Chips Off The Old Blocks



After many months of hard graft building the drystone walls at Tonguey Field House the project is nearing completion with only the final touch to be added, installing the eight feature carvings that will become focal points within the walls.

If I was given a choice stone carving would be my preferred medium, there is something special about the process, looking at the raw block imagining it’s possibilities and then knocking ‘seven bells out of’ it to reveal the form within.

To be set within the eight alcoves that I have already built into the walls I have always had a firm picture in my mind since the design stage of how I wanted these to look. Abstracted, organic forms each with a different character but relating to one another in size and feel. They needed to be simple forms that are not too fussy in detail as they will work as a group across the facade of the wall.

For seventeen years and one house move I have had four of the rough blocks kicking about my garden, awaiting the right project to come along. The granite carvings have been made from an old broken gate post that I picked up from a stone merchants. Not 100% sure of its type but I’m fairly confident that it would come under the definition of ‘Balmoral’ Granite probably originating from the Aberdeen area. Hard to work it takes on a brilliant polish that has opened up lots of potential to play around with contrasting texture and colour.

While working up at Beinn Eighe Natural Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe installing some gateway signs in 1995 a guy, can’t remember his name, stopped to have a chat, he was the quarrymaster at a marble quarry up the road and he invited me up to see the Quarry. If you have any interest in stone at all a visit to any quarry is like being allowed into the best sweetie shop!! The quarry was owned by an Italian Company and was in the process of working the face down to get the best quality marble which is many meters down. Ledmore is a special stone in that it has a fantastic mix of greens and browns through it which I believe is pretty special in terms of marble. Loading the trailer with the biggest blocks I could lift I returned home with them to see ‘what lay within.’ Seventeen years later I have finally been able answer that question.

The remaining four carvings are made from Forest Of Dean Sandstone. Once the set are completed I’ll do a page which details my process in more detail, from initial sketch design through to completed installed carving.

‘Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today’ – Old Cherokee proverb.

Twitter is a fascinating resource, an eclectic mix of the wondrous, informative, witty and bizarre, it provides a window into so many different peoples worlds and experiences. Sometimes things appear in my timeline that particularly strike a chord, the quote above posted by @NativAmProverbs early in the New Year seemed particularly apt when my mind has been so full of reflection and assessment of where I am as an artist.

Vincent Van Gogh’s, ‘Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear’ has become one of my favourite images, it reminds me that an artist’s lot is not always a happy one. Like many individuals, businesses and even countries it has been challenging times over the last few years since the recession first hit in 2008. Change has not always been easy, difficult times have forced onerous decisions with all the knock-on effects that has to self confidence and assurance in one’s abilities; mistakes have been made and consequences have to be lived with. Rather than making me feel down though, his painting strangely uplifts me, like the old Abba song ‘The Winner Takes It All’ – through the power of creativity and art, sad subject matter has been transformed into a life affirming joyous thing.

So as 2013 begins I have decided that the Cherokee proverb will be the resolution upon which to base the forthcoming year. In the past I was in the very lucky position that I never really had to actively look for work opportunities, it always seemed to have its’ own momentum, the flip side to that unfortunately has been that it proved to be a weakness within my practice. As work is nearly always commissioned it means I have always been reactive rather than proactive. This year my aim is to work upon that weakness so that control of what I can achieve is brought into a better balance where I can to a certain extent become a catalyst for my own business becoming more sustainable and not being so dependent upon external factors.

Remaining positive is the only possible course and I have a renewed determination that it is within me to fashion my own path forward. While reading a Biography on Picasso I came across a passage that may provide a key to that process. Discussing Picasso’s early development as an artist it is about a period of his life before being ‘discovered’ – about him working in solitude unsure of his direction, except when actually in the act of creating – it points out ‘but clearly a man who works alone is as a worker,  largely invisible.’

Self promotion, networking and creating a public profile are alien concepts to many artists, being naturally reticent this is an area that I have concluded could be very easily improved upon. Social media offers new avenues of connecting with like-minded people and clients. Last year I worked upon two main projects and set myself the additional task of getting a new web site up and running and getting to grips with this blogging malarkey, hopefully I’ll get quicker and better at it! This year my plan is to explore different avenues of working and actively seek ways to ensure that I am not ‘invisible’ I hope any readers will check back to see how the year progresses.