Little Farmer, Cement Sculpture

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Little Farmer Cement Sculpture This is a really short video, partly because I’m still learning how to make cement sculptures and I don’t feel quite confident enough to show you how to do it. You would not believe how many things I tried and then had to do it over. But I’m learning…

The other reason is that I don’t trust my surge protector, and I try to unplug my PC whenever we get a thunderstorm right over town. I could hear the lightning getting closer and closer so I tried to hurry. My dog kept me company by hiding under the desk, shaking. He really doesn’t like thunder.

I’ve been reading a lot about concrete and cement sculpture, and the most valuable resource I found was the Maker’s Gallery, where I found Andrew Goss’ recipes for cement mortars.

In my video I also mention a paper sculptor who makes outdoor figure sculptures out of burlap and cement, and Pat has a great video showing how she does it. She has a printable PDF on her site with all the details, too, so be sure to click on that link. I didn’t use her instructions, but I did get the idea for my little farmer’s clothes from her video. [Edit: Daryll just sent us another link to a sculptor who has workshops in cement and mosaics. And a beautiful garden, too!]

You can see those emergency shelters I mention in the video here, and the book I purchased to find out how it’s done is here. It’s an interesting read, but certainly not needed if you’re just making a sculpture. When I get around to making some how-to videos I’ll tell you how I mixed in the latext paint (believe me, I was happy to find a way to get rid of some of the extra paint in my basement without taking it to the local landfill).

Andrew’s mortar recipes use stone dust. I used powdered marble, which you can get online in a 4 pound size for about $7. I searched around and found a 50 pound sack of finely ground calcium carbonate (same thing) that’s used for agriculture that also cost about $7, but I don’t think Azure Standard will deliver everywhere. If you have them ship UPS it will cost a fortune. Mine came on a truck on their regular delivery route. The stone dust is used in place of sand in Andrew’s unsanded mortars, and makes a really smooth mix.

The Metakaolin comes in 25 or 50 pound bags, and I think there’s only two companies in the US that sell it. It’s a special form of clay (not the same as plain kaolin) and makes a really big difference in the mix. You don’t need much, so 40 pounds may be an excessive purchase for most people, but I do think there’s a vendor on etsy.com that will sell a smaller package for sculptors who really only need a little. Do a search on that site to find it.

I bought both the metakaolin and the special fibers from Fishstone Concrete Counter Supply. They ship really fast, and the shipping charges were not excessive.

But don’t run out and buy all this stuff unless you’re really serious about filling your yard with sculptures – with such big bags (and over 90 pounds of Portland cement, the lightest bag I could buy here in town) you’ll end up with enough product to make a lot of sculptures. Maybe once I figure out the easiest way to do it and have some how-to videos made, you could go in with a group and have a weekend sculpting party.  :)

Be sure to let me know if this is something you’d be interested in learning how to do – once I figure it out myself, of course. I’ll probably spend the rest of summer playing around with cement, but I could put my videos on another site, if you want to keep this blog strictly for paper mache. Your opinion is important to me, so be sure to leave a comment on this post.

132 thoughts on “Little Farmer, Cement Sculpture”

  1. Hi Jonni

    Im glued to your website. Ive started making pet portraits. I have tried all kinds of recipes for paper clay. I particularly like your smooth paper clay recipe. I am interested in your CEMENT recipe as I would like to make a dog that can sit out in all weathers outside a shop called the Black Dog Deli. I have used your paper clay recipe and hoping that a covering of Gloss Spray paint will keep it rainproof. Do you think the paper clay cement will go mouldy if the dog is left out in the rain? (In UK!)
    I made the structure with chicken wire and covered it in masking take as I thought the cardboard structure would soften. The dog is about 2 feet high. I will try to add a photo of the work in progress. I have done more facial detail since this photo but you get the idea.
    I would be really grateful for your advice and live on your website at the moment getting through all videos.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your skills.

    • Hi Claire. I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to when you mentioned my paper clay cement. The paper mache clay will not survive outside for very long. There may be some product that will keep it from softening, but I haven’t found one yet. This little farmer was made with a mixture based on Portland cement, and there’s a link to his recipe in the article above. Portland cement can stay outside, and although using a sealer is recommended, it isn’t absolutely needed. Andrew’s recipe for cement is rather expensive, so you might want to try using Quickwall, instead. It’s a fiber-reinforced mortar, and you just add water. You can find it almost anywhere they sell building supplies.

        • I bought Andre Gross’ “Concrete Handbook for Artists” (e-book), after watching Jonni’s cement stone face sculpture. I will be trying large, tall planters for the yard after I collect up all of the ingredients. Reading the Gross blog, someone mentioned the shapecrete, I ran out and bought a bucket. I’ve just started experimenting with it. Love it! Does anyone have experience with it? I would like to know if it will hold up as well as the mixes Jonni used in stone face. I would be curious to know if it can be used for large outdoor pieces.

          • Hi Jonni,
            I found it at Home Depot, 20# green bucket for $20. It is dry and all you add is water. I think it has some of the ingredients that are mentioned in the concrete recipes. I also noticed very fine, hair like fibers. My little experiment bowl is still curing, so I don’t know what the end result will be.

            • I hope you’ll keep us posted! I sent an email to the company to ask them if the product can be used for larger sculptures. If they respond, I’ll let you know what they say.

          • Joan, I ordered some ShapeCrete and it arrived yesterday. I played with it this morning, and I was disappointed with it. I got much better details with Andrew Goss’ formula. Of course, most of the ingredients in his recipe come in huge bags, and that’s a problem, but the difference in finish was pretty remarkable. I think you must know something about ShapeCrete that I don’t know. Are you able to actually use it like clay, or are you using it in molds?

            Now that I’m looking at that image of the garden face I made (somebody stole it from my yard, so I forgot about it) I’m getting the urge to make another one. I have all the stuff for Andrew’s recipe, and it’s taking up a lot of room in my garage, so maybe I’ll give it another try.

          • Jonni,
            I’d be curious to know more details about the comparison between Andrew’s recipe and Shapecrete. I haven’t tried his formula because of the difficulty in finding all the ingredients necessary and as you mentioned, the quantity they come in. I took the easiest path, just add water! (I’m now a clayshay junkie, just for that reason). The shapecrete didn’t work/mold like clay, but it stayed and set up quicker then concrete I’ve used.
            I made 3 tall planters using shapecrete and I would have been much better off using a Portland cement and sand. Even after making all three, I don’t think I quite mastered the blend.
            I will try and download an image. The tallest one is 4 1/2 feet.

          • Jonni,
            Please tell me more about the differences between the shapecrete and Andrew’s recipe. I have not attempted making his blend because of the difficulty of finding the additives in small(er) amounts. I did not think shapecrete worked like clay, but I like that all I had to do was add water. (I’m also hooked on clayshay for the same reason!)
            I used shapecrete to make three large planters. I should have used Portland cement and sand. The shapecrete had a short work time in a hot garage.
            The largest planter is 4 1/2′.

            • Hi Joan. I love those planters – what a great design!

              After messing around with the ShapeCrete little more, I think my first bad impressions may have been caused by not mixing the dry material in the tub enough before mixing up a small test batch. When I tried it again, I got much more working time. However, I can’t see any difference between the ShapeCrete and QuikWall , which is also is made of Portland cement (white, though, instead of grey) and it has reinforcing fibers, like the ShapeCrete. I’ve used the QuikWall successfully for a variety of items, including making the cement leaves using big rhubarb leaves as a mold, and it worked well. I’ve also used it in silicone molds. And you just add water, like the ShapeCrete. Basically, QuikWall does the same things that ShapeCrete is supposed to do, but 50# is only $15 at Home Depot, and my local Lowes carries it. Unfortunately, QuikWall isn’t available in a lot of states, although I have no idea why. There may be another brand that does the same thing (bonding cement with fiberglass reinforcement), but I don’t know about it.

              The recipe I’ve used from Andrew’s site is much smoother because it replaces the sand with calcium carbonate (stone dust). You can get very fine details, and though I wouldn’t say it’s ‘like clay,’ it’s a lot of fun to use. It does set up within 30 minutes or an hour, like any Portland cement-based mix. And I spent a ton of money ordering those heavy bags of materials when I really didn’t need nearly so much, so you wouldn’t want to bother with his recipes unless fine details are really important to you. It may not be as strong as ShapeCrete, either, although I haven’t tested it. If ShapeCrete works so well for you, stick with it!

              And I should add that I’m not an expert in using cement. I just play around with it.

  2. Jonni —
    I love your videos and articles! You are such an inspiration that right after watching your video and reading your article, I started my first quikwall sculpture (I had some left over from a concrete sink and wall I had done.) You make the process so clear and easy. So far, so good. I started small, but want to work my way up to a lifesize, or even bigger, horse. Yikes!
    I like this so much that I’m even considering taking a sculpture class at UVA in January.
    I wonder if you have found a better way to dip clothes? Seems like I should avoid the latex paint in water method. Any ideas would be appreciated.
    Thanks for putting this information up on the internet. Patty

  3. Oh, most defineltely post about concret sculpture, too. No need to establish a new website, just add a new “chapter”. Your work is inspiring. I have your book on animal paper maché sculptures and love it. Thank you for sharing and for your encouragement!

  4. Just found your site researching for a friend who wants to do some Christmas outdoor figures and came to me about the painting. Having done papier mache I knew she couldn’t put them, made the usual way, outside. Found your site…great stuff. Please do a video of how you made your little man. Wonderful. If you already have and I’m just not finding it on your site yet, email me. Thanks so much for artists who SHARE!

    • Hi Erin. I didn’t take videos when I put the little guy together, and if I made another one I would do it totally differently. But I do have some suggestions. (I have not tried most of these suggestions, by the way – it’s just a list of things I hope to try soon. I’m a total beginner when it comes to cement sculpture).

      There are some great videos on the Paltaya site. Their “clay” can’t be purchased yet in most countries, but you can make a similar cement yourself. I have tried the cement recipe by Andrew Goss – there’s a link to his site if you scroll on this page. I didn’t use the aluminum foil armature for the face rock I made on that post, like the ones on the Paltaya site, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work, and it would be much easier.

      However…I did have to buy a lot of different products to make my little stone face, and some of the ingredients only come in 50 pound bags. (I someday hope to create lots of outdoor sculptures and create a sculpture garden. Someday…) If you only want to make a few things, buying all those separate ingredients would be kind of silly – but check your local Lowes or Home Depot and see if they sell “Quikwall” – it’s a fiber-reinforced bonding cement. The biggest difference between it and Andrew’s recipe is that it has a lot more fibers. They can get in the way of details, but some people use a screen to sift out some of the fibers. You can see a sculpture made with the Quikwall product here. Julie uses the paper mache clay under her Quikwall, but that will make a sculpture quite heavy. If you need to move them in and out of the storage, the armatures shown on the PalTaya site would be much lighter.

      Good luck – and if you make some cement sculptures, be sure to let us see them when they’re done.

  5. Hi Jonni, I received a small glimpse of hope watching one of your videos and was hoping you could provide me a little help. I built my first outdoor armature for cement out of aluminum wire…then learned aluminum and concrete were NOT friends. I loved the horse armature a lot so it’s been hanging out in my shed for a number of years. I saw when you made your boy you used what looked like burlap strips dipped in latex paint to wrap your armature! Is that what it was? Or do you think a paper mache covering with thinset next might do the trick? Thank you, Stephanie

    • Hi Stephanie. I used a mixture of latex paint and Portland cement dipped in burlap. This lady uses just cement and water, I think, with no latex paint. My little boy is holding up really well, especially considering that he just spent an entire winter outside in South Dakota. If your horse armature is really sturdy, I think the burlap technique could work – but it will need a final coat, probably of fiber-reinforced cement to make it smooth.

      Julie uses Quikwall (a type of fiber-reinforced cement) over paper mache clay, and it seems to work well for her. Jackie used thinset over paper mache. She did say that there was at least one crack that allowed water to get in, and it had to be repaired. We haven’t heard from her yet to see how her sculpture made it through the winter. Since all forms of cement will crack, I’m concerned about having any paper on the inside of an outdoor sculpture. It seems that, sooner or later, water will get inside.

      I’ve also heard that cement and aluminum stretch or contract at different rates, so we’re told that aluminum shouldn’t be used to reinforce concrete. But Kim, the Paltiya sculptor, appears to be using nothing except aluminum foil for her armatures. They call the Paltiya sculpting material “clay,” but it certainly looks and acts like fiber-reinforced cement, like Andrew Goss’ recipe (that’s what I used on the sculpture on this post). The next time I’ll try making the armature with aluminum foil like Kim does, and see what happens. If it works, then any of the patterns on this blog could be used for cement outdoor sculptures, as long as the form was built up using the foil instead of paper. Or, if you’re brave, like Julie and Jackie, go ahead and try putting cement on top of paper.

      Whatever you decide to do, please let us know if it works or not!

  6. Jonni I am looking for ideas to do when I retire and this has really caught my eye! Your little farmer guy is so realistic and I am leaning toward hypertufa projects simply because of the weight when you make something with cement. Please do a tutorial on statue making, whether it’s video of whether it’s a collage of pictures offering step-by-step processes. You are so talented! It was a pleasure visiting!

    • Thanks, Jody. I’m going to be moving to another house next month that has a garage that should be a perfect spot for making more cement sculptures. I will certainly take videos along the way, because it helps me learn a new process. Stay tuned!

  7. Hello I LOVE YOU!
    i live in Puerto Rico here we speak spanish mostly. IM A CEMENT SCULPTURE STUDENT. I practice with the new clay recipe you posted in youtube. I did well but i want to make strong sculptures.
    Please I need all the ingredients (the most inexpensives ones) to do a homemade cement sculpture six feet long and then make a mold in silicone. All i have to buy the materials are home depoot and the internet. Please send me notes to buy sucessfully from here Puerto Rico. YOU ARE GREAT A TRUE INSPIRATION. THANKYOU FOR YOUR ADVICE.

  8. yes i would love to see the concrete sculptures.my dream has been to make something to go outside.you are a fantastic artist and teacher,thank you

    • Thanks, Gail. I’m moving to a new house that has a better place to work outside, so I hope to make more concrete sculptures this summer.

  9. Hi Jonni,

    You do great work, and my husband and I are interested in purchasing one of your farmer boy sculptures for our garden. We are located in Northern Iowa. Do you sell any of your art? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Kathy. I have only made the one cement sculpture so far, so I consider myself a rank amateur. I couldn’t possibly take a commission for another cement sculpture, because I have no idea how it would come out. Maybe in a few years I’ll feel more confident. So, no, I have no cement sculptures to sell – but it was so nice of you to ask!

  10. Thanx Jonni
    You are fabulous, so glad I discovered your website.
    Yes please more tutorials on cement sculpting and recipies.
    Thank you
    Hermanus South Africa

  11. Jonni, I just found your site today. I am very interested in learning the cement statue technique. I have always wanted a bird girl statue. Would be fun to make one, but probably not easy. What do you think?

    • I’m not sure how easy it would be, since I’ve just started learning the process. The best book I’ve found yet (out of print, unfortunately) is Sculpting With Cement by Lynn Olson. I was able to borrow one from my local library, on an inter-library loan.

  12. I have been making large pieces with the paper mache Clay and paper .What I am finding is that people love the mythical creatures That I love creating but keep asking me to make them as outdoor pieces . So all the latest postings you have been placing here are of great interest to me. Thankyou for placing all your experiences .I too am experimenting in what works the best for longevity and still wanting to be able to work the details. This is my latest piece(about 4’by 5′ )and yes i used gimp to give it a background. Thankyou Joni, and Keep up the good fun/work/play.

  13. Joni, have to finish reading your excellent post but two sources for materials come to mind
    If you are looking for calcium carbonate, pottery supply places sell it and call it whiting. They can ship, or you might be able to order with a local potter..look for supply places in Portland or Seattle.. Also I got some granite and stone dust one time from a tombstone carver..the person who carves names ,etc into grave stones. The stone dust also has some extra alumina in it, from the grinding wheels..but usually you can get if for free that way.

    • Good ideas, Steph. I did look for calcium carbonate in my local pottery store’s online catalog, and even searched for “chalk” and “powdered marble.” I didn’t know it was also called “Whiting.” But I just did, and they don’t carry it. They might be able to order some, though. The pottery stores in bigger cities probably have it. And I’m sure it’s way less expensive than $7 for 2 pounds that they charge for powdered marble at the art store.

      And the tombstone carver – that didn’t occur to me, and we have one just a few blocks from here! I’ll go check it out. Thanks!

  14. Jonni personally I look to your sight for everything in sculpting…so it would be quite useful to post the new findings on the same site…your site is easy to link through so those who aren’t interested in the latest outdoor experiments or techniques can simply select those links that pertain only to PM. Every time I log on to my computer I have to come out and check out the most recent postings on your site. Thank you so much for sharing and maintain such a great source.

  15. Just bought 6 of the deer and angel lighted wire sculptures (Christmas decorations) from a friends yard sale. As soon as I get moved totally, I’m going to try draping one of them in a cement solution and make it an every day sculpture for the back garden…. ivy back there as well, so may make a topiary out of one…. love your videos and your helpful suggestions, as well as the community.

    Thanks everyone.

  16. Hi Jonni,
    I am so inspired by your tutorials and all the info you share here on this site. Usually a painter I have been wanting to get into sculpture for ages and only just committed to getting myself some skills and lo and behold I come across you! Thanks so much for taking us on your journey. I look forward to learning more about the cement and any other skills you can share. I will post pics of my work when I have some finished.
    Such an amazing resource- Thank you! Cheers Bridie

    • Hi Jonni
      Here is a copy of the original email I sent in response to you. Not sure you got it.

      Yes, I do the cement work after the pm is totally dry. I put a layer of cement bonding agent on it and let it dry well before hand and then apply the cement. I don’t know what happens to the pm structure under the cement but I’m willing to risk it! So far everything I’ve done appears to be fine.

      I’ve just been working on a skunk however and I didn’t get all of the cement on the piece the first day. It became top heavy and the remaining pm sculpture collapsed from the weight. My mistake was working from the top down. I should have started at the bottom with the piece on it’s side as the tail is the heaviest part. I would think that the cement could support it’s self unless it’s to top heavy. I will find this out! I am sorry I didn’t put a more sturdy armature (wire) in the skunk.

      I have not used this sealer on my sculptures before but I plan to reapply it every year if it needs it. I have cement leaves that are painted and sealed with it and they seem to be holding up fine. I’ve not resealed them and they’re a couple of years old. The sealer seems to repel moisture.

      I so love your website Jonni and I’m anxious to see what you come up with for a cement mix. I’m not into experimenting like you are. I sure wish that Kim’s cement mix was in the states. It appears to be stronger than cement and it’s dry time allows for you to detail it unlike Quikwall.

      I just took my skunk (Stinker) out to his new home and he seems to be supporting himself just fine! Hurray! I was quite relieved that the cement seems to be supporting itself.

  17. I say leave it with the paper mache. It is all about sculpting and using different mediums. With all the trial and error you use it makes it so much easier to hope that we can try some of these techniques some day. I enjoy the journey to the end results even if they are different mediums.


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