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. 


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! 

New Sculpture in the Works by Mike McCarthy


From June of 2017 to April of 2018, I really only worked on my largest commission, “Cor Liberum”, a sculptural experience for Norton Hospital, Audubon campus. While I enjoyed working on that piece, because of the scale and timeframe, I did not work on anything else. I have so many ideas in my head that need to get out. This is the only time I wish I were a painter. They can move a lot faster. 


So, once I finished the Norton piece, I have been scatter brained. I started carving so many pieces I can’t keep them strait. Slowly I am narrowing down the work. I finished two pieces which helped. I have set two others aside. I work on one just on the weekends and the final one, the largest of them, is also closing in on being done. This is good as I have two new commissions to get started on.  

Bordiglio Marble is a Beautiful Stone, But Difficult to Carve by Mike McCarthy


I started carving a nude in Bordiglio marble, an Italian marble, the first time I have carved this stone. I don't know if it is all of the Bordiglio, but at least this particular piece has such strong bedding planes, that the stone is actually fragile. With this work that I am carving on now, the goal is to get it very thin and delicate. I have lost one piece of it already and have a section that feels a little iffy. So, the stone typically tells you which way it wants to go, this one maybe dictate a little stronger than most. Even with that challenge, the stone is so pretty, that it is well worth the struggle.

Three In-progress Pieces are Under Way by Mike McCarthy

After working on my Norton Hospital commission for so long, I have had a flood of ideas flowing from my brain that I almost can't control them. I have started on several new pieces and have a new commission that I also have been working on the moquette to show the client. I have set a rotation to work on the various pieces so that I keep sane!

The first is from a piece of Tortoise Shell Alabaster. This is a really cool piece of alabaster I have had for about a year. I started carving it soon after I got the rock, but it is a very fragile stone so I put it aside. Then the Norton Commission happened and I was swamped. Now that "Cor Liberum is done, I saw the stone sitting on the shelf and it started calling to me to say I know where I want to go. It has such great color and dimension, it was telling me all I had to do is cut some cool shapes in it and it would work. 

The second piece I am working on right now is a larger Indian Limestone piece that I am going to submit to the Josephine Sculpture Garden show. Josephine is a very cool sculpture garden in Frankfort, KY. The owner, Melanie VanHouten converted her family farm into a sculpture park. I really hope that my work is chosen to be part of the show as I think the garden is such an awesome deal. So, I am back to working on a piece I started about two months ago when I couldn't stand to not get the idea out of my head and committed to stone in at least a partial way. The cool thing was that because of finishing up "Cor Liberum" I had to set this piece aside. I needed that from a scheduling point of view, but the piece needed to sit and let me understand where it wanted to go. The stone and I have agreed on a direction and I think I have a better understanding. It is funny how stone communicates with you. Sometimes it says that it wants to go in a different direction. You just have to listen.

The third piece I am working on is a really different idea for me. Several years ago when I was working in steel, I started welding up an abstract sculpture of a sail boat. the plan was to have a piece of angle iron serve as the ship with a steel sail. I am really not doing any metal sculpture now. However, I have done a lot of cleaning to be able to have space to store all of the left over stone from "Cor Liberum" and I ran across this welded start.; Since I already had this welded piece, I thought, rather than throwing it out,  it would be nice to go ahead and finish it. I have decided to try a limestone sail to see if that works with the rest of the sculpture. Stay tuned to see how it goes.


A Change in Direction Continued by Mike McCarthy

in. Recent post, I talked about how sometimes you think you know where you are goi with a piece and then the stone says “nope”. Then there are times when, after you and the stone have agreed on a direction, friends give you ideas to consider for a different direction. On this piece, both occurred. 

This piece started its life as a part of the leg of my Norton commissions large figure. When standing the figure up, it broke off. After I stopped crying and really took a look at this piece, I liked the shap of the piece. With a little refinement, I thought I had something, but the stone disagreed.

In the first photo, you can see the original idea starting to take shape  however, the stone just kept fighting me. As I worked around the stone, certain views worked, then others would work, but the stone wouldn’t cooperate to look right as a whole. So, I finally listened.

the second photo shows where i got to after listening to the stone. By freeing up part of the front, it started to feel right. I moved on and finished carving and sanding. I decided to stain it and was contemplating how to base it.

I posted the third photo on Facebook and got an interesting suggestion. One of my friends suggested hanging the piece rather than basing it. I haven’t totally decided, but am leaning towards that. 

Check back and see how it turns out.  


Using Wood Stain on Indiana Limestone by Mike McCarthy

I have started experimenting with some of my limestone pieces. I have used wood stains to add a different feeling to the work. This is my second attempt. I don’t have a title for this one yet, and it is still in progress. I have to figure out how to base it. I have had many suggestions to hang it. But, that is beside the point. As you can see, this piece is not the standard color of Indiana limestone. I used a blue universal wood dye to add color. I think it is pretty cool. What I don’t know is how it will hold the color if it becomes an outdoor sculpture. That is one of the fun parts of being an artist is that you get to experiment to see what happens. 


Ever Wanted To Learn To Carve Stone? Now's Your Chance! by Mike McCarthy

The Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea shared this post on their facebook page. I will be teaching a beginning carving class at the center this summer. If you ever wanted to learn to carve stone, now's your chance. We will be carving an abstract bird. Does it look a little familiar? it is the model for the birds from "Cor Liberum". Don't wait, sign up!

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

April 13 at 10:10am · 

We will be holding Learnshops here at the Kentucky Artisan Center from July 13- 26. Berea Tourism's website for the Festival of Learnshops is now open for registering for an amazing array of creative opportunities. 
Mike McCarthy will be teaching a stone carving workshop - carving a bird from limestone like shown here. His workshop will be held at the Center on July 14. Go to and look for "Festival of Learnshops" - and go to the "wood, metal, stone" section.


A Change In Direction by Mike McCarthy

 This is the start of the piece. I thought it needed the base as well as the solid form above.

This is the start of the piece. I thought it needed the base as well as the solid form above.

 The stone disappeared. 

The stone disappeared. 

Sometimes when I first start an abstract piece, I have a set idea for where I want to go with it. As I get into the piece, it either says “yes, this is where I want to go”, or “I don’t think so!”  My current piece was the latter. I started with a piece that had broken off of the caregiver in “Cor Liberum”. When I first say it, i thought I saw an elegant solid shape that just needed some minor adjustments to give it better balance. As I started making those adjustments, I just felt it wasn’t getting there. So, I decided to cut about 4 inches off the bottom and cut a groove down the center of it. These are not easy decisions as they can ruin hours of work and create another rock for the scrap pile. (When I used to carve wood, these decisions pften created fire wood.) however, sometimes the stone agrees with your decisions. With this piece, I think you will agree that the stone did want to go in this direction. 

 Another view

Another view