The Process

In starting a new stone carving project, I am reminded how some of our greatest sculptors – dead and living – aim for a freer, direct and essential form of artistic expression.  This sounds rather ‘loose’ but enormous amounts of time and effort go into observation and the evolution of an idea.  This is often explored through using different media – sketch work, complete paintings, photography and model-making in many different materials to develop themes through to the creation of detailed, carefully proportioned maquettes.

The need to immerse myself in the process of observation – whether of everyday objects, attending exhibitions and visiting sculpture parks, or examining one particular sculpture over and over – is a constant and crucial discipline and one that provides enormous pleasure in its own right.

Once I have formed an idea, I develop sketches, usually in pencil, pen and ink wash with wax crayon – Henry Moore’s Shelter Drawings are a brilliant example of how sculptural forms can be skillfully crafted in a one-dimensional setting.  I may have chosen a piece of stone at the outset because it’s shape and character lend themselves to my idea or I may select the stone once I have developed detailed drawings.  I then create models using basic craft crank clay and small pieces of soft Maltese limestone or soapstone so that I have a good three-dimensional shape to work with.  Actually drawing the stone itself in different dimensions and inking in the desired shape can be very helpful at the start.

Checking dimensions and proportions all the time involves measuring and drawing grids on paper before transferring them to the stone, ensuring the highest and lowest points of the design are clearly identified.

I then select an appropriate toolkit for the stone and size to be worked. Initially, a mallet and tungsten chisels; sometimes a saw or punch to remove edges from blocks quickly. Once a basic structure is achieved and depending on the hardness and texture of the stone, I may work with claw chisels to gouge out a firmer outline shape or move directly to working with a range of saw, file and other rasps followed by smaller rifflers to achieve finer detail.

Limestones and sandstones may have textured finishes with some smooth surfaces which are created using dry sand-papers. Alabasters, soapstones and slates require the use of sand-papers and diamond pads in a combination of wet and dry finishing to finely smooth and polish surfaces before applying oils and waxes to capture the true integrity of the stone.