Sculpting, much like any other profession is not without it's hard learned lessons. Sometimes we study in schools or go through an apprenticeship with well seasoned crafts people to learn by assisting and watching closely. Hopefully we pay great attention and ask plenty of questions. By the way, the most stupid question, is the one which is never asked. Because, even though we may believe we saw the lesson, if there is a doubt, a why or a what is the purpose, it is important enough to cause confusion or grief some time later. When we first begin to sculpt, every move, every chisel strike, will seem monumental. We even might close our eyes when the mallet strikes the chisel. But, gradually we begin to feel comfortable as we see the stone start to take the shape which comes from our mind's eye. A rhythm develops in our chisel strikes and it is almost trance like. Our only focus is on the stones shape and all else but the sound of the chisel, the feel of stone bouncing off of us and the gradual birth of our design matter to us. It is magic! It is funny how some of the cruelest lessons in life can come to us when we are in the middle of the most beautiful moments. But, then would we actually learn as fast without the intensity of consequence? Imagine for a moment, having worked a month on a certain sculpture, the roughing out stage is nearly complete. You just need a bit more off over here and then, there is a dull sounding chisel strike, a crash on the floor and viola! Your beautiful sculpture now has only one arm! Many of us have learned this way and its amazing how fast the lesson sinks in. It literally only takes the first time to get it. Then, you never forget! The ultimate lesson here is that there really is a time to put the chisel down and pick up rasps and riffling files. Throughout my sculpting years and in other tool oriented occupations I have learned that one needs the right tools for the right job. Sculpting is no different. Below is a small assemblage of chisels, rasps and riffling files needed to start sculpting stone. There are many tools to include those for roughing out, detailing, fine detail and finish work, from the bluntest instrument to diamond burs and micron polishing materials. Even with the best tools and knowing when to put the mallet and chisel down, the very best sculptors can and do have tragic sculpting moments.
Choosing your stone is as important as choosing your tools. It may be the difference between a sculpture and shattered stone! The process when choosing the stone is called,"ringing out". This process demands that one take a metal tool such as a chisel and begin to tap all around the stone surface and listen. When you hear a nice ringing with each tap, you can assume that particular section to be tight grained and presumably without fissures or cracks. In other words, good to carve. This would be particularly true of stones like Alabaster and Marble. It takes a bit of practice to do this, but it can also save you some heartache later on. You may work with small stones, but just imagine if your project is a large commission. How important could it be then? Even in the best of circumstances, with the best tools and the stone chosen correctly, the possibility of shattering can still exist. It won't happen routinely, but certainly, knowing when to put the chisel down is one more step in mastering the stone.