Not Often, But Every Once in a While a Sculpture Does Not Make it. by Mike McCarthy

When I used to carve wood, if a piece was not working out, off to the burn pile it went. Now that I have moved primarily back to stone, burning my mistakes is no longer an option. In general this is a good thing. After a while of sitting there mocking me, I am able to wrangle most pieces into submission and they become a viable work. However, that is not always the case.

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Over that last few months, I have been working on a good sized sculpture that I had planned on submitting to a show at Josephine Sculpture Park. Lately, I have been working on getting my sculptures to be as thin as I can to emphasize visual lightness. I like the dichotomy of the weight of stone with that visual lightness. I was really starting to like the piece and had begun the sanding process. This is where I spend a lot of time using a sander to further thin the stone. I sent use the hammer here because I can break the stone.

All was going well until the sander got caught in a curve and skipped out. As soon as that happened, I heard the worst sound a sculptor can hear...the clink of stone breaking. This sound is a very distinct sound that gives sculptors a chill down their back. If you want it to happen, it is the coolest sound in the world. If you don't want it to happen, it is the worst sound you can hear. Needless to say, I did not want it to happen.

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As the piece that broke fell to the floor, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. The piece that broke really tied the two sides of the sculpture together. I was in panic mode and was looking around the piece to see if it could be salvaged. I grabbed the top of the sculpture to turn it and the top section cam off in my hands. I hand realized that it too had broken in the process. I was so disappointed that had it been a wood piece it would have gone into the burn pile. Since this was stone, it went into the trash!

Starting a New Sculpture Using Feathers and Wedges to Size the Block by Mike McCarthy

So what do you do when you have a 12" thick block and need about 6"? Simple, use feathers and wedges to cleanly split the block and get it down to a reasonable size. In the video below, I show an easy way to very quickly split a block by drilling a few holes and then letting pressure do its work.

When I first started carving, If I needed to get rid of a lot of stone, I would get my point out and start chipping away. It would take me a great deal of time and I would waste a bunch of stone. Now, I break out a hammer drill and some feathers and wedges and I am able to cut the block in half and I have two useable pieces. 

Carving an Indiana Limestone Fountain - Day 1 by Mike McCarthy

I started a new commission a few weeks ago. However, the first 3 weeks have Baan digging the stone out from under a bunch of other stone, then flattening the bottom so I could stand it up. Last night, I finally got the piece stood up and started carving.

The block started out around 3000 pounds. I took a little off of it to get the bottom flat. Now I will be removing a bunch of weight. To start I used feathers and wedges to split the corners off the top to begin shaping the roundness of the head. I left a lot more than a typical head as this piece will have foliage rather than hair. It is going to compliment a piece that I did several years ago for the same folks. 

After I got the corners knocked off, I used a diamond saw to remove basic material. I cut kerfs in the stone then use a hammer drill to quickly remove the pieces to the score line, I used to just start carving with my air hammer. If I were to still work that way, this project would take aver a year to complete. Hy hope is that this will be completed by the end of the year.

Once I remove a lot of the basic material, I alternate between the air hammer and the diamond blade to rough in the shapes. The air hammer allows me to start creating the forms and then I can come back with the saw to remove any waste. In the video below, you will see the progress I made in just a few hours.

Carving Stone is Always a Negotiation by Mike McCarthy

 “Baboon Mask” - 10”w x 9”d x 14”t -  Contemporary Soapstone Sculpture

“Baboon Mask” - 10”w x 9”d x 14”t -  Contemporary Soapstone Sculpture

I approach a new sculpture in two very different ways depending on the result I am trying to achieve. The first is to go in with no idea in mind. I just start by removing stone and see where the piece wants to take me. This tends to be my approach with my abstract pieces. The second way is how I start in with realistic work. I have a specific piece in mind and to work towards that in a more methodical way. Both methods have their plusses and minuses, and they are very different ways of thinking and negotiating my way to a completed piece. As you will note, I said this is how I approach the start of a new sculpture. Once started, things don't always go as planned!

In my most recent sculpture, I started with the second approach. I had a very specific piece in mind. It was to be a realistic baboon face and was to be part of a show I did two years ago on all animal heads. (Yes, I started this piece over two years ago.) I quickly realized this would not work as the stone and I clearly had different agendas! The stone was a very odd shape that did not allow for as much depth for the eyes as I originally wanted. I stopped working on the piece and set the stone aside.

When I set a stone aside, I typically go back after a few months and look at it to see if I can solve the problems it has presented. Some times they continue to mock me and they go back on the shelf. Other times, we talk a little and a new idea comes up. 

With "Baboon Mask" we agreed that I would drill all the way through the eyes and create an abstract piece that was totally unrelated to the original idea. So essentially, I took the approach that this was a new sculpture and had planned to complete a freeform piece now. I was pretty clear with the stone, that that was the direction I wanted to go and I thought it had agreed. It didn't.

I drilled all the way through the eyes and was surprised to see that I was really happy with the depth it created. It was no longer a realistic baboon, but it did not want to be a freeform piece wither, so we agreed that it would be more of a contemporary "mask" of a baboon. The stone and I were happy, and after over two years, I completed the piece last night. This was quite the journey to get to the completed piece, but carving stone is always a negotiation!

Finally...The "Born From The Broken" And Some Others Are Finished by Mike McCarthy

 Untitled Bordiglio Marble Contemporary Sculpture

Untitled Bordiglio Marble Contemporary Sculpture

Over the last few weeks is I have been unable to work down in the studio on my larger work because of a sick dog. The only good things about this is that I have had time to work on some of the small pieces that I can do in the house.

 Stained Indiana Limestone Sculpture - "Born from the Broken"

Stained Indiana Limestone Sculpture - "Born from the Broken"

Since February last year, I spent the vast majority of my time on a large public commission for Norton Hospital. The sculpture was too large and complex to have time to work on anything other than this one piece. I had other commissioned work, but could never feel confident to get to that, much less the myriad of ideas I have in my head just waiting to find their way into a piece of stone. That commission installed in April. Once complete, I immediately began work on the two larger pieces that have been delayed. I started carving a fountain that is a commissions well as an abstract piece for a show later this summer. While it was great to start in on some fresh ideas and pieces, I still had some small work that I had started prior to starting the Norton commission, as well as the many ideas that are just waiting to burst out of my head. I really thought that after the Norton sculpture was completed I would have time for both the larger work and the smaller pieces. It just hasn't happened. 

 Tortoise Shell Alabaster Contemporary Sculpture

Tortoise Shell Alabaster Contemporary Sculpture

So, two weeks ago one of our dogs got sick. Because of the nature of the illness, she needed constant supervision. That meant that I couldnt work in the studio. While that has put some stress on finishing the larger work, it has provided the room in the schedule to complete a few of the smaller pieces that I has already started as well as get some ideas out of my head.

The untitled tortoise shell alabaster piece that is pictured here is one of the pieces I started over a year ago. Because of the difficulty of the stone to carve, I had set it aside in favor of other pieces several times. That piece is now complete.

I also had started a soapstone baboon that was not going in the right direction. I set that one aside as well and had not been able to return to it. I have started back into this one as well. (You can also see my dog is up and moving now!!)

Not only did I have the two (and many others) that I started and have been unable to get back to, I also have been looking at so many of the pieces of stone in my studio that I have not been able to start. That has now changed.

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I have started and completed two other small pieces. The first was a piece that actually broke off of the large figure from my Norton commission. When it broke off, I was devastated. Several times I started to throw the piece out because it disgusted me. For some reason I never did. I am glad I did not, as I feel it turned out into a pretty nice piece.  I also started and finished a piece of Bordiglio Marble. This is a piece of marble that has been split off of a 3/4 life-size figure I am in progress on. It was a thin piece and I thought I saw something else in it, but it changed its mind and we ended up with the nice little piece that is on the double poles. 

So, the good news is that my dog is on the mend and next week I will be able to get back into the studio. But what it taught me is that I still need to take a bit of time to work on the small pieces that have provided such a great sense of accomplishment this past two weeks.

More Progress on the Untitled Indiana Limestone Piece I am Carving by Mike McCarthy

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I have made a lot of great progress on the Indiana Limestone piece I am currently working on. It is a pretty complicated piece to carve because of the turns and twists going on throughout the piece. Until it gets narrowed down in some areas, I have to put a lot of pressure on the stone where the gaps are tight. If I try to go too fast in narrowing to lessen the pressure, I can get rid of stone that I might need later on. 

Much of this guess work could be eliminated if I did a moquette first. However, I am not a fan of doing that for these free form pieces. I think the fun in creating this type of sculpture is to just start drilling, carving and grinding until you think you are finished. Now, at times that leads to pieces that get stuck and don't want to cooperate. You get going and realize that area that you just spent a ton of time on looks terrible. I have several pieces that are sitting on the side of the studio that are in that state. I will look at them every once in a while to see if I can figure something out to make them better. Sometimes, you have to get rid of a section before it ever gets where you want it.

With this piece, I thought I might have that problem with the lower section. Fortunately, it is moving in the right direction. I still have a little left to figure out at the bottom of the piece. Specifically, I have to figure out how it will tie into the bottom inch of the piece that I plan to leave a a mounting section. But, it is definitely moving along well and I think I have a pretty good plan. Ultimately, this piece will sit on top of another piece of Limestone that is 18" x 18" x 36". This will give the piece the height I want to get the lower section more viewable.

New Sculpture Completed by Mike McCarthy

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Over the past two months I have been frantically working on getting ideas out of my head and into stone. I have so many ideas that I was not able to get to while working on my Norton Hospital commission. I also had several ideas started before the commission and hadn't been able to get back to them to finish them. So finally, I have completed my first gallery small sculpture in months.

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This piece is untitled as yet, although I have had the suggestion that it looks like a sting ray. That sounds interesting, so that may end up as the title. Even though the title is not complete, the rest of the piece is. This was one of the pieces I started before the Norton commission. It was a very difficult stone to carve. All of the veining created some fragility. I spent a lot of time changing direction and pressure to keep pieces from breaking off. There is also a big difference in the density throughout the stone. I would be carving along on one of the harder areas and all of the sudden the grinder would dig in. It was tough to control the pace of the tools. All that bings said, those difficulties are caused by things that create such a beautiful stone! So, as soon as I finished this piece, I ordered some more pieces!

Starting A New Commission by Mike McCarthy

I recently finished my largest commission and have been working on doing some non-commissioned pieces. That is very freeing, but it is also very fun and amazing that someone is interested enough in my work that they would be willing to trust me to create a piece for them without seeing it completed. So today I started in on a new commission. 

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My new piece will be a fountain that will match a bench that the owners purchased from me a few years ago. I have never done a fountain before so this will be a cool experience. I will be carving this piece out of Indiana Limestone, the same stone as the bench they already have.

Starting on a new piece is fun, but there is a bit of not so fun part to it. One of the pieces I want to use is buried under a ton (probably literally) of other stone. So the not so fun parts of this commission will be to dig out this piece of stone!