abstract sculpture

"Life Balance", a Sculpture in African Wonderstone - The First Time I have Carved this Stone by Mike McCarthy

This contemporary sculpture titled “Life Balance” is the first time I have carved a piece in African wonderstone. It is a bit of a deceptive stone in that it is easy to shape, but difficult to polish. The other difficulty I had with this piece was basing it. I had the piece completed for over 3 months ago but couldn’t figure out the size and shape of the base. I think I finally got it. I like the way the small base emphasizes the balancing of the piece. It has a very small point of connection that gives it that precarious feel and further emphasizes the balance aspect. I am forever trying to get tiny connection points on my sculptures! Sometimes, I drive myself nuts!!

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See My Indiana Limestone Vessel Carved from Beginning to End by Mike McCarthy

Over the last few weeks, I have taken a little time away from a larger project to carve a smaller piece. I always have several pieces going at the same time, especially when I am working on a larger work. In the video below, I have recorded a time lapse of the carving of this sculpture from its start as a rough block, all the way to the finish process. You will see that the most time spent is the sanding. It is the part that makes this piece of limestone able to hold the gloss sheen that the sealer adds. I also used linseed oil on this piece to give it some color. Watch the video and let me know what you think.

My First Video Over 300 Views and My Fastest to 100 Views by Mike McCarthy

On July 29th, I posted that I had hit a milestone on my YouTube site. I had posted 30 videos and one of them was at 221 views. Since then, I have posted a few more videos and have hit another milestone on views.

My most popular video is still the video on splitting limestone with feathers and wedges. It is a time-lapse video that shows me splitting the off-fall from one of my birds for "Cor Liberum". I know many folks who post on YouTube would laugh at being happy about getting a video over the 300 mark in views, but everyone has to start somewhere. This video currently has 328 views.

The other cool thing is that my videos are increasing in views faster now than they previously had. It is partly that I have been sharing them on this blog, but there must be something more to it than that. For example, the splitting limestone video was posted on August 20, 2017. My latest video, "Carving an Indiana Limestone Vessel" was posted August 28, 2018, and has already reached 108 views. While the splitting limestone does far exceed the views of the vessel video has received almost 1/3 the views in 6 days. This one is definitely an anomaly as many of my videos have not even come close to 100 views. But the cool thing is that all of the videos are steady increasing in views. So, if you like to see the way stone is worked and carved, subscribe to my channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLZ4k8l6V2l_otGckDxxQ5A and watch my videos!

Carving a Limestone Vessel by Mike McCarthy

I started carving an Indiana Limestone vessel a few months ago. However, I have been so busy with other projects that I have not been able to get back to it. The stone is a cut off from my Norton commission, "Cor Liberum". I am happy to say that the off-fall from that project has provided a steady source of stone for a while.

This piece will be similar to the piece I carved about a year ago, "Peace Lilly". I will be sanding and polishing this piece to at least 400 grit paper and then putting a sealer on it. I will also add a wax finish to the piece. It will give a rich color to the piece that is not typical of limestone. However, it is a very warm and pleasing finish for indoor pieces.

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 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.