Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cutting letters into stone...

When Barry and I were considering what sort of art would be possible to do whilst in the Highlands, we thought about the cost and expense of trying to set up and do letterpress; of him bringing all his hammers and anvils up here and storing them, of me leaving paper and ink etc etc and of course, we pondered the weather.

In the end, we looked around us and said, well this is a place of stone.  Nearby is the home of Caithness Flagstones which have been shipped around the world; and every croft and farm in the area is divided up by stone dikes that follow the landscape up and down and have stood the test of time; time and time again.

As we pondered stone we thought about craving stone; and of cutting letters into stone.  So in his inimitable style Barry began researching opportunities to do stone letter cutting in Scotland and by all the good graces of fortune, a week long course was being held in the Highlands, at Cromarty Arts Trust, whilst we were here.  We booked and off we went. Later on, we discovered it is nearly the ONLY stone letter cutting course in Scotland all year - serendipity for sure.

We both learnt heaps. The course was half lettering and half carving; so whilst I got the lettering side of things I had no idea where to begin with carving. For Barry, he felt most comfortable with a chisel in his hand and was unsure about how to create and space letters.  So a good balance really.

It was a great week, and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously.  I was in a small sub group of four - three of whom were stone masons; and I basically provided the entertainment I think.  But I did make gains through the week; and Robbie Schneider our tutor was most patient with my weird and wonderful interpretations of how to hold the tools, how to stand and how to use the tools. We laughed a lot.

Nevertheless here are some photos of my work - in all its less than glory; and finally with bit of a shine...

A pristine stone to begin - with the tools - a dummy to the left and three sizes of chisels to the right. All on a wonderful strong, large leaning easel.

I just could not control the chisel to get a straight line.

And my attempt at cutting a curve, circle, O, was somewhat depressing.

So I decided to try some straight, sans serif letters and I began to feel like I understood a bit about it.

So I tried to do another O...

Tiny chopping marks - you are looking for deep diamonds. Diamonds almost sort of, deep definitely not.

Chopping away a bit more (or hacking??)

Beginning to tidy up by chasing inside the letter.

And after a final tidy.

Some action shots along the way.

I began to think of my stone as my workbook - a record of my errors and improvements - so I kept working away testing and trying things.

And here is how it finished up.

I cannot lay claim to the Q.  I decided if it was a record and I wanted to use it as guide when I got back, that there wasn't a whole lot of point me only being able to refer to poor cutting as a learning tool. So I asked one of my mason mates (Mark, 27 years a mason) to do me a letter of his choice - and he did the Q - how delightful that is. I was thrilled to just watch him work on it and watch how he did things.

I also have one of Robbie's points at the top right as well. The plan is now to turn the stone over and write/cut a finished piece on the other side, so I will try that next time we are in the Highlands - the stones are clearly too heavy to travel to Australia in our luggage!

My work improved. There are still lots of errors and mistakes. I like the word SHINE.


  1. what sort of stone is this? slate? granite?

    1. Hi mo - it is a grey sandstone - interesting! It was a friendly stone they said. Go well.

  2. oh well done! I have been seeing your glimpses on instagram. Good to see it altogether. I hope you are able to practice on something when you get to Oz. perhaps all those dry stream rocks on your land will need some markmaking here and test different types of stones of course!

    1. Thanks Sanddy - we have definitely got the bug and hope to do some at home for sure. I feel as if no stone shall be safe for a while! Go well.

  3. Now that's what I call pushing the envelope to the max!!

    1. Thanks Liz - we certainly won't be posting them! But it was great fun and quite meditative and just alit bit addictive...go well.

  4. Replies
    1. It is quite tricky Annick - mesmerising and thoroughly enjoyable and addictive - but not nearly as easy as a finished letter looks. As we know - good letters are nearly always hard to master!


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.