I often bite off more than I can chew. After my foray into making hypertufa, I decided I should try and make a 4′ tall Earth Mother-y goddess garden statue out of full-on concrete. I quickly realized that it was a big bite.
Now, I’m not going to say that I think this statue is a complete success, because it most definitely isn’t. But, I also didn’t have a clear-cut design going into it–something I now highly recommend when working on a large-scale project.
Personally, I like how her body maintains a feminine pose and how the bottom of her dress merges with a tree trunk, much like Daphne in Greek mythology meets the Virgin Mary, but her face and hair could’ve been so much better–this was from my lack of a true vision and my lack of knowledge in concrete sculpting.
That said, it turned out okay and adorns the gate area of our vegetable garden. She is stained with walnut and some other color of wood stain and has been holding out okay, so Mother Nature must not be too offended.
Making the Armature
First thing I knew I would have to do is to build an armature or superstructure for her body. This is a tall, thin statue, so I decided to make a wood base that would be covered by concrete, and from there add a rebar “spine” and chicken wire sculpture to hold the concrete in place until it cured.
When you’re making your armature for concrete, I’d recommend using hardware cloth over chicken wire. It holds concrete better. I had a bunch of chicken wire left over from a chicken coop I built, so I figured I would use it. It works fine–just not perfectly suited for the task. Add the chicken wire or hardware cloth to the rebar using bailing or picture hanging wire–doesn’t matter, just be careful! Use a set of needle nose pliers whenever possible for detail bending. Try to tuck loose wire inside so it doesn’t poke out of the sculpture.
Preparing the Concrete
Next up, I mixed my concrete. This is a recipe I got from the interwebs. It consists of roughly one part Portland Cement to two parts landscaping sand. We had a huge pile of sand from my girlfriend’s gardening and chicken projects, so I grabbed a couple buckets of it before the cats used it as their personal outdoor litter box.
When mixing concrete, you add the dry ingredients together first, and mix them until it’s completely homogenous. Then, you add enough water to moisten it. Add a little, mix it up, then add a little more. Too runny, and you risk making the concrete too brittle (plus, it won’t pack the statue very well.
Sculpting the Statue
Once you can smush it together into a “snowball” and it doesn’t crumble or run through your fingers, it is just right. Start packing the armature at the base and work your way up. I made this statue in several steps, slowly working my way to the top over the course of three days.
I was going for an earthy look, and I thought it would be cool to have the lowest edge of her dress be the trunk of a tree, like she was growing directly from the ground. I sculpted the bark and other details after the concrete had set but was still kind of soft, or “green.”
After the first batch of concrete cured, I added some acrylic fortifier or “bonding agent” on top of it, where the first layer would touch the newer batch of fresh concrete.
***NOTE: It is very important that you wet down and cover all concrete with a plastic tarp or bag for at least a week (or two) do the concrete. While the concrete is curing, it needs moisture to fully cure, harden, and strengthen through the chemical process of hydration. This is VERY important and should not be overlooked. Concrete can even cure UNDERWATER!
I kept adding a batch of concrete at a time. With this particular goddess statue, the sheer verticality of it could only hold so much wet concrete weight without it “smooging” out and down, so smaller batches were needed.
When it was finally finished and I had wet it down and covered it for a week, I moved it to the garden and then added some exterior oil-based wood stain to it to give it less of the concrete look and more of the natural wood finish of a real tree. It hasn’t shown any cracks or any problems, but it is HEAVY and we’ll see how it fairs this winter.
Point of this project is: Is this hard? Not really. Will it be perfect? Probably not. Will you learn anything for your next project? Absolutely.
I learned so much doing this project. I learned how to freehand sculpt, and I also learned properties of concrete to use for my next project, my meditating Buddha garden statue.