Art Camp Day 3 – August 3

I’m at “art camp”. This very select camp caters only to me. What luxury! A nice way to try out some new activities at the end of summer, isn’t it?

All right. Today’s activity was stone-carving. I’ll give you some background first.

Maybe ten or more years ago, I did a bit of concrete sculpting. A lot, actually. I made mosaic stepping-stones and other items as well, but sculpting was the most rewarding to me. I used the technique of mixing the concrete, pouring it into containers such as milk cartons, cardboard boxes, etc., and letting it set up for several hours. Then I stripped away the form and carved the wet concrete with a variety of tools, including steak knives, grapefruit spoons, etc. Sometimes I incorporated my tile work into the pieces. Here are a few examples:

Concrete is demanding, though. It has to be done outside, I need to be around for the whole day, more or less, and it is really hard on the skin, even with gloves. Usually I made a lot of items at once so as to make the labor and trouble of mixing concrete worth it, and that meant working fast.

Also, the supplies come in large quantities – for a 3:1 mix of sand to cement, that means several bags of sand and a 90 lb. bag of cement. Additionally, cement starts to lose its powderiness when the bag is opened, clumping in small lumps on its way to becoming one big lump as the contents are exposed to the moisture of everyday life. It needs to be used fairly quickly – you don’t hold on to a bag of cement for years. Another reason for making a lot of items in a short time.

On the other hand, I liked the process and the results I got in the concrete. So, I was wondering if stone carving might work instead. I could still be carving a sculpture but with less labor, stress, and mess.

So I looked into it and ordered a little kit from Dick Blick. It contained three pieces of stone, soapstone and alabaster, each the size of — a bar of soap. There were some tools, a couple of rasps and a knife; and a dust mask. I took all of these items out to my back yard and set up on a table.

After examining the tools and putting on the dust mask, I got to work. I found the stone to be easily scratched; the rasps all made marks very readily. It also had no lumps or flaws to catch the tools, as sometimes happens in concrete.

However, as I worked away, I also found that progress was slow. The rasps cut away stone in tiny amounts, creating a fine white powder. I needed to use a good amount of force, more than my hands were happy about. It took a lot of work to get rid of the squarish look of the stone and I don’t think I really succeeded in making the person-figure I wanted.

At the end of the project, I washed the stone and oiled it with some from the little bottle provided in the kit. I am sorry to say that if I want to carve, stone carving leaves me cold. I do think I would have done better to have had a saw or the like to cut away bigger pieces and get more quickly to the shape I wanted. A better selection of tools is a necessity.

But I am disappointed in the lack of contrast (I am sure my carving skills are responsible, as I think there needs to be more relief) and also – I just didn’t enjoy the feel of the stone, how I had to handle it to work, and so on. Intangibles, but important, if I’m doing this for pleasure.

So here is the final figure. I think I could improve her, but I don’t want to put the effort in. I am not sure why, in the oiled version, she looks like her chest has had bad cosmetic surgery – I made no changes from what you see in the last picture, #5,  above. Sigh.

My son has said he might be interested in trying some stone carving – so, that’s good! I can give him the kit and let him see what he comes up with.


14 thoughts on “Art Camp Day 3 – August 3

  1. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thanks. As I said to someone else, I think I got angry with the stone for not being concrete. My husband retrieved the poor little figure from the “leaving the premises” pile and put it on a shelf. So we’ll see. The stone itself is pretty.

  2. Laura (PA Pict)

    Well you have way more patience and stamina than I possess as I would not even have embarked on the project in the first place. I think the little figure is quite charming and you have definitely managed to translate your style into a new medium. I can totally appreciate why this may well be a one off venture for you though.

  3. Claudia McGill Post author

    I really likes sculpting in concrete but I just can’t handle it anymore. I think I’d like the stone sculpting with better tools. But I don’t want to invest time, effort, money, in this at the expense of other intriguing possibilities. …

  4. Laura (PA Pict)

    Have you carved breeze blocks (if that’s what they are also called in the US) before? That’s so straightforward that I did it with my kids. That and carving bars of soap.

  5. Claudia McGill Post author

    Or where I grew up, just concrete blocks! To me cinder blocks is a Phila. Word! But in any case I never carved them. Only wet concrete. I’m interested to know the technique.

  6. Laura (PA Pict)

    You just sort of shave them. It’s pretty easy if you can stand the weird noise it makes, a bit like the experience of scraping grout from between tiles. Once you’ve hacked and shaved you then just use sandpaper to get the smoother shapes and edges. Given what you’ve done with concrete, you would find breeze blocks very easy.

  7. Claudia McGill Post author

    Also, I looked this up, having gotten curious. I think the product you mention is different from the traditional concrete blocks – it’s lighter and less dense, call aircrete or aerated concrete. Now I am more enthusiastic (I had envisioned the traditional form and I could not see how it could work without a engine behind my sawing or scraping such a thing). Sounds kind of like a concrete mix I have used before, cement and perlite. Lighter and more easy to sculpt even in a dry form.

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