Different types of stone

this is a selection of some of the British sandstones, limestones and slates I have worked with

As a stone carver working in the UK I am lucky to have quite a range of local stones to choose from. That is not to say I will not work with imported materials, but my practice is generally based around using British stones. Different stones have very different properties. Some stones are close-grained and good for detailed work and others are coarser and lend themselves to bolder designs and simpler forms. Choosing the right material for the job is something that comes with experience. Some clients will come with a specific need in terms of material pallet and if this is very limited due to the setting then often the stone chooses itself and then the project is all about designing something that works in that material.

The main British stones we use are Sandstone (such as buff York stone, red St Bees stone, and grey Forest of Dean stone) Limestone (such as Kilkenny stone, Portland stone, Purbeck stone, Ancaster stone) and Slate (such as Welsh blue/grey, Westmorland Green and Caithness flag stone). There is also Granite (such as Cornish grey or Scottish red) and Marble around the UK but we don’t tend to use these much. Some limestones (such as Connemara and Purbeck) are referred to as marble, because they are a little harder and denser than other limestones, and take a polish, but they’re not true marbles as far as their Geology is concerned. I’ll not go into the geology in much depth on here, but basically limestones are sedimentary, made from calcium carbonate, and often formed in shallow seas and you can often see fossils such as crinoids and ammonites in the surface. These rocks were formed around 70-350 million years ago. Sandstone is also sedimentary, and normally made up quartz and feldspar and was formed at least 300 million years ago. Marble is metamorphosed limestone – limestone that has been subjected to heat and pressure, such as Carrara Marble which is around 200 million years old. Slate is basically compressed clay or volcanic ash formed around 400 million years ago, and this makes it much finer and less granular, although it is foliated and splits readily into layers. Granite is igneous, and formed from magma. It’s coarse grained and hard, and formed around 300 million years ago.

Sandstones vary considerably, and some are quite tight-grained (such as Woodkirk stone from Yorkshire and Forest of Dean stone) and these are good for quite detailed work, whereas Clashach stone from near Elgin, or gritstones from the Peak District are coarser and lend themselves to bolder simpler designs. Slate is much finer and perfect for really crisp detailing, which is an advantage, and it’s basically waterproof which is good for weathering, but it is also a laminated/layered material which tends to make it harder or riskier to work in three dimensions, so it’s not so suited to bold relief carvings, although it is not impossible to work it in this way. Limestones can also vary considerably, for example Cotswold stone is relatively soft and pale whereas Kilkenny stone is dark and hard. These are all considerations when designing an inscription or sculpture. For example if there is a lot of lettering needed on a small stone, then Costwold stone will not work. One might need to use a fine sandstone, or most likely I would steer you towards slate, or hard limestone such as Hopton Wood stone. Often the choice of materials is governed by the setting for the work, yet sometimes there is no obvious preference. Sometimes the material is chosen due to the brief having certain restrictions regarding size and content, sometimes the stone is the first choice and then a design is made that works with that material.

Here are a few examples of carvings in sandstone:

Here are a few examples of work in different limestones:

Here are a few slate pieces:

Influences and inspiration

My work is informed by many things. There is naturally the direct influence from my 5 years at the Richard Kindersley Studio. In my time there I was primarily carving letters, thousands of letters, putting in the hours. I think I must have carved around 25-30,000 letters in that time according to my calculations. If one believes the theory that to become an expert you need to practice for 10,000 hours then my 5 years did exactly that – I’ve done that maths too (nerded out a bit there, sorry). Richard’s father David was apprenticed to Eric Gill, and there is a kind of direct line from Gill to me in that respect, and some of the way I was taught would have echoed how David was taught by Eric I suspect. The combination of developing type design in parallel with stone sculpture runs throughout. Where David was quite traditional and arts and crafts in his work (I’m generalising a bit) I feel Richard was more experimental, and explored working with concrete, fibreglass, metal and other materials more. This is where my knowledge of classical lettering was deeply ingrained. Here are a couple of examples of things I carved while working with Richard:

Before working with Richard, I trained at Weymouth College in Dorset, which was a stone masonry course incorporating construction, architectural carving, lettering and sculpture. This gave me a fundamental understanding of the different ways to work stone, the different tools involved and visualising three dimensional forms within the stone. There we carved masonry elements such as ball finials, capitals and bosses, egg and dart mouldings, dentils and such like.

Prior to that I was a practicing artist and working different jobs to earn money. I enjoyed drawing, painting, wood carving, engraving glass and working with different materials, but I felt I was playing around somewhat rather than being good at any one thing. This lead me to want to try and specialise and focus in on one area and that is when I decided to commit myself to working stone. These are examples of the sort of thing I was making before studying at Weymouth, the first drawing was part of my ‘O’ Level exam…..

Below are a few examples of the sort of work that I admire and that influence me stylistically, ranging from ancient carvings, Aboriginal , Oceanic, Classical Indian, African, Romanesque, and artists like Noguchi, Brancusi for example:

I am less concerned with being representational in a photographic way, more concerned with stylised abstraction and simple forms, although I like to keep trying new things. Here are a few examples of my own work, a random selection:

Recent work in Aldborough

We installed a stone in Aldborough the other day, and it was a chance to see some of my previous commissions there, some of which are shown below. They vary considerably in style, design and materials. I have used all my own fonts on these, hand drawn and hand carved. I hope you like them, the older stones are starting to weather nicely now.

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Moleanos limestone from Portugal

The stone above was a memorial to a friend who ran Aldborough antique shop. The stone has references to some of his furniture and the bell that was attached to his door and rang upon entry. I miss Terry, he was a real character. He was always giving things to my kids…..

Here are a few more

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Crossland Hill York stone

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Crossland Hill York stone

Above is a York stone memorial showing the front and back of the stone. Marianne was a Moari, and the symbolism on the stone reflects her ancestry. The raised carving of the Koru on the front was copied from a bone pendant she wore and the fern carving on the back symbolises new life, growth, strength and peace.

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Woodkirk stone, from Yorkshire

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Woodkirk stone, from Yorkshire

This stone above was to a local woman of German descent, and the design and lettering was created to give a Germanic feel to the stone. I designed and drew these letters specifically for this commission. It’s weathering beautifully.

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Woodkirk stone, from Yorkshire

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Woodkirk stone, from Yorkshire

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detail from the Cook memorial above

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detail from the Denham memorial above

Above are two more York stone memorials, one featuring a lily carving and another an Ethiopian cross.

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Welsh slate monolithic piece

This wonderful piece of stone was one I came across in a quarry in Wales. I knew Alan, he was a lovely lad, a keen fisherman. The stripes made me think of water.

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Above, another piece of York stone, carved on both sides as you can see. Words by Mother Julian of Norwich adorn the back with an early Christian inspired depiction of incised doves on the back, complimenting the relief carvings on the front.

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Honed Welsh slate

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Honed welsh slate

 

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detail from Penny’s stone

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detail from Penny’s stone

This one is Welsh slate. Penny was my friend and neighbour and was very into her flowers. She was a lovely woman, missed by many. Working with slate gives a very different effect, it’s more akin to illustration than sculpture. The sharpness of the lettering and level of detail that can be achieved in slate is very challenging and rewarding.

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Nabresina limestone from Croatia/Italy border

This last image shows a cross made using Nabresina limestone. I quite like the simplicity of this, and the subtle bluey colour of the paint.

Stonecarvers Ireland Road Trip

Dan, my assistant, and I have been working in Ireland for a few days and covering a fair few miles.

Last Autumn, coincidentally I was asked by three clients to carve memorials in Ireland. They seemed to be struggling to find designer makers in Ireland making this kind of hand carved work. I was able to orchestrate things so we could bring them over and install them together. We both love Ireland, the music and landscape and Dan’s uncle lives in Kerry, so we popped across to see him too.

Our first stop was Clandeboye cemetery in Bangor, near Belfast, where we installed this Welsh slate memorial.

We stayed in the Cairn Bay Lodge B&B which was really good with amazing views and food. In the afternoon we drove to the Giant’s Causeway, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

We then had an evening in Belfast, ending up in The Points watching champion fiddler Niall Mcclean.

The next job was down in Kilkenny, but we decided to go via Connemara to check out the marble. We saw a bit but the yards were closed. We saw huge quarry blocks that were ratchet-strapped to stop them falling apart, which was alarming. It’s mainly green and riddled with cracks. I was told that it’s soaked in glue prior to sawing it in order to strengthen it. Nevertheless it’s quite attractive.

The next job was for a couple in Kilkenny. The stone was Mountcharles Sandstone from Donegal. This looks similar to Yorkstone but seemed twice as heavy and was harder to work. The carved element was inspired by a ring. I carved it in a panel, but also raised it beyond the level of the face of the stone, by starting off with a raised circle. This enabled me to make it bolder and for it not to appear to be sunk into the stone.

We then visited a local stonemason who generously took us to see the Kilkenny limestone quarry in Paulstown. This was awesome. It’s vast.

The clients took us out for a lovely meal and drinks in Kilkenny city, which is a really nice place.

The next day, we moved on to Enniskerry to install a Yorkstone memorial for Katy French. She was a model, celebrity and charity worker well known in Ireland. The tree of life carving is a simplified version of one I carved some years ago.

After a night in Stillorgan (!) We headed off to Dublin to explore, and it was during gay pride, so the city was vibrant, to say the least. We ended up in Devitts Bar watching a great duo, including a wonderful squeezebox player called Neil Harney. Here’s a snippet taken as my phone died.

We then headed west for the rest of the time, enjoying Kenmare and the Kerry/Cork region. One highlight was seeing Dan’s cousin Aisling Urwin play harp and sing. She’s so talented. Her voice is angelic and her playing sublime. She’s about to tour Europe and America over the coming months so keep an ear out for her.

It was interesting to see how there seems to be very few carvers in Ireland and how there’s a demand for well designed, hand carved bespoke memorials. I’m looking forward to coming over again.

The Duchess of Malfi is staying at the Gunton Arms

Today we installed a sandstone monolith in Gunton Park in Norfolk, close to the acclaimed Gunton Arms pub. This is what you see as you enter the park……

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The stone was commissioned by Ivor Braka, art dealer, who bought the pub back in 2009. Following Ivor’s fantastic restoration project (see * below) this is now a great pub with a really interesting and varied (and surprising at times) art collection. The pub sits within a 1000 acre deer park. What I like about the pub, and the way it has been restored, is that you can enjoy a beer and a game of pool but also have great food in the restaurant. It’s still good for locals and as we saw today there’s a great new ‘snug’ out the back, which will be open soon. Here are a few pictures of the evolution of the stone. The text is taken from John Webster’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi.

you can click on the images to enlarge them

by the way (for the pedants) the lower-case ‘a’ after ‘flesh?’ is in the original text

* The Gunton Arms is situated in the one thousand acre deer park which surrounds Gunton Hall near Cromer in Norfolk. The park was created in the early 18th Century by the Harbord family and was comparable in scale to the great estates to the west, Holkham and Houghton. The Park evolved over a 150 year period with a succession of great landscape architects being employed: Charles Bridgman, Humphrey Repton, Gilpin and Teulon. The Gunton Arms, originally Steward’s Farm, became the second house to Gunton Hall; and during the 1890s a frequent visitor was Lillie Langtry, famous beauty and mistress of the future King Edward VII. In the 20th Century the park declined into ruin, buildings were sold, the land ploughed up and the woods cut down. In 1982, rescue came in the person of Kit Martin, who along with Charles Harbord-Hamond and Ivor Braka succeeded in buying back much of the land and the buildings. In 2007 the park won the ‘Genius of the Place’ Country Life / Savills award for the best restoration of a historic landscape.

the above text was taken from the pub’s website

Some recent work

After a busy time in the workshop Dan and I have been installing a few stones. Below are some pictures. The first few are York stone, and the bottom ones are Westmorland slate.

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York stone, Syderstone church, Norfolk

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York stone, Holt church, Norfolk

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York stone, East Horsley, Surrey

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York stone, East Horsley, Surrey

Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk

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York stone, Bale church, Norfolk

Burton Joyce
Honister slate (riven) Burton Joyce, Notts.

Burton Joyce
Honister slate (honed) Burton Joyce, Notts.

French limestone obelisk inscription

I have been working on an exciting project this month. I have been commissioned to carve four inscriptions on an obelisk near Bicester. The obelisk measures a huge 25 metres from plinth to apex. It is made from Massangis French limestone. The inscriptions are on all four sides of the base, two in Arabic and the other two being their English translations. One of the Arabic sides is calligraphy produced by Saadi Al Timimi, and the other Arabic inscription is a typeface. The Roman lettering is based on the Roman Trajan inscription, but tweeked here and there, especially regarding the weight of the serifs. I have been helped by Gary Breeze, Stuart Buckle and Martin Cook. I’m back on site this week to give the lettering a final going over and to think about mixing colours for painting the text. Although the inscriptions are deeply carved, they will need colouring to be legible from a distance of 30metres, which is where they will generally be seen from.

I’ll show more pictures once the work is finished. The four pictures below show sections of the lettering on all four sides of the base, prior to the inscriptions being painted.

Coltishall memorials

One of my current obsessions is looking at 17th and 18th Century memorials, and Norfolk has a fine selection of these. Here are a few I photographed recently in Coltishall.

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I install my own memorial work all over Britain, and am always looking out for good examples of 17-18th century carving. Some stones from this period are very finely executed by master carvers that also studied typefaces, whereas other more “naive” examples were carved by jobbing masons, these are often more powerful in their impact, and the designs are often less carefully concieved. Often the carver will start the lettering top left and just see what happens in terms of how the words fit the stone. Some of the examples above are beautiful and obviously very carefully set out and carved, whereas others are less refined, the imagery is more direct and less “pretty”. If this is something you’re interested in I have many more photographs like these on my flickr pages. This is an ongoing project, and I am adding to these continually.

While I was in Coltishall I saw the above plaque outside on the church wall. This is an impressive piece of work with a lot of letter-cutting, (but it was rather difficult to photograph in the flat light). The wording is what made me want to post this image though, and it reads thus:

Sacred to the Memory of SIDAY HAWES and ELIZABETH his wife.
SIDAY HAWES was born at BURY in Suffolk, 8th October 1748
and died at 6th October 1827, in the 79th Year of his Age.
He was a Man of excellent understanding and great moral worth,
pious, just, and conscientious.
ELIZABETH, his wife, was the only daughter of HUGGINS PORSON,
parish clerk of EAST RUSTON and was Sister of RICHARD PORSON, late Greek
Professor in the University of CAMBRIDGE.
She was born 27th April, 1756, married 27th November 1786, and
died 7th March, 1842 in the 86th Year of Her Age.
She had by nature a strong and capacious mind, which she
found time to cultivate amidst the hardships of her early
life, and the various employments of her later Years:
whilst her piety and benevolence made her take delight in relieving
the sufferings of the poor, for she had both seen and felt what
those sufferings were. And thus, to the day of her Death,
she shared her own prosperity with the
class from which she sprang.
Happy herself she tried to make those around her happy, and with
firm and cheerful trust in the promises of our blessed Saviour,
she looked forward to Death, not as an evil but as a
glorious change of existence.
“O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING? O GRAVE WHERE IS THY VICTORY?”
They had Seven children, two of them died young, and were buried
in this Church at the East end of the South Aisle.

Swithland Slate

This slate was quarried until the early 1900’s in the Charnwood Forest area,  and was used for a lot of the Vale of Belvoir Angel memorials as well as for earlier slates and memorials all around the east midlands. There were several small quarries as far as I can tell and here’s one I found on the outskirts of the village of Swithland. I had hoped to bring a little piece back as a souvenir but it was extremely dangerous……….basically a pit filled with possibly very deep water edged by sheer “cliffs” of slate.

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The village church has many wonderful slate memorials, some very accomplished pieces of carving and some more crude. The earliest was from 1673.
here are a few examples but there are more on my flickr pages.