Carving Techniques

etched, incised, set in a panel or bas-relief

When creating a piece of work that is essentially in relief as opposed to a fully three dimensional sculpture there are different ways of incorporating the various elements. Elements such as form, shape, texture, carved imagery and lettering all need to balance to make a successful design.

Different projects bring different possibilities and one must adapt the design to suit the specific setting and the chosen material, while considering scale, lighting, durability and the visual impact. Some materials are well suited to fine very detailed work, whereas others will require a bolder approach, a heavier hand so to speak. Below I will try to illustrate how different techniques work in different stones, focussing mainly on etching or incised work, carving within a panel, and what we often call raised carvings, or low relief or ‘bas-relief’ (from the French for low).

Incised carvings

Incised carvings are literally cut into the stone, a form of engraving. This can be a purely linear expression or a more textural approach but the surrounding surface of the stone, outside the outline of the image, is left untouched. This can be a useful technique to employ when the image to be carved is delicate, such as a dandelion seed head for example where it would be difficult to carve between all the hairline thin elements. Another example would be a dragonfly for example, where although it would be possible to have raised material to describe body, the legs and antennae would present quite a challenge and sometimes a combination of raised and incised can work in these sort of instances. Fine-grained materials like slate are great for this delicate work as small details can be shown clearly, whereas in a coarser stone like York stone, this technique needs to be scaled up somewhat and can be a little harder to see. Here are a few different examples of incised carvings in different stones:

Carving within a panel

This is a really effective way of creating a bolder, more striking image without having to carve back the whole surface of the stone (which you will see is necessary in the raised carving section below) and this is therefore a less time-consuming method. It also means that a good depth can be achieved in the ‘negative space’ around the image. This negative space is important – it should be seen as an important part of the whole design. This extra depth means more shadows – which is really what you are observing when you look at a carving – and a more sculptural form, as can be seen below:

Raised relief carving

This is the most sculptural form of carving that is possible without making a fully three-dimensional carving. With this technique, the outline of the sculpted element is drawn out on the surface of the stone, and then the surrounding stone is carved back to a different level, thus creating a raised area on the stone. This makes the carved element more of an object in my mind, with more presence. See there examples:

Sculpture ‘in the round’

This technique is quite self explanatory really, the carving is three dimensional and not set on or attached to a background but seen from every angle as a three dimensional freestanding object. The examples below illustrate variations of this.

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.

Moleanos limestone and glass

we drove to Cumbria yesterday to install a stone in Carlisle cemetery. It was an experimental piece with raised carvings showing that Daniel (PODGE) was very into his bicycles, and also incorporating a glass element, which really brings the stone to life. The glass was made to order as a one-off by Joseph Harrington,  glass sculptor.

see these pictures:

Moleanos limestone memorial

I have been working on this stone, and the glass insert is now in place. I like the way the light brings the memorial to life. ‘Podge’ was really into bicycles, so I incorporated the cogs to show this.

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.

Syderstone
York stone, Syderstone church, Norfolk

Holt
York stone, Holt church, Norfolk

East Horsley
York stone, East Horsley, Surrey

East Horsley
York stone, East Horsley, Surrey

Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk

Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk

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

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

a trip across the border to the badlands (well, Suffolk, and it’s nice actually)

I installed a memorial in Thrandeston (near Diss) this week and visited it to take some photographs with the sun on the carving. It is Woodkirk stone, from near Dewsbury. There are some pictures below CLICK ON THE THUMBNAILS FOR A BETTER LOOK :

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While I was in the area I went to see another stone I’d carved nearby in Cratfield, this stone has the inscription on both sides but in a very different design. There are some pictures of that here, it is weathering beautifully, and is also York stone but from Johnsons Wellfield Quarry (I think from memory they called it Rocking stone as opposed to Crossland Hill sandstone):

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I also saw some beautiful 18th century stones in Cratfield. I am always on the lookout for these and waited until the sun was right to get these pictures. Below these memorials are some pictures of the beautiful pews (or to use the local accent bootiful poos, which reminds me of meeting a tradesman doing some building work in Sibton and he explained it was great that they had moovable poos there!). I love the simplicity of these pews, they remind me of pictish carvings.

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Angel in York stone

I’ve been carving another bas-relief anglel in Woodkirk stone. It is in quite bold relief as my client wanted it be be as statuesque as possible. Here’s a quick video and a few pictures. It was fun. It will be installed in a couple of weeks time, in Thrandeston, near Diss, but over the border into Suffolk.

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