About Direct
Stone Carving

 

Direct stone carving means carving directly into stone. Modeling, as with clay or a comparable material, is a process of building up or adding material to arrive at a composition. Stone carving is a process of taking away excess material until a design is established -- two completely different concepts.

Limestone, marble, alabaster and soapstone are the stones commonly used in stone carving. The best stones are those recently quarried. Stones that have been outside for a long time are frequently too weathered to be useful for sculpting and will crumble or fracture when carved. Granite is too dense and hard and it requires much more time and effort to work.

With small sculptures results can be achieved working by hand without the use of power tools, but it is very slow and strenuous work. All sculptors today use power tools, this allows for greater creativity in the sculpting of larger pieces, Michelangelo of course didn't use power tools, but keep in mind that in his era stone carving required the assistance of tens to hundreds of assistants. The great sculptors of that era didn't do it alone, they supervised numerous assistants to produce their great masterpieces.

Given an identical stone, a hundred sculptors would arrive at a hundred different subjects and treatments. Even given the same subject matter there would still be different interpretations.

Who or what's inside the stone? The answer is different for every sculptor. By and large most sculptors do not look for what is inside the stone, instead he or she will have a definite subject in mind and look for a suitable stone.  More often a stone is chosen for its size, color and texture.

A cube of stone is like a blank canvas and there are unlimited possibilities that the sculptor can carve. With an irregular stone, or one with a definite color or pattern of veining, there are immediately certain limitations and it becomes easier to see a subject within it. If colored veins are large and distinct, the stone would not be appropriate for a head or a figure because the veining would be more prominent than the piece.

Once a subject has been chosen, a personal interpretation often has far more artistic qualities than a faithfully realistic reproduction. The outlines of the subject are drawn on all sides of the stone with a marker, then the larger pieces are removed with a diamond saw, chisel and hammer. The major parts of the piece are developed first For instance, in carving a head, the features should be quite well defined before the back of the head, so that if the nose broke or some deformity or flaw appeared in the stone, there would still be enough material to set the face further back.

Flat chisels and rasps further smooth the stone and make the features more distinct. With limestone this may be the final finish; with alabaster and marble, which take a high polish, the stone may be sanded to a fine surface and then polished. In some cases the composition has more variety and is more interesting if parts of the stone are left uncarved or are left with their tool marks and the other parts are smooth and polished. A colored stone, when struck with a hammer and chisel or rasp, will become whitish in color; as portions of the stone are more refined, they become darker. The polished areas are the darkest.

The greatest gift is to know when to stop and not overwork a subject. In some instances a carving may be more interesting if left in an unfinished stage. Many people prefer Michelangelo's unfinished "Slaves" in their blocked stage emerging from the marble, to his finished "David."

For me there is a special feeling that I sense in direct carving. I feel a personal response to the intriguing and inspiring challenge of the age old stone with its grain, density and color, which reveals to me a surprising beauty.