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portrait carving in stone

Phil White

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Hi all,


The following images show the evolution of an architectural stone sculpture, from the design stage to the finished product. They are not intended to be used as a tutorial on stone carving, but rather to show the evolution of the creative process.


This carving is one of ten that I am working on. Each of the finished sculptures will be set into a stone wall at the termination of series of arches. They are designed in a style that is heavily inspired by English Gothic tradition. Foliage was a primary subject in Gothic sculpture, and it was quite common to see both human faces and leaves together, especially in the “greenman” carvings.


The first image shows an overall view of the design process, starting with a photo of the space, background research into the person, photographs, and a preliminary sketch.


Images 2 and 3 show the modelling stage in clay (this is actually another similar piece), then casting in plaster to produce a working maquette. At this stage, the maquette and/or mould could be produced in any material, wood, stone bronze, etc.


Images 4 and 5 show the stone blank, and a selection of carving tools that will be used. The stone that has been chosen is Tyndal limestone, from Manitoba. These are all steel hand tools, struck with a wooden or heavy plastic mallet. This is the method that I prefer to use. I will use a pneumatic chisel with a carbide tip to rough the piece out, but all of the finer carving is done by hand.


Image 6 shows the preliminary roughing out of the profile in the block of stone.


Images 7 and 8 are slightly further along, showing the transfer of points on the plaster maquette to the stone. This is a constant process, which involves using dividers as well as depth gauges and a square.


Image 9 illustrates the idea that all plans are subject to change. Part of the way along, I decided to make a design change to render the leaves in a more natural way. This photo shows a leaf and small sketch being used, just to organize my thoughts on how the leaves will look, next to a finished leaf.


Images 10 and 11 show a comparison of the maquette, and the photo, next to the sculpture, as a progress check. More work needs to be done to the eyes,


Images 12 and 13 show the finished sculpture, ready to be installed.



























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Guest ford hallam

that is pretty amazing to see Phil.


You've very beautifully, seemingly effortlessly, transformed your lovely drawing into 3D portrait in stone. It's particularly impressive to me because while many people are surprised at what I do with steel I am completely in awe of this sort of work, and you had to go and show us your tools!. Now I want some too so I can have a go :rolleyes:


thanks so much, Ford

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Thanks everyone,


Your comments are greatly appreciated!


For those who are interested (Ford) the tools are made by Auriou in France, and were purchased from a company in the UK called Avery, Knight & Bowlers.


If anyone is interested in getting into stone carving, I would be happy to pass on any advice. Stone is a wonderful material to work with (provided you have the right stone) and I would highly encourage anyone who is interested to give it a try.



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Guest ford hallam

Thanks for that Phil,


I thought the chisels looked familiar, I met the owner of Auriou a couple of years ago at a wood festival. He sold me a fairly comprehensive set of wood carving tools, which are beautiful.


Ford ( the tool-aholic ) :rolleyes:

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Hi all. I tried to carve stone: "lave de volvic", it's very hard, and i am filled with admiration for stone carvers. It's realy hard. Thanks for showing your beautiful work, Phil, and the differents stages. I knew the tools Auriou for wood but not for stone. For wood, Auriou are good tools, very pleased by french woodcarvers, someone prefer Auriou, others prefer "swiss made" (pfiel), but i think it's the same quality, perhaps a very little difference, the sharp. You must try it, and make your choice.

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Guest ford hallam
I'm a bit of a tool junkie too. I'm curious about the Auriou woodcarving tools. I have heard that they are very good, and always wanted to try them. How would they compare to the Pfiel, or "Swiss Made" tools for edge-holding ability?


Hi Phil,


I don't have any experience of any other wood carving tools so have no point of reference. The Auriou chisels are, to my mind, beautifully formed and balanced. They feel very workman-like and robust. I found no problem honing them to a fine edge and the feel of the steel gives me the impression that it has a very good balance between hardness and toughness. I've not done an awful amount of wood carving but I've not experienced any chips or excessive blunting at all. Can you tell, I like them! :)


Actually, when I bought my chisels I was fortunate in that the English carver Chris Pye was on hand to advise me. he has been working with Auriou developing their range. Come to think of it, he was telling me of a set of slip stones he was helping Norton develop, specifically for wood carving tools. The usual set being mostly comprised of impractical shapes. I'll poke around and see if anything came of that.


cheers, Ford


here's a link to Chris Pye's site, it isn't exactly small scale carving but may offer useful advice and tips to you wood whittlers :rolleyes: ; Click here.

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Thanks Ford,


It was on Chris Pye's website that I first heard of Auriou wood carving tools. He highly recommends them, but without a North American supplier, at least that I am aware of, they are a bit expensive to bring in for a try.


His website is excellent, with many good tips and links, regardless of what your carving experience is.




You are in one of the best areas in the world for stone carving tools and materials. The limestones in France are among the best in the world for carving, and there is a lot of knowledge regarding tools and techniques, not to mention, an accumulation of a thousand years or two of sculptures and carvings on buildings. French Gothic sculpture in particular is incredibly beautiful.


I am envious.



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  • 1 year later...

Hello Phil,

I know this is an old thread but if you're still there did you sand the carved surfaces any? I've done a few marble carvings and of course sanding is a pain, even with diamond sandpaper. It looked like your carving was very smooth but not sanded.

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  • 1 month later...

Sorry, I just noticed this question now. I've been really busy lately.


There was no sanding, the surface was finished with light passes with various chisels. I don't do any sanding, as it tends to take away from the appearance, at least in my view, of this type of material, and a chiseled finish is traditional for most architectural stone sculpture. The process for finishing marble, on the other hand, is a completely different.



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  • 2 weeks later...


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