I recently had a bit of a departure from illustration and design work. Many years ago my good friend, Jamie Sargeant, a sculptor of some renown, gave me a few pointers when it comes to carving letters in stone. I picked up only the most basic of techniques and never explored them fully, but gleeaned just enough to feel that some 20 years later it just might be worth giving it another go all-be-it in the simplest of styles.
It all started when I decided to have a closer look at a rock that was tucked away in a dark and overgrown corner of the garden at the base of a large hazel tree between two sheds. I lifted it out (without doing my back in!) to find that it is in fact what looks like a large random lump of concrete that had gone black on top with time and the dripping of sap etc.
The first thing I did, after it had sat in a new spot for a few days, was to begin carving out a bowl like shape in the top to collect water. I had no intentions to do much else at this stage.
My partner, Anna-Lena, was staying at the time and always inspires me to do more creatively-speaking.
Once I got into the rhythm of carving the bowl I knew I wanted to do more, so spent a couple of days trying to think of what could be added. Initially I was not thinking of adding anything that had too many letters as I knew they could be tricky and time consuming. I even thought I might only add a couple of letters, or a symbol of something. However, the line ‘God is in the rain’ entered my head early on and nothing came to replace it, and once I’d started to draw the letters out it didn’t seem as long as I first thought is was when it comes to the number of letters involved.
The quote fitted all too well, and needed very little adjustment in its placing and spacing, which was a very pleasant surprise. Not that it would withstand close scrutiny.
The placing of the quote and the use of capital letters for both God and Rain happened very organically and without thought. I’d created the bowl shape using a claw chisel but was feeling ready to give the lettering a go. The first couple of letters I carved didn’t go as well as they might have as I had forgotten to rest my left wrist on the rock with each strike of the chisel, so the carving was a bit shaky to say the least. Luckily Anna-Lena pointed out to me that I didn’t need to carve it in order of the letters going from left to right, but instead I could pick the easier letters to carve first. This was a very good move
I also got a new handle for the larger of the two mallets I have, and a new cleet to go in the end of the smaller of the two – a beautiful little lead lettering mallet. I’d be lost without these as far as this kind of work goes so it is very much worth keeping them in good condition and it made all the difference.
Keeping a sharp edge on my chisels was one of the trickiest parts and not a skill I ever learned properly. However, I managed, but some new sharpening stones wouldn’t go a miss.
Between carving the letters I did little bits on the bowl too and began to widen it out to the edge at this point.
Below is a picture of how I worked. The whole process took a couple of weeks. I only carved a letter or two a day and each one took 30 minutes to an hour to do. The bowl took quite some time – possibly about the same amount of time as all the letters combined.
But I did get some help during that time.
Once all the letters were carved I decided to remove the marks left by the claw chisel in the bowl part of the new birdath rock using a flat chisel. This went surprisingly well too. In the picture below you can see the area that is still left to be smoothed in the base of the bowl.
I really love how the cut letters stand out from the stained surface of the concrete.
And it looks great in a typical English Summer!
I repositioned the new birdbath to a spot a few feet away from a small apple tree in which I have hung several bird feeders that get plenty of use and need constant topping up. It took a few days but eventually I saw a wee birdy having a drink from it. Haven’t caught a picture yet but I’m sure I will soon.
View from the kitchen window, but it’s a good 20 paces away.
The birdbath has been in its new spot for a couple of weeks now and in one sense is finished, but I’m inclined to think that I may do more to it yet, just in tidying up some of the letters and continuing to smooth out the bowl section.
This project was a real joy and a good reminder that it is always worth having a go at something one may have never tried before, or not tried for many years. It’s all about enjoying the process more than worrying about the results.
I am also encouraged to have another go as this concrete lump was so uneven and un-consistant in its texture throughout that a smoother and more even material might be fun to try next. I may use some cement I have to make a surface to carve into. This might prove easier than trying to get a piece of stone from somewhere. It’s not cheap and not easy to transport when one doesn’t drive.
Hope you enjoyed this post and thanks for stopping by.
Have you had a go at something new recently, or had another go at something you’ve not done for a long time? I’d love to hear about it! Please let me know with a comment below.