The Art of Carving Marble
[I intend to make this page one of the most informative and well resourced. Short instructional videos and sequence shots will take the viewer through technical and aesthetic concerns.]
I am working on a publication entitled "Peter Schipperheyn A Sculptors Survival Kit" It will contain illustrations and detailed explanations on the technique of carving marble. It will be autobiographical, I intend to chronicle some of the marvellous experiences I have had in Carrara.
please e-mail me if you are interested in this publication.
My first contact with marble came about as a result of a Scholarship that I received courtesy of the Italian Government in 1979. I had carved perhaps a dozen wood carvings and had become fascinated with the possibility of marble. I follow the basic techniques and methods [that I learnt in Carrara], that sculptors have employed virtually unchanged since ancient times [with the exception of course that the modern sculptor has many more labour saving tools]. In this regard the experience I had in Carrara, Italy has been fundamental to my approach as sculptor and indeed Italian culture as whole has profoundly affected me.
I would urge you to follow the time proven practise of clarifying your concept in a drawing, develop these sketches into a scale model, and then find yourself the stone from which you will then extract your "concetto" or if you have the stone first make a good model that will best exploit the mass before you. Remember that Michelangelo pulled the " IL Davide" out of a block of marble that had already suffered the serious incursions of another sculptor.
I recommend that you work from a 1:1 scale model in plaster or whatever material. You can work from a smaller model but I urge you to push [ push yourself ] your concept, to look at it from every angle, imagine how it will be seen, lighting conditions etc. Will the sculpture be seen mostly from a distance or from close up. These and hundred other considerations should pass through your mind . And this will only happen if you thoroughly consider your idea in a well developed model.
So once you have your model and your stone block set up the process of translating the forms that you defined in your model into marble can begin. This process can be achieved in several ways.
* You can carve by "eye" that is you begin removing material without any aid except the considerations of how the work in hand appears to you. I recommend starting this way with a a series of smaller works, continuing until you are well versed and confident removing stone. I initially worked this way it is a very good training from which you will gain confidence.
However for more ambitious projects I recomend that you make a model in clay and then cast it into plaster. This model will be your guide, the more decided you are form the outset the better will be the outcome of your work. Sculpture in marble is a very emphatic process and indecision will show in the finished work. Understand that your work in clay or plaster will look different, because marble reflects light differently from plaster and the forms that appear one way in plaster will need to be cut differently in marble, they will need to be accentuated so as to convey the relief that appears in your model. I find that my original concept is still developing as I am carving, no matter how much I slaved over the model!
* Use a pointing machine to transfer one by one a series of points from your model. Model must be 1:1 scale.
* Using callipers to enlarge from your half scale or smaller model, more difficult than using a pointing machine but enables you to create really large scale works from a smaller model. This is a technique that really needs to be shown to you. You can enlarge many times from your model, I recommend however that your model be no more that 1:3 because when you enlarge more than this you will find that the element of distortion increases as the scale multiplies and what is not apparent to you at one scale will become glaringly so when it is enlarged five or six times. I carved some large heads the models were approx 1/5 the size of the marbles and I found that using the calliper method the noses appeared like jumbo jets! The faces at this scale appeared completely distorted I had too change considerably the volumes so that the heads "appeared"[giudizio del occhio] correct.
Tools The basic tool requirement I suggest should include the following and apply to different stages of work defined as (a) Roughing out, (b) Defining the forms, (c) Refining Forms (d) Finishing/Polishing
The publication Peter Schipperheyn "A Sculptors Survival Kit" will have extensive and detailed information on type, make and where the items /tools can be procured.
"Roughing out" - Initial stage of finding the main volumes of your concept
A 9' angle grinder, and a diamond edged disk. Set of hard and soft headed hand hammers. set of points to suit, some with tempered ends some not, ie to match hammers. I use predominantly a soft iron hammer with points that have tempered hitting ends. I find that the resultant softer thud thud is far less trying on your ears and tendons!
A pointing machine, and set of callipers of various sizes for translating from your model and checking that you have enough marble to fit the dimensions of your model.
"Defining the forms" - Getting down to the skin of your concept
Set of Pneumatic Hammers, I have Culturi Hammers that I purchased In Carrara
(1) Small [see publication]
Set of Chisels to use with pneumatic hammers both tungsten and tempered mild steel chisels, of varying sizes small to larger [some marbles will bruise very easily and, mild steel is far less aggressive]
"Refining Forms" Set of flat chisels of various sizes and hand hammers [ small tungsten mainly flat chisels for finishing]
Set of a dozen or so files/riflers of all sizes and shape for further refining of forms, tempered steel scrapers for finishing of hard to get into areas.
This stage is more elbow grease than anything else, you will need however polishing stones of various grit. metal scrapers, and wet and dry sandpaper of different grades.
OK you have all the tools, your block is set up before you on a solid workbench the model is set up next to you, get my book and lets start carving!