Paper-crete Garden Sculptures

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Introduction: Paper-crete Garden Sculptures

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I bet it's hard to believe that this is made of paper?! I've always loved to play with concrete, but it gets really heavy and hard to sculpt. When I discovered that paper can come to the rescue I was super excited! Paper provides a great partner to make concrete more moldable and also takes away some of the weight.

Please don't say that you can not sculpt as this is quite simple since it's shape is round. Channel some of those old childhood memories of fun times in the sandbox... Let me show you how...

Step 1:

For the first part of this Project you will need:

  • Paper (newspaper, egg cartons, any paper)
  • Bucket
  • Water
  • Agitation device (paint mixer, blender, strong arms)

To break down the fibres:

  1. Shred or rip the paper as small as possible. Depending on the paper you are using it may take longer. Egg cartons are already a recycled paper so they will break down quite quickly. I had old bills shredded so I used them. I used some hot water to help soften it.
  2. Add enough water to fully soak (don't worry that it's too much)
  3. Agitate to help break fibres down. (paint mixer, or old blender, some muscle power... what ever it takes. I used a paint mixer on an electric drill BE CAUTIOUS OF BEING NEAR WATER)
  4. You will see the fibres get 'fuzzier' and softer and may even need additional water
  5. It should resemble 'mush' when totally broken down

Step 2: The Basic Form

To make the forming of this sculpture as easy as possible it is based on a ball shape. I like to use things that are free or very inexpensive.

Make the Sphere:

  1. Crumple a ball of newspaper to the desired size. It should be quite dense and solid
  2. To hold it together wrap it with string
  3. Since I don't want the paper ball to 'steal' the moisture from the concrete I wrap it in a plastic bag
  4. Use some chicken wire or other mesh material and wrap the sphere. This will provide some additional structural integrity and stiffness
  5. To hold it all in place a wrapping of thin wire will help (almost like the rebar in concrete)
  6. Make sure it is quite stiff so that it does not flex when pressed

Step 3: Working With Concrete

It is best to do this stage in a place that can get messy... If you are new to concrete you may like my tips and tricks page.

Materials for Mixing:

  • Portland Cement
  • Sand
  • Your paper fibres
  • Mixing vessel (plastic bucket is best)
  • Stir Sticks (wood or plastic)
  • Water in an easy pour container
  • Gloves
  • Dust mask

Step 4: Making the Mix

Papercrete can be made at many different ratios.

For this one I used:

2 Parts Paper Fibre - 2 Parts Sand - 3 Parts Portland Cement by volume ( I count scoops)

(If prefer a less fibrous mix you can add more portland cement without any issue)

Mixing:

  1. The fibres should be strained from the water as much as possible (so as not to bring too much water to the mix
  2. Add the sand and portland cement
  3. Start to mix and add water at small increments
  4. Mix well and make sure to stir deep into the bottom
  5. The consistency should be of a stiff nature, that holds it shape like a clay when squeezed in your (gloved) hand

Step 5: The Sculpting

I always like to have a plan of what I am making by drawing some sketches first. You can interpret many animals into a chubby spherical shape.

Sculpting:

  1. Place the ball/sphere on something that you can rotate
  2. Cover the ball with mix evenly and smoothly (at least 1/4" to 3/4") by spreading it with your hands
  3. Rotate and assess the shape

Step 6: Adding Character

That was not hard at all was it?! It's like being back in the sandbox...

Adding the Details:

  1. The eyes, warts, are just additional lumps added on top
  2. Make some strips for the lips and squeeze edges
  3. Form the legs out from the sides (don't make tiny details as they may be broken later on)
  4. If needed use some utensils to smooth out the surface as desired (easier now than when set)
  5. Rotate to make sure to view at all sides and keep it somewhat symmetrical
  6. Due to the fibre content it will dry much slower than usual concrete. If located in the sun protect from drying too fast (cover) as concrete likes a slow damp setting cycle to gain more strength. Mist with water if needed. You will see the colour change when completely set/dry (timing will depend on your individual conditions)

Step 7: Gutting the Form

The design was made to be lighter by not being a solid form. You will easily be able to move this fellow around.

Hollowing out:

  1. Once set, turn over the sculpture and rest in a secure place
  2. Use tin snips or pliers to cut the wire and mesh (use gloves to protect hands)
  3. Cut away and pull out bits as you can dislodge them.
  4. Once you get to the paper centre pull out bits and hollow as much as possible. (best to take out anything that may absorb water and freeze)

Step 8: Give Him a Name...

That was pretty easy?! I've had mine in the garden for years and he has made some friends as well...

Let me warn you though... when you start 'playing' with concrete it may become addictive! But it is easy, cheap and pretty permanent, so what's better than that!?

Check out my other instructables as well.

ENJOY!

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We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.

2 Tips

Old Pnayhose makes a nice sieve, add back water if you need it.

Oh yes, good idea. might be a bit messy with concrete covered (gloved) hands.

4 Questions

Would all-in-one ready-mix concrete work? That's all I buy - being visually impaired, it means I don't have to get within inches of fine cement powder to see what I'm doing

Ready mixed mortar (for bricklaying etc) would be more appropriate.

All in one 'Ready-mix' usually has aggregate in it ( gravel) but some people just sift it out. The result would be the portland cement and the sand, so I think it could work. Just have a sieve that won't let big chunks pass. Portland cement will be in almost all cement mixes so it's best to work outside or with a dust mask.

Thanks for the useful technique. Regarding the mixture, are the parts mentioned (2:2:3) by volume or by weight?

I use volume as the water content of the paper fibres would skew that if it was measured by weight. You can adjust the proportions according to feel as well. I have used a higher proportion of portland cement quite successfully.

I'm curious to find out what the purpose of the paper pulp is for? Is it for strength?

Without the pulp, concrete will slump (flatten out) so this fibre makes it hold it's shape better and absorb some moisture for the concrete. It's a concrete version of paper-mache.

She says in the intro that it makes it easier to sculpt and makes it lighter weight.

In step 5 you state "cover the ball with mix evenly and smoothly", but you don't say how thick to make it.

My main focus was to get a nice even coverage. I would say that 1/4" is the least to about 1/2" thickness. The additional details will also add some strength so it will be fine.

14 Comments

Looks like a material with endless possibilities... thanks for posting!

Great to learn of a sculpting material that is suitable for outdoor projects.

This would also make a great base for mosaic projects :)

Also a very clear instructable!

Yes, it sure is versatile! I’m always dreaming up new applications since I tend to think nowhere near ‘inside’ the box. And I just love that I can enjoy it for a long long time!

This would be fun to make a papercrete snowman or santa(maybe too much detail)

That's really cool, I like how it looks almost like yarn or something instead of being solid. Awesome job!

@ElectroFrank - thank you [I didn't know how to paste this in under your answer so I'm hoping this works]. That sounds do-able!

I love it! I tried to convince my husband that we should move to Arizona and build a papercrete house. He loved construction but was skeptical to do this. Perhaps I will make this and be happy forgetting my dream of the house. I have seen 4 such structures. So economical to build. Already insulated when finished. Very low maintenance. Both easy to heat in winter and cool in the summer. Lots of info on the internet. Glad to see this. When I have weather I can work in outside I will have to do this.

There are so many interesting ways to use concrete! I am also making stuff with fabric dipped in portland cement: That opens another direction:

DIY-Concrete-Witch-Ghoul--madebybarb-28.jpgConcrete-Lighted-Step-Spook--madebybarb-32.jpg

WoW! Love those. I need to follow you! Grandma here still like to mess around but I still love more complex challenging things.

Lovely sculptures. :)