Friday, 25 February 2011

Tools for Carving

Last week, I promised to show you what I was working on, (and what is being delivered tomorrow), but just before that I thought it might be a good idea to introduce my tools.  The tools I use every day to carve with, they are my friends and I cherish them.

Simply speaking there are three stages in carving a sculpture.  Roughing out, refining the shape, and finishing the detail and surface.  I use different tools for each stage. 

Even the names of the tools are wonderful.  This is my hammer, it is curved like that to get a better balance and swing (see the worn handle, which beautifully fits my hand).  In front of that is my pitching tool.  This is used for 'spalling' or bursting the superfluous stone.  They have an edge bevelled to the back of the tool which affects how the stone comes away. 

Then finally the nicker, or pitch-nicker, used for breaking off large sections of stone, or cutting a stone in half.  Basically you draw a line where you want the break to be, and then strike with the nicker held vertically, all along the line, until the stone cracks in two.  Notice the mushroomed hitting end.  All steel chisels are tempered, to make the steel strong, it is quite a balance getting this just right, too much and it makes it brittle, too little and the metal is soft.  Personally I prefer a slightly softer tool, sort of has a bounce and freshness, but the penalty is that with repeated hard hammering the end mushrooms and eventually the shank is too short to hold!

So now we've taken off large lumps of stone, we can move to shaping and refining.

Chisels come with different ends -   mallet or hammer headed, it is just personal choice, I like a mixture of each type.  These ones are mallet headed, they have the bobbly end, so it does not chew up the mallet and also to maximise the hitting area (less bashed knuckles they say).  On the left is the point, or punch - great for shaping and removing stone quite quickly.  Then my very favourite claw chisel (this one has claw inserts, which when blunt you take out and replace), also called a scutch or comb.  The claw chisel is used in sequence with the point or punch.  The teeth are provided to prevent the stone from plucking or lifting in holes over the surface.  All the shaping I need to do  happens with this chisel, all the curves and lines required. It leaves the stone formed, but with claw marks.

Then the fine-tuning and finishing.  This is a dummy-mallet, they come in different weights, depending on how delicate you need to be.  The balance of these are divine and they fit snugly in the hand, feeling lovely to hold.   And then my small carving, fillet and moulding chisels, I have a range of these with different widths of tip to get in all the nooks and small detail areas.  They are also the chisels I use for lettering.  If kept sharp these chisels cut through the stone cleanly, enabling really fine detail.  One of these chisels with a broad end is used to go over the whole surface of the sculpture to smooth out the claw marks and then the piece is sanded to a fine finish.

Another day I will tell you about my waster, boaster, gouge, shiftstock, batting tool, scrappling maul, bull set, mash hammer, bush hammer ..........

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sometimes stone is too heavy!

What a frustrating day.  Things don't always go to plan, and jobs I expected to take  a few minutes absorbed the whole morning.  I'm making preparations for delivery of a sculpture at the weekend, and moving blocks around  for my next piece.  The finished piece is on a trolley, for easy moving around the workshop, which I pulled outside to protect while shuffling and re-organising.

What was easy to manoeuvre on the smooth, flat, concrete floor of the workshop proved impossible to budge once out in the yard, and I slithered and slid on the wet ground, the trolley sinking further into the muddiness at every attempt to get it rolling.

As I lugged, pushed and pulled, words came into my mind - I forget where I heard or read them, perhaps it was in a film - but there is a boss man urging his men to work harder, and screaming at them that their life depended on more effort, 'heave, ho, put your backs into it men, heave until sparks fly out of your eyes!'  I understand the expression.

So, behind schedule, tired, wet and muddy and feeling annoyed I sat a moment.  My geese came gathering round making lots of noise, and initially I thought it was in sympathy with my situation, but the noise grew and the gander, neck arched, strode proudly about. 

This is why - the first egg this year.  All my stone struggles and frustrations disappeared.  Thankyou my little geese.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Inspired by ... Gallery

Over the weekend I received the new Exhibition Programme for the Inspired by ... Gallery, as I'm exhibiting there in August.  The Gallery hosts a series of temporary exhibitions of work by art and craftworkers who draw their inspiration from the landscape, life and colour of the North York Moors. 

The Gallery was built as part of the redevelopment programme for North York Moors National Park Visitor Centre, Danby.  The Gallery is light and airy, and defined by its beautiful untreated oak beam frame, huge timbers which are a work of art in their own right. 

This is in striking contrast to the Visitor Centre, which is a former shooting lodge belonging to the Danby Estate (Dawnay family).  The buildings grew from a 17th century farmhouse, into a smart shooting lodge in the 18th century, 'Danby Lodge' and was used by the family and guests, to enjoy grouse shooting parties across the moors.

Now, as the Visitor Centre, it has displays about the natural history of the moors and moorland wildlife, local history, maps and walk leaflets, tourist information and has a very good tearoom. Also nearby are the remains of the original 14th Century Danby Castle. The castle was once the home of Catherine Parr (Queen of King Henry VIII).

I am exhibiting with three other artists, painters Gail Hurst and Sue Morton, and glass worker Jayne Hibell, and we're busy organising how the exhibition will look and pieces to show. 

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sculpture at Google

I love this!  It  made me smile this morning - Google Brancusi banner to celebrate his birth date and match with the sculpture season currently in focus on the BBC.

Really beautiful! Gorgeously Googled!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

From the Sculpture Workshop

It rained heavily overnight, so this morning was fresh and damp.  I flung open the workshop doors to let the day in.  I have large double wooden doors on the front of the shed, so it almost feels as if I'm working outside.  This is my view - and stunning  with the sun just pressing through the mist.

And breaking through, it shone on a little stone planter, full of dewed daffs, which I keep on the back of the forklift (out of reach of greedy geese beaks!).

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Drawing for Sculpture

Drawing and sketching are such a pleasurable part of what I do.  So often drawing time comes after I have just finished a sculpture, when my hands are weary and sore, and fingertips rubbed bear from finishing the stone. 

Sitting quietly with pencil, pen or brush is restorative and calming and there is a feeling of new creation, and exciting possibilities.  I am lost in the concentration, imaginings and the soft sound of pencil gliding on paper and the comforting smell of sharpenings.   

Part of the reason for drawing is to work out and resolve all the ideas that rush into my head.  Is this idea going to work carved in stone?  Can I capture the feeling, emotion and liveliness that I would like? With a commissioned sculpture, drawings are crucial in allowing the customer to see my proposed creations and to let them know I have understood what they would like.  When I make a sketch, I am drawing for sculpture, attempting to draw three dimensionally, a little map for me of where curves go in, and out. 

Sometimes I draw for pure enjoyment, and sometimes a drawing appears from no-where, a character willing its way into my sketchbook, and we stare at each other in surprise!

Saturday, 12 February 2011


Only a week ago I said to myself that I wouldn't get too carried away with Valentine's Day - but I'm not immune, and have succumbed to an overpowering  swell of romance and sentiment.  In the words of James Hogg:

Love is like a Dizziness

O, love, love, love!
   Love is like a dizziness;
It winna let a poor body
   Gang about his biziness!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Focus on Sculpture

I find there's a really positive consequence of 'treating' yourself - not only for the obvious reasons of enjoying the treat, but also that I tend to make a list of things I must do, or get done before I allow myself the luxury.

So this week so far, I have been up really early, and done long days in the workshop (results of which I will show very soon!), setting myself goals of jobs to finish.  I'm suddenly energised and pushing myself into frantic activity to get my reward - it just feels exhilerating and exciting.

The excitement is all due to BBC Four's season 'Focus on Sculpture'.  In their words - BBC Four shines a light on one of the oldest and most treasured art forms - sculpture - in this series of programmes - and it starts tonight. (With features running into the 'early hours'!).

Romancing the Stone: The Golden Ages of British Sculpture.

Jacob Epstein in his studio - Close Encounters, Henry Moore Institute

In association with the Focus on Sculpture Season, the archive collection explores the work of a series of influential British sculptors.  This collection shows programmes and interviews with Eric Gill, Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, Barbara Hepworth and many others who are the 'greats' in my world.

AND the Royal Academy are showing Modern British Sculpture at the moment - which I'm planning to visit at the end of the month.  All these treats!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Music at the Shed

What a wonderful, inspiring night!  I went to see the Kathryn Tickell Band at the Shed - actually it wasn't a shed, but Hovingham Village Hall - but organised by The Shed

The Shed is a pint sized music and peotry venue on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors created by Simon Thackray in 1992.  Described by Time Out 'One of the few venues in the country with a location as inspiring as its programme of live music and performance art'. 

The shed has been outgrown, so events are now held in Hovingham, a very pretty village with fascinating history.   The village, formerly a market town, is situated in the vale of Ryedale.  The area is generally hilly and wooded.  There are three mineral springs, yielding respectively sulphurous (resembling the waters of Harrogate), chalybeate (similar to those of Scarborough) and clear water (remarkable for its extreme coldness, and formed into a bath, in a secluded spot, surrounded by trees).  Evidence of a Roman bath, tesselated pavement, hypocaust and coins of Antonine were found there. 

Back to the Village Hall and the Kathryn Tickell small pipes.  What a beautiful sound they make, haunting and evocative of Northumberland, hills and brooks, bleakness and beauty - a mix of traditional and contemporary.  The fiddles, melodeon, guitars and pipes drove us through the scales of emotion, one minute vibrant and energetic and the next transported to wild, lonely and sad.  Wholly absorbing and uplifting and left me feeling in awe and inspired.  I've ordered a cd.

 Kathryn Tickell - Credit:  Reed Ingram Weir

The music has been playing in my head all day whilst I've been in the workshop, so the seeds of an idea are sown, of creating a sculpture based on how the music makes me feel, it has given me a sort of energy which I feel will outpour into a beautiful carving!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Homes to Inspire

I got an excited call from a local customer yesterday to say that their, now gorgeous, farmhouse had been featured in House Beautiful.  They spent the last year making it their home, with considerable building work and updating, including a re-vamp of the fireplace in the living-room, which they asked me to make for them.

Here's the farmhouse, which was built in 1783 (it has a beautiful date stone above the door), and retains lots of its original charm and character.  The property also has outbuildings, with equal good looks, which they now manage as Bridge Farm Cottages, holiday lets (so if you're in need of a short break, I know you will be very well looked after 01751 417896).

When I left after fixing the fireplace stone, the room was still bare, with lots of ideas as to how it would look decorated and furnished - so it is wonderful to now see it completed and homely.  I'm excited too now!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Digital Delights at Duckett & Jeffreys

Last night I visited Duckett & Jeffreys Gallery to see ‘Quickening’, a collaborative installation between sculpture duo Second Nature and digital and VJ artist Maria Silmon.

'Quickening' is inspired by the time of Imbolc solar festival, the moment in the year when the sun, after the stillness and dormancy of winter, begins to noticeably rise higher in the horizon towards it's zenith at mid-summer.  It's rays stimulate the earth into the new energy of spring, quickening it's life-force and bringing the first stirrings of action to the seeds beneath the earth.  This was explored in the exhibition, through use of contrasts, soft and hard, digital with raw nature, movement and static.

Above us the Trees - Second Nature

Second Nature use elements of chance and play to digitally create organic shapes which are then refined, developed and waterjet or laser cut in metal, into edgy, dynamic, abstract sculptural forms. These were hung on the wall, and over one display Maria's videos were played, casting magical, colourful rythms and shadows.

Sundance - Second Nature 

In addition to the video, Maria showed some very beautiful black and white photographic prints of birds and trees.

Birds in the trees (black and white print) overplayed with video - Maria Silmon

The exhbiton runs until the 19th February and if you would like a little joy and to  celebrate the lengthening of days and encourage the return of light - head straight for this exhibition!  Happy Imbolc!

Duckett & Jeffreys, Malton, North Yorkshire.
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