Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Prelims Are Over

  (Mon. 4/26)

 The most Mysterious Skinamalink, project avatar.

The part where nothing happens keeps not happening. At least, not yet.

Last week, Mary and I celebrated twenty-one years of marriage. So I spent last Friday cleaning up the joint, and Saturday we threw a party. It's one thing we do very well. We've always loved to entertain. Last year, when this evil  came down on all of us, we made entertaining an act of defiance. Social life died, and we watched while more than half the population allowed themselves to be muzzled up like animals, and reduced to slouching pathetic zombies.

We said, fuck this shit. We called our friends, lit a fire in the barbecue, and made our home a bright spot in middle of this soul killing gloom. We started this last Spring, and all through the Summer we had food, drink, smoke, music, and laughter. Our back yard became a refuge. We drank wine, got high, talked 'till after midnight, and created a little joy in the face of a world determined to kill it. It was a tiny effort in defiance of a monstrous evil. Our small gatherings have been a candle in a rainstorm, but you do the best you can with what you have.

And Saturday was our anniversary party. Our friends came, and we gathered again. They brought many gifts, and showed us their appreciation.  Got me all choked up, and stoned out. We stayed up late.

I was on my butt all day Sunday. Today it was back to work.

I've been joking about "the part where nothing happens". Here's what I mean. Of course, the rock needs preparation before I can start carving on it. I have to grind off the quarry scars, decide how it's going to sit, then cut a base. All done. Finally,  I need to  get the whole face smooth enough to draw on with pencil. That's what I did today. It's just grunt work with the big rasps, and chunks of that 80 grit sanding belt. So here we are at last:

(Tue, 4/27)

Working out the design is the part where nothing happens, because it all happens in my head. We're here. This is the sitting, and looking phase, and it can take many days of sketching, sanding, sketching, and mostly just -

sitting and looking...

Actually, I've been working on this part for several weeks, now. I was thinking on the design, and making sketches before I even got started finishing up the last project. Sunday night, I got the flash on how all the ideas I had would fit together. I managed a crude, quick sketch, and knew this was it. 

Today I spent the day sketching and sanding, and sketching, and sanding. The shapes are in my head. I just have to make them cooperate with the shape of the stone. It's going to take some time.

Saturday, April 24, 2021


(Monday, 4/18)

  I haven't done this in a long time. I never had to work a stone this heavy, and I don't have the juice I did seventeen years ago. And once I start the process, I can't turn around and go back. You get only one shot at everything in this game. Nothing done can be undone. So, it has been slow going.

Today, I went to buy a 12 inch sanding disc.  Five different stores didn't have what I wanted. Harbor Freight had a deal on some 80 grit sanding belts, so I bought them, and figured I'll make do. It turned out to be a good buy.

I spent the rest of the day  wrestling that rock all over the table, trying to figure just how to set it up, and build a jig for the base cut. I got a start on the jig, but I never did get anything set up. My buddy, John came over in the late afternoon. His day had gone like mine. He started the morning wanting to do a quick repair on his nail gun. The quick repair took all day, and the nail gun still wouldn't work. We were both frustrated, tired, and discouraged. So I lit a fire.

My wife, Mary, poured wine, and made a salad and some rice. I cleaned myself up a little, and got the meat on the coals. Beer, bud, and a barbecue chicken dinner did wonders for restoring our spirits.

And, as it turned out, the day wasn't wasted at all. A good part of this job is just sitting and looking. I didn't get the base cut, but I did figure out how to do it, and I was able to show John just what we'd need to do to get it done. So John came back over with his Skill Saw Tuesday morning, and we got to work. 

(Tuesday, 4/19, Bicycle Day)

I know where I want to go, but I'm still not entirely sure how to get there.  (And no, I'm not celebrating Bicycle Day this year.) It's all backyard engineering with scrap plywood, lumber, and a length of conduit that I had lying around the garage. We got started early, but (what a surprise!) the job took much longer than I thought it would.

 John is an old-school home builder. His weapon of choice is the Skill Saw, sans guard. It scares the crap out of me, but he wields the thing like a samurai.  

  I spent most of the day looking, measuring, and making little tweaks until I was satisfied that the stone sat level and square. John cut the needed wedges, blocks, and shims. We got the rock framed up, and wedged in straight, tight, stable, and solid. Here's where John gets the award for patience. It took about six hours to set up the cut.

 I took some fine pictures, of the set-up, except I, uh, took them without a card in the camera.  Crap. 

 Like I said, you get one shot... And yes, that's a regular bow saw; it's the same blade that trims branches off of your trees. Alabaster is a soft stone, and the big sharp teeth tear right through it. It takes more effort than cutting through a piece of  lumber, but not a lot more.  The rock sat tight in the cradle. I ran the blade flat across the rails, and cut the bottom out from under the stone. Here's how it all came out:


I wanted to cut about five inches off the bottom of the stone. The scrap piece, if set it on the flat side, is just a shade over five and a quarter inches high. Bingo.  It weighs around 18 pounds. 

(4/21) The next part is finishing the bottom cut. Even with the the conduit rails as a saw guide, there was still some unevenness across the bottom of the big piece. 

Trying to get it perfectly flat with a hand tool is all kinds of tricky.
You can end up with a lot of powdered rock trying to get it just right. You can mess it up even faster with a grinder.

But I had five heavy duty,  eight inch wide sanding belts. I had some fine pieces of 3/4 inch plywood. I went out and bought a can of contact cement. 

I secured the board to the table top with some scraps of 2X4, then slowly shoved, and dragged the big rock across the 80 grit, and let gravity take care of the rest. It takes a sort of walking effort: push the right side; push the left side; right, left, right, from one end of the table to the other until the high spots and low spots are gone. It's a primitive, tedious, labor intensive way of doing it, but it works. It took about a half hour of walking it back and forth before  the streaks in the sand paper were solid. I penciled  a fine grid across the bottom of the base, and sent it down the runway one more time. I tipped the rock up to check. All clean.


The stone is based. 

Now, back to the part where nothing happens.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Part Where Nothing Happens


Project supervisor, and lead critic, Buddy the Cat



Where was I? Oh, yeah, The stone...

I had a post ready last Friday morning. I got all inspired, and took some time to write about the creative process that goes into composing one of my carvings. Holy cow, I was on a burn! The post was ready to go. All I needed to do was rotate one photo, and click, "publish". Just rotate a pic. (Can you guess where this is going?) Of course. The whole post vanished. Ctrl  Z? 


But anyway... First off, thank you to the folks who have dropped by, and especially to those who have had some kind words for my last stone piece. Many thanks to Gerard at American Digest. I will be posting updates on the project every Monday from now until whenever I'm done with it. Stone carving isn't much of a spectator sport. Nothing happens fast, and there are many days where the job is just sitting, and looking.

I've a lot on my mind of late, and I may post irregularly on other stuff.  You know: bikes, cats, everything else, too...

I left off last Thursday after grinding the quarry scars off the face of the rock.  Now I'll have a clean surface to sketch on. I got some help hoisting it up onto the table.  With some difficulty, I can roll the rock around, and pull it upright. The next part  of the job is determining how the stone is going to sit. What position shows the stone to its best advantage? All the pictures so far show the rock sitting horizontally.


 I had a few ideas how to work it as a horizontal figure. But the stone has great potential as a vertical piece as well.



 Standing the rock on end will make for a more dramatic composition. It's going upright.  I'll find the points of balance, and get a fix on the stone's center of gravity. Then I can determine where to cut the base. But doing it is  going to present me with a few problems. The picture below is a top view of the stone. Notice the right end. That narrow point is the bottom.


The stone is precariously balanced on its nose, and all the mass is off to the right. The fat part has to sit level.

The last couple of days I've been brainstorming on how to set the stone up for the base cut. The rock has to be blocked up solidly,  all the lines have to be on the bubble, and the base cut has to be absolutely flat. 

 Actually, "brainstorming" is a nice way of putting it. I've been wrestling with both the rock on the table, and the shapes inside my head like the designated underdog in a WWE match. Once my head locks in on a project I can't shut it off. I'm beat up.

But I have the plan for setting up the base cut, and one of my sketches is looking a lot like the rough draft for a layout on the big stone. Later this morning, my buddy, John is coming over to help with the technical stuff. With a little luck We'll have the base cut done by afternoon.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021


 I rolled the stone onto the scale this morning, and the number made a light go on in my memory. This was the largest, and most expensive rock I bought. Dodd Roth, the man I bought my stone from, had a five foot high pile of this stuff. It was shrinking fast. He said that the quarry in Italy had been sold, and all the rock was now just being ground up for gypsum. This was the last of it. I picked this one. Its weighs one hundred and fifteen pounds on the dot, and I paid just over two hundred and fifty bucks for it. This was when I was pretty broke, too.

After weighing in, I put a strap on the dolly, and hauled the rock out into the middle of the yard. I got out my ancient Makita angle grinder, and began my least favorite part of the project, grinding off the quarry marks, and taking the faces down to where I can begin to draw out the plan to work on them.

I don't like power tools. I'm not a purist about being old school, or anything. They are fast, and wonderfully efficient. But working fast can also mean screwing up fast. Not to mention that they're loud, messy, and can even be dangerous. But this part would take days of grunt work using hand tools. The grinder gets it done in a morning.

Here's the A-side: before and after:


And the B-side:

This gives me an even enough face to draw on with pencil, or chalk. Once I get a base cut, I can start sketching.

The next step is cutting that base. I have to decide just how the stone is going to sit, and then make that flat, even cut, so it rests solidly on the earth. That's a corny way of putting it, but I don't like a work that is precariously balanced. It's going to take some time setting that up. Besides. I still can't get the damn thing up on the table, yet.



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Preliminaries. Rolling the Stone

 I unlocked the garage, pulled out a couple of bicycles, moved some junk and crap out of the way, and rolled the dolly into the corner where the stones have sat untouched for over fifteen years. I wrestled the big stone onto the four wheeler, and rolled it out to the carving table. Here it is:



Right end:

Left end: 

You'll notice that my "studio" is my back yard.
Nothing fancy here.
 But this is one fine piece of rock. I seem to remember that when I bought it, it weighed in at just over a hundred pounds. I haven't put it on a scale, yet, and it's not going anywhere until I can get some help hoisting it up to the table. I'm a skinny old bastard, and I don't have the juice I once did. I don't want to start this project with a hernia or a wrecked back. 
The Italian Crystal is clear as ice, and there doesn't appear to be any big flaws in the stone. There is a lot of clay at the top of the B-side. That may, or may not be workable. We'll know in due time.
So I guess this is the introduction to a long project. Here we go. 
 I know that the blog, here, doesn't get anything like traffic. Some few friends may drop by, and once in a blue moon someone may click my profile after reading a comment I dropped on another site.
 That does not concern me much. I'm doing this for my own enjoyment.
 Plenty of people carve stone, and plenty of people write about it. Some are professionals. I am an amateur in the true sense of the word. "Amateur", is a word that really needs two different connotations. Most commonly used as an adjective, it refers to poorly, or inexpertly done  craft or artwork, "an amateur effort". As a noun it usually means,  "poor workman", as in, "He's just an amateur. He doesn't belong in the big leagues." 
But the root of the word is "ama", as in love. The true amateur works for the pure love of the task, whether it's writing, painting, building, or whatever. So, in my view we need two connotations, and two appropriate pronunciations to boot: 
There are "ama chers", who are just crappy workmen, and "ah ma toors", which is the spiffy, high-class sort that I aspire to be.
Making money is not in the list of considerations.  Making something beautiful, is. It's one of the wonderful peculiarities of being human. We have this spontaneous desire to create for the sheer love of creation, to expend huge amounts of effort for no reward other than to know we've added some beauty to the world. 
The next step will be hitting up my neighbor to give me a hand getting that rock up on the table. I'll weigh the thing, and start grinding the quarry marks away so I have a smooth blank canvas to sketch on. Thanks to anyone who has stopped by, and spent a few minutes here. 
More to come.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

First Project in over Fifteen Years

 Italian Crystal Alabaster.

Sometime, about fifteen years ago I was just on fire with the creative burn. Working in stone was so much fun it should have been illegal. I was about half way through this piece. I was literally in mid-stroke with a rasp when that creative fire died. It was like someone had thrown a switch. I stepped back from the table, and heard myself say, "It's over." I tried, and tried to get back on it, but somehow I just couldn't even force myself to continue.


Fast forward to this last winter, and the end of the world as we knew it. I'm not even going to go into the details. You know. Like so many others, I have struggled mightily to maintain some semblance of mental health in the face of this world-killing insanity. I prayed a lot. 

Oddly enough, it was  post on Gerard VanderLeun's site, American Digest that provided the spark. The post featured footage of the French Impressionists: Monet, Degas, and the sculptor Rodin. There was ancient film footage of Rodin working a long chisel, and a heavy mallet at eighty years of age. I saw that, and the light came on again. I built a new carving table. I retrieved this piece from the corner of the garage where it had sat. I got out the tools, and, well, here it is.

This was a tough project. The raw stone  was roughly in the shape of the bowl of a spoon You can see the one side is all shot through with clay. I had to dig out a lot of unworkable stone. The result was a figure that is twisted, contorted, and torqued in every way. I had to make everything balance with nothing symmetrical. The only thing the photos do not show is the center of the donut shaped segment in the middle of the piece. That center is carved very thin, and, in most lighting, shines like a little lamp. All in all, I'm pleased with my effort.

And next? I have another chunk of this Italian crystal. It weighs in at just over a hundred pounds (about three times the size of this piece). 

So the burn is back, and I am deeply grateful for it. For now, the world can continue to go to hell in a handbasket. I withdraw my participation. I can't do much of anything about the madness out there. I can focus my energy, and effort into creating a thing of beauty, something that will be here after I'm gone. One day someone else will own everything I made. Someone I will never see will get some pleasure out of owning one of these white elephants. Sending a little beauty down through time. Can't think of anything better to do.

Stay tuned. I'll be blogging the whole process of working the big stone...