Ferrocement Sculpture

Antonio Gaudí ... Start Here ... Historic Spanish sculptor with artistic visions.

Sabato Rodia ... Start Here ... Sabato Rodia's work is often referred to as "the Watts Towers". Watts is a district in the city of Los Angeles. City officials bulldozed much of Rodia's smaller sculptures but were stopped from destroying the larger towers by caring people. There are stories that bulldozers could not pull the towers down. Sabato Rodia hoped to counter the plastic fantastic of Disneyland culture and citizens eventually stood to save his work. Committed preservation will keep this wonderful sculpture park in good repair for the imagination and delight of everyone.

Vijaykumar Bandodker ... Start Here ... Fountains and structures in India.

Garrett Connelly
Fountain center piece ... Human Form Armature ... Other sculptural examples

Osmar Beserra Alves Dias ... Start Here... Great work from Brazil, Sweden and Portugal

Charlie Duane ... Start Here

Domenique Himmeisbach de Vries ... Start Here... Monument to Okay People, Netherlands

John Grono ... Start Here ... Very interesting Australian sculpture.

Gabriel Gutierrez ... Start Here ... Sculpture from Columbia.

Court Johnson ... Start Here ... Prolific and varied California sculptor.

Jefferey Johnson ... Start Here ... Jeffery is a decades long ferro builder & sculptor in California

Jurek ... Start Here ... Outdoor garden wall.

Steve Kornher ... Start Here ... Structural sculpture from Mexico.

Nicaragua ... Sculpture Park ... Expression and preservation of culture. Significant work.

Robert Markey ... Start Here ... A musical sculpture, one among many.

Penny Mason ... Start Here ... Alive and free, great work.

Steve Moore ... Start Here ... Oven in bear sculpture

Edwardo Muñóz ... Start Here Building size nude, Baja California.

Julio Alberto Alfonso Muñóz ... Start Here ... Masterful sculpture from Cuba.

Lynn Olson ... Start Here ... Here is a pioneer artist with a book and link.

Sheena Ridley ... Start Here ... Great outdoor work from South Africa.

Anthea Simmonds ... Start Here ... Park sculpture from the Netherlands. Biological fiber and cement. Pioneering technique.

Charles Sthreshley ... Start Here ... Ferrocement furniture, bright colors.

Tony Turner ... Start Here ... Old wicker chair converted to ferrocement garden furniture, New Zealand.

Isabelle Valfort ... start here ... From the heart of artistic tradition in France and beyond.

Deborah Whitman ... Start Here Interesting techniques and beautiful art.

Please add to the sculpture section ... email contact

read online web manual about running sculpture here


space-age mud and wattle = acrylic/hemp/cement

Photo of small sculpture

Ferrocement is an additive method of sculpture. Stone sculpture involves removal of material and is referred to as a subtractive sculptural method. Traditional ferrocement sculpture is plaster on a sculptured steel and wire armature and has grown to include many fiber reinforcments and admixtures. The finish work begins with the steel. It continues through the plaster surface to color, grinding, polishing, and whatever other creative urges occur. A finished plaster surface is enough.

Photo of small sculpture

The running woman is sculpted using space-age mud and wattle on the wire armature pictured on the ferrocement.com sculpture manual. The material is examined further in other sections of this website.

A steel and wire framework which is used to support and reinforce a plaster sculpture is known as the armature. This word is also used for the inner reinforcement core of any artifact made from ferrocement. The first armature that was made into something instead of art was a boat for the Amsterdam Zoo. This small, touring barge was built in the mid nineteenth century and was used until the latter 1900's. It is now retired as a display piece. It is treasured as an industrial art. Ferrocement is not a new material. It has acquired technology and wider structural parameters over many years.

Concrete plaster can be worked into a clay-like foamy slip. This takes much practice. Timing and temperature are important and related. Hurry if it is hot. Wait until the material is ready when the weather is cool. Put on a pot of coffee if it is cold (you might be up late). Colors can also be introduced at this point. They have familiar names like raw umber, burnt sienna, and cobalt blue. Chemical dyes are sometimes useful after the plaster has cured. Colors tend to fade. Quick dry a color test with heat to see the dry shade.

Color use extends from simple coloration to a significant fresco in the spirit of ancient Greece.

The plaster is a standard construction mix of 1:2 up to 1:3 (cement : sand). Almost all of the materials needed will be found at construction supply yards used by builders. Concrete steel supply yards make circles and other repetitive shapes for larger sculptures. Plaster sand comes from concrete suppliers. Be alert for sand washed in muddy water; it can contain reactive material that will effect longevity and hardness.

Plaster reinforced with fiber and fabric is an exceptional sculptors media. Mix the cement with emulsified acrylic and the sculpture material takes on characteristics of clay. Cover with plastic between work sessions. Shape with a rough file. Don't wait to long for the end result is very hard concrete.

Note: Hard plaster can be difficult to make in northeast USA. Make a fully hardened test before plastering a valuable armature. Hard plaster is like hard stone. The sound of clicking two pieces of ferrocement is similar to the sound made by a hard wood percussion instrument. A dull thud marks a failed test. Official engineering numbers correlate exactly with this sound range.

Understanding the armature is the key to ferrocement knowledge. The cement part is no different than any rich plaster mix. Strength and longevity are also related to minimizing water content. This point is good for the original sculptor because stiff plaster aides artistic skills using hand and eye coordination. (This is not a large a problem for cement castings which are one sided, for example, a bench).

The armature itself is where the finish work begins with ferrocement. Much time and effort goes into the armature. One must be patient for larger works.

There are often areas where it is difficult to make the plaster penetrate even when all sides are open. The plaster must be carefully and vigorously pushed into the steel armature so that there are no voids. This may require planning as well as patience.

Welded wire is easily bent in one direction. Complex curved planes are problematic. Think about upholstery and sewing. Cutting the edges of welded wire helps it to lay flat. Bending each little wire in the desired plane of the wire is another technique.

Wire ties are made with steel worker's pliers and longer thin pliers. Lever the heavier pliers over the longer pliers to pull welded wire layers together as the twisting knot is made. Bend the knot out of the way with the precise pliers. Start in the middle of curves and work outward.

Ferrocement.com recommends plain welded wire (not galvanized). For sizes other than the usual 6,6,10,10, search the web (welded wire is listed under "wire mesh"). Use "welded wire" to search the web. 1/2 inch squares are a good size for most artistic work.

Water can carry reactive chemicals. It is wise to be learn about the longevity of local concrete in relation to water used. Warm water, sand, and cement can result in rapid hardening and little working time. Cold weather can cause the opposite problem. There are chemicals which can delay or accelerate cure time. These chemicals introduce another learning curve to timing of the work. None of these ideas are particularly difficult once a sculptor is involved working with ferrocement.

It is possible to reduce steel content and still have a product which can be considered ferrocement. One should be aware that the closest analogy to wire and steel, (ferro) and cement, is fiberglass and resin. These two composite materials are similar for intellectual comparison and visualization. They also have an almost identical modulas of elasticity. That is why these materials can be used to make things like a sailboat, diving board, or racing kayak. Ferrocement is far superior for sculpture.

Welding is not a necessary skill but can be very helpful. A standard cutting torch, gas welding tips, and an arc welder are useful tools for large works. Learn about hog rings in the Construction Guide of this site, they are important for larger projects. It is also a good idea to learn to weld with the cutting torch. This avoids changing welding tools. This skill makes the torch into something similar to pencil and eraser.

Colors are usually a powder that is either sold bulk or in small boxes. Selecting from bulk bins usually provides the greatest color choice range. The colors may be mixed into the plaster or applied while rubbing the finish shape with a sponge. Add about half as much extra cement as color volume. Sponges must be cleaned continuously in rinse water, this removes large sand grains. Visible large grains can be swept from the surface with a clean sponge. Clean the sponge in clean water often.

Extra rich plaster (1:2 ±) tends to shrink faster and causes the surface to make small, "egg shell" cracks. Antonio Gaudí used this phenomenon knowing that extra color would migrate toward faster evaporation in the small cracks as the material hardened and dried.

Insights gained from reading about ferrocement construction in the "Construction Guide" will also help the sculptor.

Three dimensional casting of ferrocement is extremely difficult. Even if one limits the steel content enough to facilitate castings with a reasonable rejection rate there is still a problem of steel placement within the mold.

A more practical ferrocement molding technique uses foam blocks or slabs shaped into an inner core upon which the ferrocement armature is built. Small sections of wire mesh are attached to the foam sculpture by wire pushed through the foam to another piece of wire mesh on the opposite side. Additional welded wire mesh can be attached to the small patches when they are secure. After the armature is complete, plaster is applied in the usual way. The mold is lost within the final product. One can produce anything imaginable using this system.

It is not a clear choice whether one should work from a foam core because one cannot weld a sculpture with foam inside it. Foam can be placed in larger hollow areas of welded armatures (like building a ship in a bottle). All of these choices and riddles will confront ferrocement the sculptor at one time or another. It's slow paced work that should last for centuries and often fun.

A foam or other light core can also be wrapped in strips of muslin soaked in a mixture of cement and acrylic. The online portion of the Ferrocement sculptor's manual mentioned above explains more about fiber reinforced ferrocement style sculpture.

Anyone with additional questions not addressed in this brief article should read the construction sections of ferrocement.com. It is a good idea to read these subjects before an email contact with ferrocement.com for discussion of specific subjects. The web caretaker knows sculptors do not plan to build water tanks etc. These sections, however, provide insight into the fundamentals.

Growth of this article and the photo section is fostered by the contribution of sculptor's ideas, discoveries, and questions. Please send pictures and links.