Concrete has long been known to be a durable and versatile building material. Since ancient times, it’s been used to build structures that still stand today. In the past, concrete was used primarily by workmen for utilitarian purposes. In more recent years, however, it’s become increasingly popular as a decorative medium.
Carved concrete is a perfect example of how this humble mixture of cement, aggregate, and water can be used by artisans to create truly impressive works of art.
A Bit More Esoteric Than Stamping
Concrete carving is a process whereby a special mix is applied to a vertical surface and hand-tooled to a desired shape and texture before it hardens. The host surface can be as simple as an existing wall, or a more intricate framework made with rebar, wire lath, or even foam blocks. The mixture can be applied very thinly if only a light surface texture is needed, or it may be applied up to several inches thick to accommodate the deeper cuts and reveals required to simulate massive stonework.
Most people have seen carved concrete but don’t realize what they were looking at. The stone formations, and even many of the trees at zoos and amusement parks, are often carved concrete.
Artisan Troy Lemon of Cornerstone Decorative Concrete in Fennville, Mich., is, like many contractors, proficient in several concrete applications. Whether his project is a well-executed stamped patio, stunning metallic epoxy floor, or a unique countertop, Lemon can do it all. However, what sets him apart from most other contractors is that he is also very talented when it comes to carving concrete.
When he started working for himself around 1991, Lemon would take on just about any job to pay the bills. At that time, stamped concrete was still relatively new and he took to it with a passion. Troy enjoyed creating something out of the ordinary, and was skilled enough that stamping soon made up the majority of his work. He liked seeing customers’ reactions when they saw their finished projects.
However, stamped concrete eventually became mainstream and no longer yielded the same level of satisfaction that he had experienced before. He still enjoyed doing it, but wanted a more creative outlet. The seasonality of outdoor work in Michigan was also problematic. Lemon sought more opportunities to allow him to work year-round.
Fooling People Means You’re Doing it Right
About this time, Lemon became acquainted with Bob Harris at the Decorative Concrete Institute. While helping Harris work on the institute’s new building, Lemon was introduced to stamped vertical overlayment. This is a very similar process to carved concrete, but the pattern and texture are stamped into the soft surface instead of being carved into it. Lemon was intrigued by the possibility of creating the illusion of massive stonework, hand-hewn timber beams, or bricks and Venetian plaster, all using lightweight concrete, but he still wanted more variety than what was available with commercially produced vertical stamps.
Lemon became intrigued by the prospect of applying the material thicker, as some others were doing, and carving it. The carving process would allow for unlimited creativity when finishing out an existing space. To be able to retrofit huge stones into a basement, for example, would be otherwise impossible. Lack of access and the sheer weight of real boulders would not allow for it. However, it would be very possible to simply build them in place with lightweight carved concrete.
Although he was largely self-taught, Lemon soon became skilled at the mechanics of carving. He soon realized, however, that there was more to it than simply rendering the shape of a rock.
Lemon learned that to create a truly realistic representation of stonework, one must closely observe what real stones truly look like. Everyone sees rocks and takes them for granted, but few take the time to notice all their subtle differences in color and texture. To improve his carving, Lemon searched the library for books on stonework and found Stone by Design: The Artistry of Lew French. French is an award-winning stone mason who combines wood and other elements to create stunning artworks. The photographs in this book became the inspiration for Lemon’s work.
One of the most difficult aspects of producing realistic carved concrete is coloring it so the final product looks good enough to fool people. Attention to detail is, after all, what sets great work apart from the ordinary, and Lemon strives for much more than mediocrity. His previous experiences with stains and dyes on horizontal flooring allowed him to color his vertical surfaces realistically.
Give People Another Reason to Hire You
As Troy continued to improve his craft, he began to get noticed. Designers and architects shared his vision, and he has since completed several very impressive projects. His work can be seen in commercial settings such as the Pike 51 Brewery in nearby Hudsonville, Mich., and upscale homes such as a 12,000-square-foot lake house in Union Pier, Mich., built by David Charles. The scope of these projects is even more impressive when one considers that Lemon often works alone, usually accompanied by only a helper or two.
When he’s not working on large jobs such as the aforementioned ones, Lemon continues to install more modest projects such as microtoppings, countertops, epoxy overlays, and stamped concrete. He’s competed – and won -- in competitions such as World of Concrete’s Artistry in Decorative Concrete Demonstrations.
In addition to his contracting work, Lemon teaches classes and gives private instruction in concrete carving. Manufacturers who wish to produce better and more usable vertical overlay materials have come to him for guidance. To see a portfolio of Lemon’s impressive work, visit his website at www.cd-concrete.com.