Thursday, May 25, 2006

Concrete Poetry

A year or so ago I found this nifty kit at Borders. It's made by the people, the folks who make those magnets with words that you stick on your refrigerator or filing cabinet.

works along the same lines, except instead of small magnets, you make word bricks from concrete to set out in the garden. The kit comes with rectangular molds, letter stamps, a sack of concrete mix, a bottle of terra cotta colorant, a small trowel, and complete instructions.

Well, with something like that in the hands of an avid writer and gardener, the possibilities are endless: everything from chunky plant labels to lines of poetry winding around the garden or lining the paths.

Soon after getting the kit, I used the sack of concrete mix that came with it to make a simple "welcome" stone for the front porch. It came out nicely enough, even if the letters were a bit wobbly. Perhaps that just adds to the charm, right?

Then the kit sat idle for a long time. I'd need more concrete, more coloring material (if I didn't want Basic Gray), and most of all, more time to make more stones. And I also needed a clear idea of what I wanted.

Well, after seeing the Hobbit Tree get its haircut and the damage wrought by the feet of the tree cutters (not that they could really help it, and there wasn't anything terribly valuable under the tree anyway), I thought that the bed could use a few stepping stones. Well, hey, why not drag out the kit and make some? So I stopped by the craft store, picked up a couple of sacks of concrete mix (which I really, really need to price at the hardware store, where I'm sure it's much cheaper), some coloring material, some round molds, a set of flower and butterfly stamps, and some floral "marbles" for decoration (hint: a net bag of marbles from the floral aisle costs as much as a package from the concrete and mosaic section, but holds three times as much). I mixed up the concrete and made the first two of five stones that will eventually say "grow where you are planted":

Obviously, looking at the surface of those stones, my concrete work needs a bit of help. I'll lay some damp cloths over them and get out the wire brush to take off the pale mucky look, now that the concrete is set. Otherwise, I'm two-fifths of the way through the stepping stone project.

Now I've got other projects in mind. There's a worn place in the side lawn that could use stepping stones sunk down to soil depth. I want to make a set of small, round stones that say "step by step by step" or some such thing. I'm also thinking of putting out short lines of poetry in the flower borders, such as "The earth laughs in flowers" (Emerson).

Like I didn't have enough to do this summer already. Sheesh.

Here's how I made these stones:
  • Dump a 7 lb bag of concrete mix into a bucket. Add a packet of colorant (I used Mahogany on these stones) and stir in. Careful of the dust. It helps to sit outdoors where the breeze will blow the dust away from you, or wear a mask. Add 2 cups of water and stir. If it needs more water (and it did), add a tablespoon at a time until you've got the consistency of brownie batter.
  • Dump the concrete into the mold and spread it out with a concrete trowel until it's smooth. Add any texture you want with the trowel. Once the concrete is poured, you have about an hour to work.
  • Press in marbles, mosaic tile, mosaic glass, polished stones, shells, or other decorations if you want.
  • Lay out the letter stamps and line up the ones you need. I like to start in the middle of the word so that I can center it correctly. Press all of the letters into the concrete at once. Slowly lift them out one at at time. Doing it that way instead of one letter at a time helps prevent distortion of the letters by each successive stamp.
  • Craft stores have lots of other concrete stamps you can use, or create your own using found materials.
  • Let the stone remain in the mold undisturbed for 48 hours. I set mine up on upturned buckets to keep critter feet out of them. If it's dry or warm, you can lay damp towels over the stones so that the surface doesn't dry too quickly.
  • After removing from the mold, the stones need to cure for two weeks before using as stepping stones.


Artemis said...

I want one of those kits!!! I've followed your link to Amazon. The price looks reasonable. I may have to have one.

Marie said...

Oh, I am SO getting one of those! Thanks for the instructions, too.