Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Concrete garden mushroom project

Here is a fun project that would be fairly simple for anyone to do at home, and kids can help.  This came from Creative Concrete Ornaments for the Garden by Sherri Warner Hunter, though the mushrooms in the book are far more finished looking than our first attempt.  They are still cute.

First, we filled some plastic storage bins with sand.  Any large containers will work for this.  Then we made indentations in the general shape of mushroom tops, inverted.  Anouk placed glass gems and bottle tops in the sand for decoration.
Next, we mixed up the concrete (one part cement, three parts sand, about one part water) and let Anouk put the concrete into the forms.  *We mixed it too thick.  It should have been pour-able.  Now we know.
We pressed small pieces of rebar into the centers and allowed them to begin setting up while we made the stem forms out of tar paper.  I'm sure there are other materials, but the book called for tar paper, and we had plenty of scrap from building projects.  We made them into tubes, held together with duct tape, and placed them around the rebar.  We then poured concrete into the tubes.
We were supposed to wait 12 hours, but they were ready to unwrap in about 6 (probably because the mix was too thick.)  I had to fill in some gaps with grout, but they are pretty cute, and now they have a happy home in our shade garden.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Carving Concrete

A couple of weekends ago, I headed to Seattle to attend a workshop taught by Elder G. Jones , an artist who carves wet concrete into beautiful garden art.  His work is featured throughout my three books on making concrete forms, so it was an exciting opportunity for me.  I have big ideas for making sculpture, incorporating trash, inlaying mosaic, and generally expanding my skills.

The workshop was great, and I was very happy with the pot that I carved.

So, for my first project at home, I decided to go with the most technically challenging possibility.  Mike has been building a wood-fired pizza oven, and the exterior is unfinished.  For my first trick, I wanted to enclose the hideous chimney assembly in carved concrete, which meant building a form around an existing structure on an uneven surface.
Above: the chimney before, and then right after I removed the form, made of aluminum sheeting.  The towel hanging down in front was used to hold the concrete in at the base, but I had to carve it out of the partially cured block.

The form is removed when the concrete is firm enough to hold its shape, but soft enough to carve into.  At this point, it feels like carving into a very stiff sand sculpture.  You have to be very gentle, or it will come away in chunks.  But, it quickly begins to harden, so from here, you just work steadily until it sets up completely, which is about 5-6 hours.  (No breaks!)
I've been enamored by the phoenix image lately, and it seemed like a fitting symbol for the top of a wood-fired oven.  The front is the body and head, and the wings wrap around, meeting in the back.
I know concrete doesn't really fit the "sustainable art" description, but really, on this level, it is pretty harmless compared to entire city blocks, overpasses, and campuses.  My next step is to find local sandblasters who want to unload used sand, which comprises 3/4 of the mix.  And, as I become more skilled, my plan is to create sculptures that have a core of plastic garbage; the bottle caps, adhesive tubes, and random packaging that I can't seem to keep out of my trash.  This way, they will become part of a permanent, solid object that is functional and beautiful, instead of floating around in the ocean, slowly breaking down, being ingested by sea animals over and over and over for all of eternity. 
Yes, I obsess about these things.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I haven't been keeping up with this blog thing at all this summer because we are so very busy, it feels like a major indulgence.  Right now, I can hear the goats bleating for breakfast, and the chickens and turkeys are still cooped.  Mike is off to a training and Anouk is still fast asleep.

Because of our garden delays early in the summer, we are not getting nearly the harvest we had last year. 
Thanks to my friend Shari, we have a few broccoli plants that are finally growing edible parts, and a ton of cabbage is going to be ready soon.  Our daily meals now include chard, zucchini, cucumbers and salads.  We have many freezer bags full of raspberries, and I'm starting to freeze veggies for winter.  We are anxiously waiting for the green tomatoes to turn color, and it seems very late in the season.  We will have many carrots this year, an inordinate amount of parsnips, and it even looks like we'll have some corn after all.  The goats had munched the tops off in the spring, but they actually grew back and have cobs developing now.  And we always grow many heirloom pumpkins.

Meanwhile, I am working in the studio as often as possible to finish a set of glass cabinet doors for a client.  My work has involved submitting for calls for art and exhibits, trying to keep track of which pieces have been submitted to which shows, meaning I just have to hold onto them until I am accepted or rejected.  Upcoming events include a show at Childhoods End in Olympia called 15 Ways with Light, an exhibit at the Washington Center for Performing Arts called 25 Feet of Art, the Sequim Glass Art Festival, and the Red Hot Party & Auction at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.  All of that takes place in September.  I can't even think about October yet.

Well, Anouk is up and I really need to feed her and the rest of the critters under my care.