Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tick Tock

As the last hours of 2011 draw nigh I'm thinking of all the celebrations and well wishing and love and good-will and wish I could bottle its power - as we all see in and celebrate the New Year what good energy, what strength!   It will ripple around the earth in a massive joyful wave.  Hope you feel its warmth.

But before the clock strikes.....

A toast to thee, 0 dear old year,
While the last moments fly,
A toast to thy sweet memory -
We'll lift the glasses high,
And bid to thee a fond farewell
As thou art passing by!

A toast to those who reaped success
In this good year of grace;
A toast to every one of them -
Come! Give the victors place!
Come, wish them well with right good will -
The winners in the race!

And one toast more! To those who failed
Wherever they may be;
With faces white they fought the fight,
But missed the victory;
So here's to them - the ones who strove -
On land and on the sea!

Fair dreams to thee, 0 grey old year,
Thy working time is done,
And gone for thee the silver moon,
And golden noon-day sun;
Yet sad old year - and glad old year -
We'll know no better one.

by Virna Sheard

Friday, 30 December 2011


The word Finial comes from the Latin Finis - the end - so actually it is quite apt as the year is finishing - but I only realised that connection just now.  I love finials, stone ones in particular.  I look out for them and admire the mastery of carving.  By old writers the architectural term is frequently applied to a pinnacle (more about pinnacles to follow), and usually confined to a bunch of foliage which terminates pinnacles, canopies and pediments in Gothic architecture.  The introduction of finials was at a time when crockets (more about them to follow too), were popular, to which they bear a close affinity.  The leaves used in finials often resemble those used on crockets, and sometimes four joined together would make up a finial.  Spires are often topped with finials.

Beautiful examples exist at King's College, Cambridge which my latest lino-cut attempts to show.  Where gables support ornamental decoration or finish in the form of a final, they are sometimes known as hip-knobs.

These are some more modern ones - Five Finials by Ian Hamilton Finlay (with Peter Coates)

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Reviewing and Looking Ahead

As the year comes to a close we are bound to think about what kind of twelve months it has been, and also plan ahead for the new.

From Sine's Proverbs

It is exciting to assess what has been achieved and organise for the next chapter -  aspire, clarify intentions, and design ways of  proceeding. My goals revolve around doing better what I love doing most, sculpting in stone,  and perhaps growing as a human being a little, and I find it essential to draw myself a sort of map, so I can head off in the right direction. 

I think I re-draw the chart from time to time as I go along, but providing I remain focused and true, I suppose there are many routes I can take.

It is lovely to think of, and hear about, everyone else's maps and their journeys - and a  marvel that we all arrive here having come along such different paths during 2011.

Here's hoping all your plans go to plan.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

My Christmas Gifts

I wake very early on Christmas morning, there's lots to do and a day full of promise.  First thing is to go and say Happy Christmas to my geese and take them their festive breakfast - a mix of lots of their very favourite things - they talk loudly and enjoy the special attention.  I say Merry Christmas to my worksheds too, leaning against the large wood doors and looking out on my favourite view.  Large flocks of corvids play and swirl in the near light, enjoying the buffeting wind.  My robin chirrups.  I fill the bird feeders.

After lighting of fires, preparing, cooking, greeting, welcoming, kissing, hugging and enjoying - its time for a good brisk walk.  No snow or crisp frost, but enough of a wind to freshen and free.

I got a present of a lino cutting set - complete with ink, cutters and lino - so the evening was spent adding lino scraps and slivers to the paper and pine-needle debris.  Need more cutter control, but what a fascinating and versatile printing technique - I could be hooked.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas

A big hearty Happy Christmas, lots of the very best wishes to you all!   And big thankyous too, for your support, comments and lovely blogs which I very much enjoy and appreciate every day.  Cheers to you!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Celebrate the Light

This is one of my most favourite Christmas decorations - I know her as Tonantzin.  An Aztec Mother God who was honoured in a Winter Solstice festival. So much of early belief was about finding something uplifting at this dark time of year, and using what small amount of light there was, to illuminate and raise the spirit, mind and soul.  Stone structures were built in line with the low, late rising sun to allow light within to illuminate the gloom.

Tonantzin was much revered and worshiped and many stories surround her great presence.  She is often depicted  as a terrifying figure, with her head comprised of snakes and her garment a mass of writhing serpents - her eyes projecting fathomless grief.  One of her sons believed himself to be omnipotent (all powerful).  Tonantzin challenged him to produce mother's milk to prove he could be as generous as he was fierce.  He could not, and Tonantzin became known as a protective Goddess - one who answered the prayers of the poorest and who especially watched over birthing mothers.

On the shortest day of the year, four days before Christmas, a chosen woman dressed entirely in white with white shells and eagle feathers.  She then danced through the crowds of people weeping and singing.  An Aztec priest accompanied her and when her dance was complete, he took the Goddess's mask and ritually sacrificed her.  Next day Aztec men struck the women of the community with little bags full of green paper to symbolically renew the life force.  The Aztecs were celebrating the return of the Sun with longer days to nourish their life

Monday, 19 December 2011

Images of Christmas

I've been asked to read one of the lessons at our village Carol Service tomorrow evening - The Shepherds go to the Manger.  I've always liked this part of the story - of shepherds watching their flocks - awoken by an amazing thing - it is part of the build up to the final magic of the nativity - all gathered, sheep bleating and cattle lowing around the manger.  Candles and Carols and the thick stone pillars and walls of the Church create a warm surround for the images in my mind. The sculptors of old depict this part of the story at Notre Dame Cathedral, where the shepherds look totally bemused. 

And more stone carving at Chartres Cathedral show the angel appearing to the shepherds.  The sheep in both seem unconcerned and continue grazing.

And this is what the shepherds are told they will find.

  Extraordinarily fine stone carving - Nativity sculpture at Chartres

Stone carving of The Nativity - Notre Dame

I am sure my vision of it all, the images I bring to mind, are hugely influenced by art and I wonder how I would carve my stone version of The Shepherds go to the Manger.  I mustn't be too distracted by this when I'm supposed to be reading.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Finishing Touches

I've collected holly and ivy,  gathered cones, lit candles, got twinkly lights, polished for sparkle and put up the last decorations - its glowing!

Friday, 16 December 2011

If you don't succeed ...

Try, try again!  I have said this to myself so many times, and others have said it to me - generally being optimistic and hopeful, it seems to make sense and I have leapt with glee when it works.  But where my 'festive window' is concerned it isn't.  Well, not yet!

Without doubt I see it in my mind's eye, I know the feel, and look I want, but seem incabable of achieving the layout or the effect through the camera.  Arranging and re-arranging and fiddling with the camera buttons seems to create a sterile, out of focus and badly lit jumble.  So frustrating and time consuming.  I need a photography course.  And a design course.

I was at a Christmas market recently and the stalls and tables were so beautifully laid out, inviting me in, enticing, glowing, and making the goodies seem irresistable.  I'm sorry to all those people who thought I was going to purchase, as I rushed over - actually I was just looking at your beautiful layouts and how you achieved them.  When questioned, generally the reply was ... 'oh I just threw it all together quickly to get set up'.  But there is an art, a magic even - I love seeing it and being under its spell, certainly I'm susceptable to its powers.

Do let me have your favourite tips and ideas when you're taking pictures, and I'll see if I can improve before the festivities are over!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme -  gives all young people the chance to develop skills for work and life, fulfil their potential and have a brighter future.

I had sort of forgotten about this Charity, it was something much talked of when I was younger but more something boys did,  until recently when I was approached by the parents of Brandon, asking if I would tutor him as part of his Silver award - for the skills section he was keen to do stone carving.

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme was started in 1956, at that time it was an Award for Boys, chaired by The Duke of Edinburgh.   The programmes consisted of four sections, rescue and public service, expeditions, pursuits and projects, and fitness.  The Award for Girls was piloted in 1958 consisting of design for living, adventure, interests and service.  In 1959 it became a charitable trust.

Brandon making a start on his Fish sculpture

For the last couple of months Brandon has arrived at my workshop each Monday to spend an hour learning stone carving.  His interest was sparked by attending a local show, where he had a go at lettercutting, and carved a letter B onto a small square of stone.  He was familiar with working with tools having enjoyed wood carving previously, but now wanted to carve in stone.

Initially the profile of the fish is carved through

He started with a relief carving, and chose to depict a treble clef, (he is also musically minded), which he drew capably freehand onto the stone before beginning to carve.  This was a wonderful exercise, lots of curves and corners to master and he worked steadily and carefully.  He proved to be attentive and intuitive in learning how to handle and use the various chisels and soon had a beautiful carving.

Next the profile, from above is carved through to the base

He has now progressed to a carving in the round, a complete sculpture, which is a fish swimming on a base of river bed pebbles.  Ambitious!  Again he is working patiently and diligently and beginning to show some real talent.  It is so exciting to see his sculpture emerge, and become more real with each section he works on.  I can only imagine he is feeling as I do when a creation begins to come to life - excitement, elation, full of nervous energy and pride.  

Refinements are made

I am so very much enjoying working with him - each visit he works more confidently, asks when he isn't sure, and expresses clearly his ideas for the sculpture - next time he is bringing some details of how he would like the head and mouth of the fish to be - can't wait.  Well done Brandon!

Details are positioned and shaped

Further detailing and proportions established

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Rosslyn Chapel - A Treasure in Stone

Over the weekend I was reminded of a fabulous trip I made a few years ago - I was delivering a Birdbath in Edinburgh and afterwards met my mother who took me to see the amazing Rosslyn Chapel.  It was all brought back by the programme on Sunday evening - telling the story of the building and its significance.

I loved that the story was told by the BBC Four's Rosslyn Chapel: A Treasure in Stone with plenty emphasis on the masons and craftsmen who actually did the carving, and research done into who they were and what being a stone carver was at that time.

The Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair and took forty years to complete.  Sir William wanted the very best artisans and craftsmen and the masons were responsible for building their own village - a house and land for each carver.  His workers were highly valued,  master masons earned £40 yearly (equivalent to £50,000 today), and all other masons £10 each year.  But there was a lot of work to do.   Within the Chapel there is an abundance of sculpture and decoration - carving on carving - a great deal of which is given to plants and animals and the green man image (over 100), it is bursting with plant images and beds of foliage intricately carved onto its ten thousand stones.  The exquisite Rosslyn Chapel is a masterpiece in stone.

Of course extracting stone in medieval times was no mean feat, it took dozens of men and many months to excavate from a nearby quarry.   Each block would be squared and shaped and then the designs carved - each finished piece matching the next in a masterful flow of twists and scrolls.  Throughout there are the 'mason's marks' in the stone, simple shapes carved to signify who was responsible for that particular work, and evidence of completion so they could be paid.

Image from Rosslyn Chapel

This pillar provides one of the most dramatic stories locked into the history of Rosslyn’s carvings. It is said that an apprentice mason carved the pillar in his master’s absence. The master mason had gone to research the original pillar on which this was to be based, before attempting his masterpiece. But when he returned to see that his young apprentice had already carved what he himself had not managed to, he flew into a jealous rage and struck the apprentice over the head, killing him outright.

The faces of the mason, the apprentice, and his grieving mother are carved into the corners of the Chapel opposite the pillar. But the Apprentice Pillar is also significant because of the eight carved dragons winding around its base. In Scandinavian mythology eight dragons live at the roots of the Yggdrasil tree, an ash tree which bound together heaven, earth and hell with its branches.

There is an angel playing pipes, and the most beautiful nativity scene too, which I must show you as we're at Christmas time.

Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity

This hanging boss encompasses the eight-pointed Star of Bethlehem carved with figures of the nativity. Clockwise around its sides are the Virgin and child; the manger; the three wise men; and three shepherds.

Oh, please allow me one more - this is a farmer's wife saving her goose from the jaws of a fox!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas Cactus

I love these succulent plants, they're quite different in appearance from their desert dwelling cousins, and come from the south eastern coastal mountains of Brazil.  They grow on trees or rocks in habitats which are generally shady with high humidity.

Their stems resemble leaf-like pads joined together and flowers appear at the joints and tips of these stems in white, pink, yellow, orange, red or purple. A vivid scarlet is most commonly grown for Christmas time.

I'm trying to grow lots of plants for my small pots and this Cactus is easily propagated by talking short Y-shaped cuttings of the stem tips.  If you remove a single segment and plant it a quarter of its length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil, it should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks.  The pot needs to be in a well lit area and the soil kept moist.  I didn't get mine planted soon enough for this year, but I have one or two cacti substitutes.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Feeling Festive

It is beginning to feel quite festive here in the stone shed - I'm working hard with orders for Christmas presents - some are surprises and rather special individual gifts - it is really lovely to be part of the giving process.  Hush, I don't want to give too much away.

To add to the cheer I've been putting up one or two decorations - outside as well as in.

Luckily my stone hanging decorations survive the weather and look amazing when touched with the morning frost.  I'm hanging them from the Sycamore tree, and one or two on the Apple.  The birds think they're food balls, perching on them and pecking! I love to make the garden feel Christmassy  too.   Others will stand or hang in the workshop.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Standing Stones

These are a few more images of local stones - these are my comfort stones, the ones I see daily that reassure and give pleasure - I greet them and wonder about them.

They are strong stones.  These two are close-by on opposite sides of the road, the holed one reminds me of the Men-an-Tol stone circle in Cornwall.

Only because of the hole, and of course it is a standing stone!  There were many traditional rituals at the Men-an-Tol, distinguished by its strangely pierced central stone (the name means stone with a hole in Cornish).  Holed stones are found in many parts of the British Isles as well as in other countries of the world; together with holy wells they have retained the ideas and customs associated with them more tenaciously than any other type of ancient sites.

Image from Stones of England

Traditional rituals at MĂȘn-an-Tol (centuries ago known also as Devil's Eye) involved passing naked children three times through the holed stone and then drawing them along the grass three times in an easterly direction. This was thought to cure scrofula (a form of tuberculosis) and rickets. Adults seeking relief from rheumatism, spine troubles or ague were advised to crawl through the hole nine times against the sun. The holed stone also had prophetic qualities.
Perhaps my local stone is not a Devil's Eye, or at least if it is, not many youngsters have been squeezed through and perhaps other cures were used for rheumatism!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Small Stone Birds

These little birds are perching and nesting on the edge of a block of stone.  They were fascinating to carve, as the piece of stone they are worked in was brought to me by the customer, a beautiful old, weathered and mossy crag of a lump - an unknown quantity.  I couldn't tell what the stone was like 'inside', how it would work, or whether indeed it would respond to carving.

It revealed lots of surprises!  Sections were pale yellow and buff coloured and easy to work, whilst others were flinty or running into hollows and shale - then it also revealed some lovely swirly dark grey colouring, which makes the birds look feathered and patterned.  Quite an adventure.  I think the irregularities in the stone give the birds an ancient, weathered and almost primitive look, which I love.

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