What's So Fake About Fake Rocks?

Waterfall, Crouch 2.jpg

Answer? They look fake…. And with that this could have been one of the shortest blogs ever! However that would be pretty dumb. So let’s dig into this question more deeply.

Obviously the issue is looks. What does the rock, or for that matter the overall feature, look like? And how does it match up with the real thing? When it comes right down to it the key is getting our fake rock projects to match nature. So to achieve this our simple task is to study and copy nature. Have you done this lately? If not don’t feel bad I haven’t either.

After years making rock features many of us have developed our fake rock “style”. This is the look that our rockwork takes from our personal carving and texturing technique(s) we’ve developed over time. This includes how we lay out or compose our projects. How we “crack” and texture them with large and small details. And lastly how we color them.

What I’ve noticed is that when I examine the best carvers out there it’s harder to tell who is who. If they all have a large fractured granite style rock for their project they all look awesome. And the reason is they come very close to matching nature. They have taken the time to study the real deal and practice. And this is one of the reasons I consider them the best at this craft. So as I’ve said again and again study nature. But what more specifically does that mean?

I’ve covered this before and it basically comes down to six parts.

Project Composition: How are all the components or pieces put together?
Rock Size: How large and small are the stones or boulders that are included in the design?
Rock Shapes: What shape are the stones or boulders or is it a wall of stone?
Large and Small Textures: What are the large and small cracks like as well as the stones surface textures?
Color: What kind of colors are/is the stones, or wall?
Water Movement: How does the water move down the feature?

1) - Project Composition. When we are designing and building our projects WE ARE playing God in a sense. We are deciding what goes where as well as how the water will flow down and what colors to use. Does it look, sound, and feel like what we see in nature? Overall is it believable? Or does something seem off? Do we see too much symmetry? Or is there a nice balanced Asymmetry? Do we see the ‘rule of thirds” well presented? Is the project “boxy”? With angles that are 90 degrees of vertical?, (not that common in nature).

2) - Rock Size. So often I see photos, (or actual projects) with rocks that are all or mostly the same size. The project resembles a pearl necklace or a strange stack/pile of stones or boulders. As faux rock builders, designers, and contractors we can make rocks ANY size we want. Therefor we SHOULD. I’ve also seen casting jobs that look like flat walls of rock resembling a rock quarry. No or too few planters or recessed areas.

3) - Rock Shapes: When rocks, stones or boulders are individual piece they rarely have right angles in their shape. They tend to be composed of a series o angled planes. Either greater than 90 degrees or less than 90 degrees. Then if the project is a casting job there is a danger of focusing on the tying together of the castings in the easiest way which often leads to boxy features or large wall faces. Not good…

4 ) - Large and Small Textures: There are a variety of ways to texture faux rock. Stamping, carving, brushing, water or air blasting, sponging, foil or plastic impressions and molded rock castings, (a total duplication of the texture of a real rock). We can create large cracks if we have enough mortar/concrete to cut into. And then carve as much small detail we wish along with our finishing techniques, (brushing for example). Again, are we matching the real thing in our texturing?

5) - Color: A single word but with endless variations. You have the basic hue or color, (how the project looks from a distance). But then you have all the different colors we see in nature. There’s also contrasting colors. One side of a rock can be a completely different color than the other. You also find color that washes down the feature and/or rock. Even various organic materials that grow on rock, (lichen for example).

6) - Water Movement: Water goes where it wants. It always finds the shortest path(s) downward. But we must consider this when we design our projects. We don’t want too much splash. With our heavy water, (lot’s of mineral content) here in southern California efflorescence can cause white chalky deposits wherever water lands and then dries. Not to mentioned water loss, (a very important issue in our drought prone region). For my projects I try to have a place for my project’s waterfall water to land that can fill up enough to create a small receiving pond or pool to absorb the energy of the falling water so it’s less likely to splash but then completely empty once the feature is turned off. And then on weirs, (the edge of a waterfall that’s falling into a pool for example) I often see a perfect glassy wall or sheet of water. This is a commonly requested affect that client’s prefer. However this isn’t the most natural look. So breaking it up a little is good.

We’ve all see the real thing. Rocks boulders, and waterfalls in nature that are absolutely amazing to behold Our man made creations should look, sound and feel so much like the real deal that people can’t tell them apart. If we do our job well then fake rocks won’t look so fake anymore. And to that end you might consider grabbing a copy of my book “Makin” Rocks”. It’l help you hit the target when it come to designing and building natural looking and functioning faux rock. And that would be a really good thing…

- Dave

Dave Henderson