inertia blog photo









Procrastination is a problem for some, but not for me. I usually am anxious to begin a new piece and jump right in. I start chiseling away the old form and letting the new shapes spur my imagination until I discover the direction my carving will take.

However, if during that discovery time, I am interrupted by life’s demands, I often find it very difficult to resume where I left off. The fragile idea that was taking shape eludes me and inertia sets in. I find I am unable to move forward to further define the piece or backward to recapture the essence that was propelling the carving. Instead, I just stand there staring, thinking, “Where was I going with this??”

Unable to proceed and unwilling to just cast aside the now vague idea that had inspired the work thus far, I just stop. The inertia created by the interruption keeps me from either abandoning the piece or moving on to a new one.

Eventually, I resign myself to the defeat and start a new stone, often leaving the one half-started to sit untouched or even looked at for a very long time. Procrastination…not a problem, but the inertia of a half-formed idea keeps me trapped in place, bringing my work to a frustrating halt.


Have no fear

Being a self-taught sculptor in stone has its advantages and drawbacks. In a real sense, it is empowering to jump right into something new without the fear of failure or daunting self expectation, but it is also sometimes frustrating to run into problems which probably could have been avoided with some instruction.

I have been  working on this piece for quite some time now, taking long breaks to evaluate the progress and  figure out the best way to proceed. I have spent a lot of time searching for information on carving techniques that might be useful as well as simply studying numerous faces. Some of the issues with this piece could have been bypassed altogether had I known to chose a different type of stone, one better suited for detailed carving and without the hard veining which often came out in unwieldy chunks  as I chiseled. Even though this is still a work in progress and still needs a lot of work, I consider the piece to be a success. I feel it captures that look of surprise that says, sometimes things take an unexpected turn. With both the upsweep of the hair and the minimal neck which seems to just fade away, the emphasis of the piece is focused on the face and that fleeting expression of uncertainty.

“Imagine Sena’s Surprise” carved in  steatite.     H 16″  x W 9″   x D 7



Photos help you see

Photographing your artwork is an important part of being a visual artist these days. Between using photos for entering juried competitions and exhibitions, and posting on social media, photos promote your work. However in my case, photographing my work plays an even more important role, objectivity. As I work on a piece, I am constantly examining it from all angles. Yet it is still sometimes difficult to maintain a true sense of objectivity about what I see. Photos taken of the piece in-progress show all the small imperfections which I may have overlooked,  as well as the overall shapes. While  looking at an in-progress photo of Night Sky Martinis,  it became glaringly apparent that I needed to make an adjustment to the main shape.  I wanted the shape of the piece to make it feel like one side  was reaching out, but not  like the pointy finger I saw in the photo.  As I worked and evaluated the piece from all angles, I continually had overlooked the piece’s way too pointy reach. It took the photo to make me see.

Photo one shows the piece in progress with the way too pointy end and photo 2 shows the completed piece.

Night Sky MartinisNight Sky Martinis   labeled








Lurking in the mind’s eye

It is strange how everything I see and think about somehow makes an appearance in my art. A few days ago I started carving an oddly shaped piece of alabaster. I had no idea where the stone would take me. For the last few nights, like many other folks around here, I have spent a good amount of time gazing at the August “Super moon” and watching how the clouds shifted and changed shapes, bathed in that ethereal white light. It is no wonder the shapes emerging from that piece of alabaster have taken on a surreal sense of the night sky. I call it, “Night Sky Martinis”. The initial blocking out of the shapes is complete so next begins the refining of those shapes, to better reflect my evening  journeys into the night sky.

H 8" x W 16" x D 10"

H 8″ x W 16″ x D 10″

Can you make a frog?

I am often asked, can you make a frog, or a dog, or a cat?  Well of course I can and in fact  I do commissions. However, I always explain that whatever I carve may not look exactly as you might expect,  since it will ultimately be my interpretation of the subject. That is not to say that it will not be recognizable. Some artists are very precise in their carvings, representing each subject as realistically as possible. However for me, when I am requested to carve a specific subject,  my interpretation will be determined by my feelings toward the subject and the stone I have chosen to use. I did a commission piece for the NC State Arboretum for which they requested a bowl with a fish motif. My finished piece “Fish Bowl” was carved from an irregular shaped  piece of field stone and has fish forms carved along the bowl rim,  though not specific species of fish.

stone I used

Raw field stone

in progress

in progress

completed fish bowl

Fish Bowl at NC Arboretum




Final finishes

With the carving complete, it is time to decide on the way I want the final piece to look. There are many options for finishing the surface of the stone. Ideally, the surface treatment chosen should further define the carved shapes and enhance the overall appearance of the sculpture. For instance, the piece can be left in a raw state, with the tool marks becoming part of the design or it can be sanded until the surface pores are closed, which makes the surface reflect light,  creating a shiny appearance and  accentuating the colors and veining that were exposed during the carving process. By wetting the stone, which mimics a reflective surface, you get a preview of how the sanded piece will look. Here again, I let the stone be my guide. With this piece, sanding the surface to  accentuate  the colors does not enhance the shapes, so I chose to texture some parts and smooth the rest. This way, I can use the textured area to add interest and direct the eye. Sometimes, combining different finishes is the best choice.

Photo 1 shows the stone wet before any finishing. Photo 2 shows the completed piece with heavily textured area over the brown spots and smooth finish up front, accentuating the veining there.

wetted stone before sandingshowing surface treatments




almost there?

Finally all the main shapes and details are finished. Now comes the time to make final evaluations and corrections before beginning the surface work. Since the sculpture is in the round, meaning it is carved to be viewed from all sides, not just from the front, it has to be evaluated from all sides. It is important to look at the way different surfaces meet, are the shapes well defined, even at a distance?  Subtlety does not work as well in 3D as 2D, therefore the shapes should be bold enough to provide interest at first glance and not just after careful study. After taking the time to reassess, with chisel, hammer  and files in hand,  the changes needed must be made.

Hold your head up 4Hold your head up 2

Hold your head up 1







With the stone to guide me

Carving stone is like a treasure hunt. As you carve away , the shapes that emerge and the colors and veining that are slowly revealed, lead to flights of the imagination.  Before you know it, the stone’s new shape conjures a narrative that brings to mind a title and a vision for the finished piece. Letting your mind wander through the narrative forms a connection between you and the work. It is this feeling of being connected to the carving that turns the stone into a sculpture; that and a lot of work. Still each stone holds a surprise, sometimes wildly rewarding and sometimes disappointing. The photo is of the piece I started the other day and have not yet finished, but the journey continues.

Hold your head up

When the studio calls, but…

I have had a delay in getting back into the stone yard to carve. Some tough storms rolled through over the weekend and split a huge black walnut tree next to my house. Half of the tree is still erect and over the top of my house while the other half is still attached to the main trunk of the tree, but is hanging  with the top branches resting against a nearby tree and on the ground.

I did manage a few hours in the studio yesterday and plan to work again today, now that I have found someone to take the tree out. I am told the way the tree is positioned could be dangerous and the creaking noise it makes with each breeze is unsettling, but it is back to work I go.

day 2 after a few hours

day 2 after a few hours

broken tree hanging down

broken tree hanging down




back in the swing

I just started carving again after taking a few days off to go to the family reunion. It seems like every time I take a few days away from carving, it is difficult to get back into the swing of things. That is why, I began work on  a new piece instead of returning to the  piece I had been working on before my trip. Since I rely on my responses to the work in progress to guide my carving decisions, I need to feel immersed in the form that is taking shape, otherwise it stays just a carved form instead of becoming a sculpture.  Starting a new work, while taking the time to get reacquainted with the piece already in progress, seems the best approach for me.  It takes time to recapture that feeling of being in sync with  a piece started then set aside and that feeling is an essential part of the finished sculpture.

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