The fine art of sculpture is always associated with good construction practices. Building forms, making molds, casting materials like concrete, coloring and finishing, are all part of the sculptural process.

Concrete home building is becoming more of a fine art, too. Designers reference the landscape for the shape of the home; homes show more sculptural details in carved and cast accessories. These two, sculpture and concrete, homes share a common purpose—to create beautiful form. Today's artisans find more ways to sculpt with concrete, and their work finds its way into gardens and living areas. Manufacturers have more products that contribute to sculpting and provide the training to use them.

CARVING BAS-RELIEF INTO CONCRETE

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Ake Grunditz completes a stencil design for a bas-relief concrete carving for a doorway lintel based on a Venetian print.

Ake Grunditz, an Alameda, Calif., artist, chose concrete as his medium. His work is largely relief carving, and he works with homeowners to create one-of-a-kind installations. He favors Renaissance designs or develops a design around a favorite family treasure like a crest or a piece of china. Once the design is agreed upon, he creates a full-size drawing and uses it for a stencil to guide the carving. Most often the carvings embellish large entryways, fireplaces, or a wine cellar arch.

Grunditz has a background in ceramics. In 1991, before manufactured products were available for his art, Grunditz used cement-based polymers, limestone fines, and white portland cement. Now there are products like ArcusStone limestone coatings. Still, Grunditz sifts the limestone mix to eliminate larger stones and substitutes a percentage of acrylic for some of the water until the mixture reaches a consistency that can be spread without sagging.

The carving is a removal process. It begins with an application of the stucco-like mix a little thicker than required (usually less than 2 inches but up to 4 inches for the highest carving points). Placing the stencil onto the wet concrete, Grunditz sprays it with paint to transfer the design to the concrete. “Remember to protect the surrounding area!” he cautions.

Within a half hour the material sets enough so it can be carved. Asked about carving tools, Grunditz laughs, “I have no problem doing a complete carving with kitchen spoons and knives.” He uses ceramic and plasterwork tools but has also developed special tools like a bent knife to accomplish a perfect angle. He carves excess material away in the larger areas first and then progresses to the finer details, carving bevels and intersections while constantly removing and cleaning around edges before the material hardens. After about 5 hours, the material tightens requiring a file or grinder.

Grunditz creates custom colors to blend the carving with its base by using acrylic earth-toned pigments brushed or sponged onto the hardened surface. The final step is burnishing with a smooth stone to compact the surface. Grunditz stresses using either a smooth hand-held river rock or a 4-inch grinder with a very fine sanding disk, adding that sanding compacts more than it grinds away. Burnishing the carving causes a hardened shine with crisp edges that look like polished limestone.