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INTERMEDIATE CONCRETE: USING DYES & PIGMENTS

Integrating dyes and pigments into concrete is far from a perfect science. It requires patience, trial and error, and an understanding that concrete and colour often don’t play well together.

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Familiar with all the concrete basics and want to start getting more daring and creative with the medium? Intermediate Concrete is a blog series that shows you how. Learn how to do something a little different with your PPC Imaginarium Awards entry.

In the quest for getting more creative with concrete, one of the first things that artists want to know is how to transform the grey matter into something a bit more colourful.

Thankfully, there are ways to add a dash of colour to your concrete creations. But be warned – there are reasons you don’t see colourful concrete that often.

A Limited Palette

Many pigments that work well with paint media can’t be used with concrete, because the concrete often induces a chemical reaction that breaks down the pigment. Iron oxide and cobalt-based pigments tend to be best when it comes to reliably dying concrete. But because these types of pigments tend to only come in a limited range of colours (largely earthy reds, browns and ochres), you end up with a rather limited colour palette. While concrete-safe pigments in colours such as green and blue do exist, they are expensive and tough to find.

Strength vs. Strength

Working with pigments is reasonably straightforward. Most simply require you to integrate a powder or paste into your mix.

The problem, however, is that the more pigment you integrate, the more it weakens your concrete. Concentrations of pigment over 10% will tend to start degrading the structural integrity of concrete. Obviously this is less of a problem for artistic purposes compared with construction, but still warrants keeping in mind depending on the nature of what you are creating.

One way around this issue is to use regular concrete to construct something, then create a smaller, separate mix with a stronger dye, and use it for a “top coat”. This avoids excessively impacting the strength of the structure.

Marbling

You can create a more interesting colour effect by utilising a marbling technique. This simply involves making two separate colour mixes of varying colour pigment concentrations, and mixing them together partially to create streaks of colour at varying intensity. A similar effect can also be achieved by varying how much you mix in your pigment particles – mix some well for duller colours, while you leave some unmixed on the surface for bursts of colour.

Staining

For a different visual effect, you can also stain your concrete by using common water-based or acrylic stains made for household wood. Simply apply the stain to the surface of your completed concrete with a stiff brush and wipe off immediately with a damp cloth. This leaves patches of colour embedded in the texture of the concrete. It is unlikely, however, to stand up to long-term exposure to the elements.

Feel inspired to try something different with concrete? Go ahead. Enter this year’s PPC Imaginarium Awards now. Entries close 31 August.

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