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:

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.

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.

An odd pair

I made a couple of bowls over the weekend. One is Carrara Bianco marble, the other is a really nice piece of Welsh slate. These were both inspired by an exhibition at the SCVA (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts) called FIJI, Art and Life in the Pacific. Among this incredible collection of artefacts (the largest collection ever shown) were some lovely bowls.

My bowls are more chunky, especially the legs on the Welsh slate one. As slate is a laminated material, I couldn’t make them thinner without risking them snapping off. This one showed amazing colour when rubbed. Here’s a few pictures…..

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

East Horsley
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

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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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