handsome.
    Eileen – she took approx 3-4 weeks to complete with periods of drying time in between process choices , I did wear gloves ” most of the time”
    Lisa I am happy you think the process is clear , this is my first time doing this kind of post and next time I think I will try and write out the supply – recipe/ mix list as I see has been done on other posts. I used the vertical cement for underlying structural , first layers for it’s added strength and quick set time to get a firm shell to work on and finished with the portland , because it is cheaper and a smoother finish surface, the hardener did not smooth anything any further , but it is acting as a waterproofing , sealant and was a good vehicle to dilute color into washes that could be layered on thinly and absorb into the cement. I don’t think I will do the talc process again, though it’s fine particles did have a bit of smoothing quality, it was too powdery and perhaps part of what made the sanding so unpleasant. A soft brush , gloved fingers and sort of burnishing her was a more comfortable and effective approach to smoothing the surface. Thanks again all and I look forward to seeing and sharing more.

  10. Lee, your sculpture is gorgeous and I am sure you will get a spot at the sculpture competition. I am glad you were able to make a success of cement. One of Jonni’s early followers made a mountain lion out of cement and it came out great.

  11. Lee, what a magnificent sculpture! A real triumph! I can not gush enough! Your tutorial is clear and precise as well. I will definitely refer back to this tutorial when I muster the guts to attempt something that large. Thank you so much for sharing your process.
    Can I ask how long it took to complete her? Also, was it necessary to wear gloves? Were you able to get all the supplies from a regular hardware store? Thanks again!

  12. Hi Lee,

    Thank you so much for sharing this project and your process. It is fantastic! I am wondering why you used different cement mixtures to create the piece, and not just one, such as the Quickrete Vertical wall repair, for example.

    I also like the smooth surface. Was this achieved with the hardener alone or was it because of the sanding? Or did the talc make it smooth?



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