Make a Ferrocement Stone Face

face stone tnStone face, fake rock with a face on it – I don’t know what these things are called, but I see them all over Pinterest, and I wanted one. My face rock still needs to cure some more, and I want to give it an iron sulphate stain, but it’s done enough so you can see how it was done. I really had fun sculpting that face with the cement mortar!

But before you check out the video, I want to thank every one of you who responded to my last one to let me know that you do want to learn cement sculpting with me. I couldn’t answer each comment personally, but your opinions really do matter to me, and it was really heartwarming to get so many positive comments about this new (to me) sculpting medium.

This video is really long, almost 25 minutes, and there are a lot of different steps. Don’t let that worry you, though, because each step is fairly easy. In fact, a lot of it is really familiar to all of us paper mache artists, from the way the armature for the rock is built out of crumpled paper and masking tape, to the final sculpting with the cement mortar — which is really a joy to work with because it’s so smooth.

Here are links to all the items mentioned in the video (if I forgot anything, please let me know):

If you make anything with the cement, or if you have any questions or suggestions, be sure to leave a comment below.

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61 thoughts on “Make a Ferrocement Stone Face

  1. I’m wondering if you thought about using a hypertufa mix rather than the ferrocement mix. I ordered ingredients to make the ferrocement, but was wondering about this. It seems to me that the hypertufa may be too soft to adhere to an upright structure. I am ready to dive into this process soon!


    • Hi Susan. I’m not an expert in the subject, but my dad has worked with concrete for many years and says the hypertufa probably won’t last as long, and is quite soft. But I know many people make very interesting things for the garden with it, and it’s really nice when they can get the moss to grow on it.

      I just found a Garden Art Forum (I wish I’d found it last year!) and it looks like they have a lot of people who work with both regular cement and hypertufa. I think they might be the ones to ask – and when you find out, please let us know what they said.

      • Jonni, I may have missed it, but did you put a flat bottom on your rock face, or did you leave it with just the edges touching the ground?

        I would also appreciate the link to to the Garden Forum.

        Thank you.

  2. Hi Jonni, I like using the acrylic glazing liquid (by GOLDEN) when painting my paper mache. I have made a concrete leaf and am wondering if I can use the same method when painting concrete?

    • I haven’t tried it, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. You’d probably want to use a varnish with UV protection over the acrylic paint, to protect the colors.

  3. Hey Joni!
    I have been using an amazing product. It sets up incredibly fast you can get it at Home Depot. It’s call “RAPID SET MORTAR MIX”. I’ve used it on mosaic gazing balls with my mosaic students. If you do make a pm sculpture you wouldn’t have to worry about it deteriorating under the mortar. This stuff is very strong and dense. When it started setting up I just wet my gloved hands and smoothed it on. Hint: mix a little at a time. It sets up really fast.
    I cannot get any pics to post right. But I’ll post some pics as soon as I figure out how to, again!

    • When making the gazing balls I used a really light weight kids ball (the really cheap ones) covered with a few layers of the mortar mix and no additives. I had 2of them I just left void of tesserae outside since last summer on my work table. They went through the freezes we had during the winter and a couple of rolls of the table and bouncing on concrete thanks to the feral cats. No cracks or damage. By now I am quite sure the balls have shriveled up and gone away. The mortar mix is perfect. Cannot figure out how to post a pic, yet.
      Is it my not doing something right or the new site?

      • Hi Liz. I would love to see the gazing balls – it sounds like you found a good product. The image uploading plugin is temporarily disabled (tech problem – the IT guys at the hosting company are working on it), so check back in a few hours. I’m hoping it will be working again by then.

        • I sent you some pics in an email. Hope they get through. This product might make things a lot simpler a quicker for you cement work! One product! ????

          • Yes, I got the photos, and I hope you’ll upload them here, too – now that the uploading plugin is working again. ๐Ÿ™‚

            It’s the “quicker” part that worries me about this particular product. I’m not sure I could get my details right if I had to hurry to beat the set. I think you may move a bit faster than I do! I did see some mortar at the local Lowes that claimed it had a slower set time, which would be nice, but it was a sanded mortar, which wouldn’t be as smooth and creamy as the recipe I got from Andrew Goss. I thought about trying it anyway, but I’ve already spent too much money learning this new craft. I think I need to slow down on the experimental stuff – and maybe even get back to finishing up my kitchen project, too!

  4. Hi,

    I am a big fan of your blog. I didn’t know where else to post this question, apologies.

    I need to make 3 foot by 3 foot panels that look like shingles. Here’s my idea and I was hoping to get your opinion on it. And of course everyone elses too.

    3×3 feet
    Very light, like a pound or two if possible.
    Don’t need too much detail or depth.
    Durable, but not freestanding. They will be attached to a wooden frame and I plan to have a wooden slat or two to support them in the frame.

    I was wondering if I could use a square of cloth slightly larger than needed soaked in wood glue. and squeezed out then molded over a form. When dried would one layer of cloth be strong enough for this? Should I just use paper?


    • Hi Luke. Will the panels be supporting anything, or just hanging on the wall? If just used as shingles, the cloth idea might work. The wood frame might keep them flat while they dry. Would you then cut out the cloth and use that alone, or will you include the wood frame in the design?

      If you want them to be slightly thicker, you could use “monster mud” which is 5 parts joint compound mixed with one part Elmer’s glue. They use it a lot for theater props and Halloween displays. It dries really hard, so the fabric soaked in the monster mud would be plenty strong to be used as shingles.

      • Thanks. I am experimenting right now with a shingle panel. I will let you know how it goes. I am trying a few different things to see what I get after it all dries for a few days.

        Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Hi Joni!
    Love this rock face project! Cannot wait to try this. My question is this…why not cover your paper mรขchรฉ scare crow with this cement mixture using the pm as a base? With the sculpting tools you’re using it should be pretty easy for you. If adjustments are needed you could do so as called for.

    • Liz, he probably would have been strong enough for the cement mortar, if I’d done it before letting him sit out in the rain. The outside stayed hard, but the inside eventually turned to mush and the garbage man took him away yesterday.

      Since even concrete is somewhat porous, I’m now very leery of making an outside sculpture that contains any paper in it at all. It might work if a paper armature was completely encased with a plastic bag or something, so no water could get to it, but even a pinhole is enough for water to find. I really am convinced we need to use the traditional ferrocement techniques, like I did with this rock, or use aluminum foil armatures, like Kim does with her Pal Tiya “clay,” or use fabric coated with cement slurry in place of the wire, although this is still an experimental process and I don’t know how long it will hold up. It would have been nice to save the scarecrow, but it would be even more fun to make a new sculpture using the right materials for display outside. I’m thinking an elf, perhaps. Or a jackrabbit or a gnome. Any votes on what we should make next?

  6. I’m really excited about your work and experimentation. I do small sculpture and things with clay and have wanted to do large outdoor things for a long time. I haven’t had the facilities available as I guess a lot of people haven’t. I have a particular project in mind that should work with your technique of the stone face. Your work has opened up whole new possibilities for many many people. You are a gift from God to me and others. Wow, thanks – Kay

    • I’m glad you liked the video, Kay. Be sure and let us see your sculpture as soon as it’s done – we’d love to see how it turns out. For more info on the technique, by the way, do a Google search for Ferrocement. And be sure to check out that page on Andrew Goss’ website.

  7. Hi Jonni,
    About 10 years ago I entered a ferro cement sculpture of a half-buried reclining figure in a sculpture competition. It is still in situ and in excellent condition, considering people clamber over it all the time. I have attached a pic or two of the piece. (It won the competition – the $5000 was very welcome at the time!) I have now been accepted to make another piece using a similar technique. Before, I didn’t know that much about the process, but bit of trial and error worked. I am about to start work on making the wire mesh support for the new piece, so I’m looking forward to watching your video and checking out the links you have posted. Thanks!

  8. Jonni- What fun and what an excellent video! You really are a master sculptor! Have you seen Kim Beaton’s video’s on sculpting with Pal Tiya? You must have since I found out about her from your site. She uses tin foil for her armatures and says that they are rock hard and then just turn to dust after a while. Might that be an easier(and safer) solution than working with the chicken wire? And some another questions- does it matter how thick you use the mixture? How long do you plan on letting this “cure” under wraps?

    • Thanks, Eileen. I’m glad you enjoyed the video. And yes, I’ve watched all of Kim’s videos. I didn’t see the comment about the tin foil turning to dust, though – could you explain that a bit? Do you mean that the foil is “attacked” in some way, perhaps by the alkalinity of the cement, and that it doesn’t provide a permanent support for her sculptures? I’ve read everything I can find about cement sculpting, and it seems that all the ‘experts’ say the fibers don’t replace the need for some kind of metal reinforcing. But she doesn’t use any wire in her sculptures at all. Do you know how she gets away with it? I would love to not use the chicken wire – it hurts! I do have another book on order that will give me more info on using the burlap and cement, and I’m hoping that will do the trick. I can get used burlap feed bags cheap at the local farm store.

      I’m not sure how long the outside layer needs to stay moist. The cement with the acrylic fortifier doesn’t need to be damp cured, but I don’t know if that’s also true for the outer layer, that just has the paint in the mix. I removed the plastic and paper towels last night, and tested it this morning – it’s really hard, so I think it should be OK. The little fibers help to prevent any surface cracking. It’s probably best to keep it damp and under wraps for a week or so, but I was impatient….

      Cement with no latex or acrylic additives can be placed in a bucket of water to cure, after the cement has set, of course. The cement with acrylic additive doesn’t like that, though – or at least that’s what I read somewhere.

      • On the Pal Tiya website Kim has a FAQ section. I have pasted the tin foil vs steel info below. I don’t know if that helps.
        What is the best armature for Pal Tiya?
        We have found that Tinfoil is the best armature for nearly any size. It can be sculpted with genuine grace and sophistication using simply hot glue as a binder. By crumpling tinfoil lightly, nearly any shape can be achieved. By compressing the surface, it becomes remarkably strong and even weight bearing. Complex forms can be also be made with cardboard, tape, plywood, chicken wire, steel, etc and then covered with tinfoil for the final shaping. This allows you to use a minimum amount of Pal Tiya to cover and finish the sculpture for the outdoors. Remember, that this ‘armature’ needs only be strong and stable enough to support your Pal Tiya as you sculpt it.

        Can you use a chicken wire or steel armature in Pal Tiya?
        Well, yes, but only if you cover the steel in tinfoil**(see below). The single biggest long-term destroyer of concrete sculptures (and bridges and buildings for that matter) is rusting of the steel inside the concrete. Many Concretes can be porous. Water will slowly migrate through them naturally over time. That water can often find the steel inside a structure and begin rusting. As steel rusts, it expands, and with a slow immense pressure, will gradually shatter that structure from the inside.

        **Pal Tiya and tinfoil work in two ways. The tinfoil eventually deteriorates into harmless dust within the hollow cavity it leaves inside your sculpture. This leaves space enough for the steel to rust and expand over the centuries. This is possible because a Pal Tiya sculpture should not depend on the steel for support after it has cured, when properly planned. The steel could pretty much go away entirely over time and not affect the fiber reinforced Pal Tiya coating. Pal Tiya has also been formulated to stay pretty much impervious to moisture & water after it has been correctly cured (see above).
        As far as the cure time, we had a rock wall rebuilt by a mason. It was February and I was concerned about it drying in the cold weather. He left it covered with a tarp for about a week and assured me that it would cure even stronger if it cured more slowly, so he was happy it was not hot. Of course, he did not add any acrylic fortifier to his mud. Maybe hot and humid would be better for that. I think I just confused things here. I’m sure if you emailed Kim Beaton, she would be gracious and answer questions for you. It will be great when Pal Tiya is available in the USA.

        • Interesting – Kim’s ideas do seem to contradict most everything I’ve been reading, but maybe that just means she’s not blindly following the crowd. I bought some aluminum mesh, thinking I could use it with cement, but all the experts say it doesn’t work because it expands at a different rate than cement when the weather changes. It would be so much easier than steel! The chicken wire is a standard material for use in ferrocement sculptures, like my face rock, and it isn’t supposed to rust unless it’s exposed to the air – the reason that I suggest covering the bare wires that show up inside. Also, most experts suggest sealing the cement after it cures, like with the stuff I tried to use on the scarecrow.

          This is starting to feel like all the conflicting advice you get from diet experts – I guess the only thing to do is to read as much as possible, and then experiment and find out what really works. I can’t wait for that little book that will show us how to use burlap instead of wire – it would be so much easier, if it works.

          • Yes, it is a bit confusing but as with so many things, I’m sure there is more than one “right” way. You will never know how long your sculptures last. Hopefully they will last long enough for you (and maybe your grandson) to enjoy them fully.
            I hope the burlap technique works for you.

  9. You really have something good going on here. I love it. No one can say that you aren’t adventitious. Looking forward to seeing it when you finish it.

    • Thanks, Artis. I ordered the iron sulphate online – I couldn’t’ find it at the local garden supply store in less than 40# bags, so I have to wait. I can’t wait to see how the rusty finish looks on the fake rock.

  10. Jonni, I love this rock and the technique. I can’t wait to try it!! I am so excited for you and all of us that follow you, to get to try another medium to go with paper mรขchรฉ. Thank you for helping us to get started with this new process.

    • Hi Jackie. If you do make something, be sure to show us how it turns out. By the way, how is your goddess holding up, now that she’s had a few months of weather to contend with?

      • Oh Jonni…Goddess Charta has had two episodes with water damage. The first was my fault. Somehow I missed a place under her arm and water leaked inside. Got her repaired and fixed that problem. Then we had one day of 2 plus inches of rain and the next week over 3 inches of rain. I saw that the lower part of her shirt was a little soft. I brought her in for examination and found that where i used screws to attach her to the wood board she was standing on, had taken on water again. So, i had to take her apart from the bottom, got her all dried out and rebuilt . I just finished the dry brush paint on her tonight. This time, i will not poke holes anywhere near her so I used the thin set product to glue her to a new and larger board. I am also going to build a pedestal (box) for her to stand on and raise her further from the ground. Other than that, she has held up really well. I also had some mold issues with Ellie the elephant. She has been sitting on my deck all summer and has been great. But i checked her bottom last week and was just sick. I brought her in, cleaned up the mold, got her dried out and painting her tonight too. For Ellie, i think maybe she needs to have something under her to raise her off the ground so that more air can circulate and prevent mold from growing. We live in the deep south and with the recent heavy rains and high temps and high humidity levels, it appears that if they are touching wood or even brick it’s going to be attacked by mold. That’s the only problem that i have encountered with my outdoor critters. I haven’t come up with a good solution for this yet, but won’t stop until i do. My future projects will be with your new cement mixtures. I am so excited and can’t wait to try them!!! And Yes, in your video, i could tell that you liked the new products and was very pleased how easy they are to work with. Your excitement makes me excited too.

        • Thanks for the update, Jackie. I hope the repairs and the new bases will keep both the goddess and the elephant happy and well. And yes, I’m having fun – be sure to check out that link to Andrew Goss’ website so you can learn about all the things that go in his recipes. I’m going to make some faces to go on my kitchen wall next – the need to work fast is actually motivating, and it alleviates my need to get things “right.” Besides, there’s this big blank white wall. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Congratulations , Jonni….seems to me that you just successfully came up with your own version of “Pal-Tiya” !! I am so happy for you ! Now there will be no stopping your creative spark! Thank you so,so much for sharing! Creating something that permanent really has such a magnetic “draw”…..have you ever seen the large stone carvings of Alan Houser, a New Mexico Apache Indian artist? His sculptures are simple in detail, but they capture the total essence of the Apache Indians. This is something that could be duplicated with your technique, and would look so authenic. Another artist is Francisco Zuniga, these artists can be found on Google. The texture Zuniga achieves on some of his sculpture is beautiful, (although I believes he uses plaster). This is something that might interest you with your new discovery. Now all your subscribers will be wanting you to write another book about sculpting with cement !

    • Thanks, Ouida. I didn’t come up with the recipes, though – that’s all Andrew Goss’ work. I think I might get a chance to try Kim’s Pal Tiya in a couple of months – she asked if I’d be willing to play with it and do a review, and naturally I said yes! I can’t wait to see what it’s really like.

      And I’ll check out those sculptors, too. They sound very interesting.

  12. SHAZAM! It’s like MAGIC! I love your rock–it looks so mischievous and fun!

    I have 2 questions: I know you put the wet paper towels on the outside of your rock…did you also have to do anything to keep the inside hollow area moist as well?

    Also, I’m most definitely a rookie and very slow at sculpting. Because of that, I’m very sure that during the final stages of sculpting my mixture would become unworkable, would need to be tossed, and a new mixture made up. I’m concerned that the part I’ve already sculpted will dry out in the time it will take me to measure and mix that next batch–to such a degree that the new mixture won’t stick to it or blend with it.

    So…it seems that it might be a good idea for me to have another two or three containers already made up in advance–that is, just the dry ingredients measured and mixed in their separate containers and the wet ingredients measured and mixed in their separate containers. Then, if they’re needed, it’s just a matter of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mixing them together, resulting in a much shorter prep time than starting totally from scratch.

    What do you think?

    PS I apologize in advance for such a long comment, but I don’t know how to word it more concisely.

    • Hi Barb. Excellent questions! The inside doesn’t need to be dampened because I made it with the acrylic fortifier. If you didn’t use the acrylic, you could just leave the plastic bag and paper in there, and it would keep it from drying too fast.

      As for the finish work, you can continue to add more mortar at any time. If the first layer has cured for two days or more, you might need to use some stuff called bonding adhesive, just brush it on the old cement to dampen it, and then add the new material. As for making up the dry material in advance and just using part of it for a small batch at a time, that’s exactly what I do. You wouldn’t want to stop and measure everything out while you’re in the mood to sculpt, so I mix up plenty of the dry ingredients and keep them off to the side. Then I scoop enough into a small container, just as much as I think I can use up in about 10 minutes or so.

      And no apologies needed for asking questions, no matter how long the comment might be. If you’re wondering, many other are too, but were too shy to ask. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I am delighted every time you share your creations with us all. I have purchased many supplies to try them all!!! I just adore your Rock Face. …Awesome!!!

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