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…..

Kilkenny limestone sculpture………………phase 2

Welcome!! Well, here’s the next instalment of the making of the sculpture mentioned in the previous blog. kk1I have been working on this over the last two weeks. As I said in the previous blog, it has become necessary to work the shape with the stone lying down, especially as I want the stone to be rounded at the bottom, so it appears to be balanced on the ground. This obviously cannot be done with the stone standing up. It is easier to work it in this way, as I can walk around the form, and get a good and safe working height on my scissor-lift table, which can be adjusted to a good height. This table will lift 1000kg, the stone was 750kg as a rectangular block, and will end up being around 500kg approximately. After cutting the angled sections off and pitching and cutting to the initial outline, and working the hole roughly, the next stage is working around the form cutting rough chamfers and ‘finding’ the shape. I want the shape to flow nicely from every angle, and yet not be predictably rounded. I want some asymmetry and a sense of tension and contortion in the form, so some ‘planes’ are rounded more than others, some of the curves are more flattened and compressed and some more rounded and generous. So I am basically walking round and round the table, cutting and grinding until I’m happy with the flow of the form. It is still early days, and I will turn the stone over tomorrow morning to work the other side and get the shape as a whole roughed out. I am thinking of making the two sides different, and one face will be purely rounded, and the other will have a chamfered element around the hole to add some more texture to the piece, and to make the stone different on both sides. We are planning to install the stone on a single pin so it can be rotated. I am aiming for the finished piece to be tactile (please do touch the sculpture!) and visually interesting. To be experienced with the eyes and then with the hands. There will be polished darker elements, paler claw-tooled sections, a carved chamfer with bold flat bolster chiselling. So lots of surfaces to explore. I’m very texture conscious in my work. I see an area of carved lettering as a texture in the same way as I see a chiselled surface. It’s all to do with rhythm and spacing, lettering and tool marks. I often think letters are like objects, with their own sense of gravity or magnetism, and this is how I think of them when trying to space letters evenly: I imagine they are individual magnets – and they need to pull evenly across the page or stone or they will start to draw the eye, and slide towards each other. Spacing is definitely a dark art, and for me I’d rather see good letters well spaced than beautiful letters bad lyspaced (:-0) I can get quite irritated by bads pacing!!

ANYWAY there’s no lettering on this so I’ll move on (!) This sort of sculpture is like a letter in a way (oh no back to lettering again, he’s going to start moaning about the overuse of comic sans soon………..) in that I’m looking at it like a letter, it has outline, a counter shape (a hole – like ABDOPR etc) it needs to balance and be upright, and the outline needs to relate to the hole, the proportions need to work together, there needs to be balance. That is what I’m thinking as I draw letters too, Drawing a good O for example is tricky because as you adjust the outline, the counter shape (or inner line) is affected, you can keep changing these and literally find yourself going round in circles. Time for more pictures, less talk!!

, and machinedkk5 kk4 kk2 kk1kk3 kk10kk9 kk6 kk7 kk8

These surfaces are still rough and machined, and will be worked more later, to acheive a smooth surface. This will be done with a combination of diamond cup wheels, spiracut semi-flexible silicone carbide discs, then round velcro sanding discs, and finally wet and dry sandpaper, sanded by hand, to get all the kinks and grooves out from the grinder stages. This is a lot of work, as this stone is so hard, like granite. It is unlike ‘normal’ limestone such as Portland stone or Bath stone. These would be so quick to work in comparison, but not weather very well ultimately.