Written in stone

Today I did a stone sculpture workshop at the Brookvale Ceramic Studio. It was awesome. This blog post has nothing to do with wikis. Instead, it’s about something that’s a bit harder to undo once you’ve done it. ‘Written in stone’ they say — but you do have a few hours before this particular type of stone sets.

I’ve never done anything like it before. A friend said, Do you want to try stone sculpture. So I went along, armed with an idea of what I’d like to carve, plus my lunch, old clothes and some closed-in shoes. The lunch and attire were as instructed in the studio’s leaflet. The vague idea was based on the picture on this book cover:

Educating Eve

Above: Cover of ‘Educating Eve’ by Geoffrey Sampson, published by Cassell, showing Egyptian figurine from about 4000 BC. © British Museum.

We were met by our instructress, Nola. She’s great – professional, skilled, fast with ideas and designs, and when the pressure hits she’s as cool as a cucumber. At times, this came in very useful. Beginners all, we tended to lose noses, fingers and toes. Not our own, of course, but those of our under-construction masterpieces.

I thought I would find a rough-hewn chunk of stone waiting for me at my work table. But no — there was a a bag of cement mix, a couple of buckets and a spatula:

Cement mix

For the first hour, we played with cement mud. It was a bit like making an apple-crumble pie — start with the dry ingredients and add the wet ones slowly, rubbing the mixture continuously to keep it crumbly. Then it got wetter, and it was more like mixing the icing for a cake. We had to aim for that consistency when the icing will form a nice gooey clump, but won’t flow off the edge of the cake. Or, if you’re not into baking, think of the sea sand just on the edge of the waves. It looks dry, but when you press it the water seeps out.

This part was very hard work. As the mixture got wetter, it got heavier. And we had to ferret out all the lumps and all the dry bits. At last, we could pat it all into a box:

Cement patted into box

While the cement mix was drying, we drew our designs on paper and then practised carving them on soap:

Draw and carve on soap

After about an hour, the stone was ready for the real fun to start. First we drew our design onto the stone with pencil. Then we used knives, spoons, and a variety of wooden and metal instruments to carve out the shape and designs we wanted. This took the rest of the day. In all, we were there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The stone got progressively harder as time went on. It was interesting to feel the difference in the texture, and the change in the way the hardening stone reacted to being scraped, cut and molded.

Nola went from person to person, giving a helping hand here and a hint there. Forming, shaping, advising and consoling, plus sweeping away the scrapings and telling us about techniques we might use when we’re further down the sculpting path, she didn’t seem to sit still for an instant. Here’s my sculpure at a fairly early stage, with the trial bar of soap next to it:

My sculpture in progress

What I really enjoyed was the way my design changed and gained its own character as we worked on it. Here’s the end product:

Front view of my sculpture

Back view of my sculpture

Above: Front and back views of my sculpture. Actual size: 37cm high and 22 cm wide.

There were five of us in the class. Here are my classmates’ sculptures:

Cathy’s sculpture

Above: Cathy’s sculpture. Stands upright.

Heather’s sculpture

Above: Heather’s sculpture. Bowl in left-hand side will contain water and maybe a couple of frogs.

Rachel’s sculpture

Above: Rachel’s sculpture. Two nooks on top (not shown here) can hold candles.

Mark’s sculpture

Above: Mark’s sculpture.

At the end of the day, we were tired and happy. And we got to take the practice bar of soap home too, which was good because I surely felt like I needed it!

Studio details: Nola, Brookvale Ceramic Studio, 11/9 Powells Road, Brookvale, NSW, Australia. Phone: (02) 9905 0264.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 25 November 2007, in bits n bobs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thank you James, on behalf of all tech writers😉
    — Sarah

  2. I really like your first “stone sculpture”. It’s looks like the fun you had with it. I work in the “big chunk of rock” style of carving and LOVE it!

  3. Hallo Robin
    Thank you🙂 It’s great to hear from such an accomplished sculptor. I’ve had a look at your site — there are some lovely pieces there!
    — Sarah

  4. This is really nice. May I ask what type of cement you used? Pete

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