Touchstones to Enlightenment
What are "Touchstones to Enlightenment"?
Our "Tools and Techniques" section talks about very specific approaches to sculpture like how to carve certain kinds of stone and how to use particular tools.
"Touchstones" are more general observations and personal stories. More of a zen approach to sculpture than a mechanical approach.
So far, stories in this section include:
Six Steps to Stone Sculpture.
Six articles will take you from start to finish in the sculpting process. While we do talk technique, this is less about "how to" and more about "why".
Step 1: Buying the Stone by DLSproule – where to find and how to select the right stone
Step 2: Speaking with the Stone by DLSproule – finding inspiration
Next up, watch for Step 3: Setting your Base – creating a solid foundation
When the Stone Speaks by Laura Belford
Home Decorating: The Cachet of Sculpture by DLSproule
Learning Patience from Sculpting by DLSproule
The Attraction of Subtractive Art by Jill Lum
Is Stone Sculpting for You? by DLSproule
When the Stone Speaks….
Last summer, with the help of my friend and artist, Simon Chidharara, I acquired a piece of stone that promised to deliver some lovely colours. I was very excited to begin this project.
When I started to work on it this winter, I had a vision in mind. Drawing inspiration from some Shona pieces that I’ve seen, I wanted to create a simple, organic design with the intention of showing off the colours in the stone. Silly me.
I worked hard, creating an orb and a separate, upright section that was eventually going to imply a leaf-like structure. One day, after a lot of “orb-smoothing”, and happy with my afternoon’s work, I went to put the piece away, when I noticed a fissure that required some attention. During my next session, I “explored” this fissure and to my horror, almost all of the orb fell off. While not surprised, I still managed to find a few choice words, that reflected how much time I had spent creating this now separate spherical piece of smoothish rock – now ear marked to be a turtle.
But what to do with the larger piece of stone? Apparently there were more fissures to be explored and as chunk after chunk came away, I was finally left with a secure but rather odd shaped piece. Good thing I wasn’t planning on a truly representational sculpture!
The stone had spoken. And it continued to tell me what to do, as the final piece came off and I gamely followed the lines that were presented to me. Eventually I finished. And rather than a simple design, I was left with a very twisty abstract. And it needed a name. Go with the Flow. What else could it be?
I recently showed the sculpture to Simon, and I think he agreed with the stone. Sometimes things happen for a reason.
What did I learn, besides patience? When the stone speaks to me, I better listen. It’s much older and wiser than I’ll ever be.
The Cachet of Sculpture
Our homes are personal statements about ourselves.
Some people like to fill their homes with nothing but photographs of family. I even know people who have nothing but photos of themselves. Other people enjoy unpretentious, folksy, funny touches with teddy bears and signs reminding you to aim when you pee. Some people have original paintings and prints while many less fiscally-endowed folks have furniture-store-reproduction-style-landscapes that are mostly used to break the tedium of bare walls.
If someone enters your home for the first time and sees a stone sculpture nicely displayed and properly lit on a pedestal beside the hall closet, what does it say about you?
Someone who likes stone sculpture is someone who likes real art. Even if an individual sculpture isn't that expensive, they seem like they are. There is a cachet about stone sculpture that suggests wealth, so visitors to your home may assume you are patrons of the arts. A medium sized sculpture seems somehow more significant than a medium sized painting, if for no other reason than sheer physical presence.
Actually, there are lots of additional reasons it seems like it should be expensive.
Most stone sculpture is unique – including sculptures of standard things like bears, eagles and whales. Whatever it is, you know it took some time to produce. Chipping stone is not a very efficient or reliable production line activity. Limestone, soapstone, granite and marble each have distinctive looks and feels. Reproduction sculpture is usually made of either plaster or bronze. Even without the originality, colour or depth of real sculpture, plaster reproductions still have an impressive presence. Bronze is rich and gorgeous but the larger works are only affordable to the one per cent. If you are in the one per cent, I'd like to point out that all of our sculptures are for sale and all of them put together would cost less than a small car and a sculpture in every room is definitely a trend you should start. Ahem…
Stone sculpture – as opposed to bronze – generally ranges in price from 200 to 200,000 dollars - with most sculptors working on the less expensive end of that scale. You can find stunning sculptures for a few hundred or few thousand dollars, most people don't know that – at least not instinctively.
One of the coolest things about stone sculpture is the universality. All kinds of different people find it intriguing. Like a seashell or a polished stone, there is natural beauty in the stone's pattern and colour. As solid and as a much a part of your personal landscape as a marble countertop or a hardwood floor, a piece of sculpture can make you feel grounded and connected to the earth.
Like hardwood floors, sculptures look good in any surroundings. Doesn't matter if your walls are pink or mustard yellow, off-white or wood paneled – the sculpture will work, as long as it's properly displayed. You have a lot of options: it can go beside a wall, infront of a mirror or even in the middle of a room.
Larger pieces are perfect to display outdoors (a treestump or sidewalk stone can make a good pedestal for outdoor sculture), and you know nobody's going to walk off with it. Proper indoor display can range from putting it in a sunny spot on the fireplace mantle or on an end table under a lamp to displaying it on a custom pedestal with dramatic spot lighting.
A nice pedestal is like a nice frame for a painting – it can make a small piece seem more significant and make a simple piece seem bold and dramatic.
There are some downsides to owning sculpture. Pieces over 300 pounds can be a bitch to install or move. Unlike a flashy piece of neon installation art, a statue may seem more conservative than trendy. Unlike radical/protest art it probably won't stir up passionate or violent emotions. If it does, you may be in real trouble if someone decides to throw your sculpture. I imagine it would be a bit like shot put, only heavier and more awkward. Hmm, or maybe less like short put than really energetic, out-of-control weightlifting.
But rather than waste time debating techniques for sculpture tossing, I want you to close your eyes and envision how swanky a sculpture would look in your living rooms.
When you open them again, the first thing you will do is realize how much you need to buy a sculpture. Like real estate, you'll get a lot more respect if you offer more than the asking price.
Is Stone Sculpting for You?
Since stone sculpture requires such an investment of time to get good at, it appeals to only the most ardent hobbyists. The time investment/patience aspects should be part of the appeal for anyone who takes up stone sculpting as a hobby or profession.
How to Tell if You're a Born Sculptor
Run your hands over a big piece of polished stone. Does it make you feel more connected to the Earth? Do you get pulled into the cool depths of the stone, hypnotized by the colour, bewitched by its unimaginable antiquity? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might really enjoy the process of stone carving.
As hobbies go, it's not that expensive.
For the price of a ski pass you can probably buy a pretty impressive chunk of Soapstone or Wonderstone.
Trying to carve jade or granite for your first sculpture would be hard and frustrating enough to put you off sculpting forever, so don't even try carving 'found' stone unless you have a chunk of soapstone or limestone lying around in the backyard or find one while walking along a riverbed or country road.
If you're trying to find a free stone, bring a hammer and chisel and take a few whacks at the stone. If it clinks with a short high pitched chink or sends of sparks when you strike it, don't try carving that stone with handtools. If pieces of stone larger than the tip of your thumb break off, it may be too brittle to carve. But if it emits a satisfying thump and the head of the chisel cuts into the stone (even if it only goes in a quarter of an inch) and leaves a groove the same size or shape as the chisel head, you'll have found a good carving stone. Stone that shatters may be okay for experienced sculptors and very hard stone may be workable with power tools.
The Drawbacks of Found Stone
Soapstone and serpentine from central Ontario occasionally have traces of asbestos or uranium. This is a (small) risk you take with free stone. Be aware of the danger if you're carving stone with visible fibres and wear a mask when you are rasping or sanding (something you should always do when stone carving) and you'll be fine. Historically, sculptors were only vaguely aware of this and many lived very long lives and frankly the risk for hobby sculptors with very limited and sporadic exposure to stone dust is extremely low (it is higher for those using power tools).
For about the same amount of money that it would cost you to drive to a ski resort once, you can probably pay for a set of tools that will last you for years.
You can use tools from garage sales for your first sculpture or two. The best tools I've ever used were handmade from automobile undercarriages by Zimbabwean sculptors. The steel from a car suspension holds its edge unbelievably well. If you go to your local scrapyard, you might even be able to talk somebody there into cutting and sharpening some nice broad chisels for you. I would recommend any brand new sculptor buy at least a few tools:
- One good point chisel, a heavy-duty solid metal awl might suffice but would need to be sharpened and would probably lose its point quickly.
- One four to eight inch rasp. One large and one small would be best, but if in doubt go for a large rasp with a tapered point that will allow you to work on smaller, deeper surfaces.
- A narrow wood chisel, medium size file or files and a regular sized claw or autoshop sized ball peen hammer – all readily available at garage sales for a total investment of five dollars or less.
- Access to a grinder and/or your own whetstone to keep your tools sharp. They will last longer if you use a whetstone.
Total cost for tools that aren't already in your toolbox should be less than $40-80.
If you don't know what these tools are or what they do, then go to the tools and techniques section.
If you love the look or feel of stone sculpture but would prefer buying a finished piece, check out our on-line galleries and e-mail us (honestly, a few of the displayed sculptures are available for under $200 – plus shipping) – or go to our links section to check out some real or virtual sculpture galleries.
Six Steps to Stone Sculpture
Step Two: Speaking with the Stone.
Tools required: sketchpad; grease pencil, chalk or crayon; patience.
When you're shopping for a stone, you may already have a concept in mind. Let's say you plan on carving a mermaid and that you have access to a resource like Sculpture Supply Canada, where you can walk into a space filled with bins of stone. At any given time, they may have a selection of 10 or 12 different types of stone. Most likely you will find several varieties of alabaster, marble, soapstone and wonderstone. The colours may include black, green, brown, yellow, red or even orange (blue is hard to find, but if you find some, let us know!)
They will be in different shapes and sizes, although many will be cut, with two or more flat surfaces.
Some sculptors find it hard to get inspired by a cube of stone, since the shape suggests nothing in particular. Other sculptors find that a cube of stone makes it easier for them to impose their vision, since the stone is not giving them much input about what it wants to be. If you wet down a cut surface, it gives you a much clearer idea of how the colour and marbling of the finished piece will look, while if you're working on a randomly shaped piece of natural rock, it can contain many surprises. Oxidization along with the presence of dirt, plants, chemicals and other environmental influences can make the outside of a stone look dramatically different from the inside. Much of the African stone has this sort of hidden personality. The inside may be green and brown, while the outer layer (up to several inches thick) can be red and white. Black serpentine often has a brown and white "shell". If you conspire to leave some of this outer layer visible in your final piece, this can produce breathtaking effects, enabling you to take advantage of sharp contrasts and allowing you to have as many as four or five strong colours in your finished sculpture. But of course, it also adds a certain amount of randomness to the process. If your personality demands control, or the sculpture you're working on cries out to be a particular colour, you may be less than happy with this element of surprise.
If you're carving a mermaid, you may want the whole piece to be pale green. And that's just fine. Buying cut stone will help you find exactly what you're looking for.
But if you are buying an uncut piece of rock, you can look for one that strikes you as "mermaid-shaped".
If you're like us, you go in without preconceptions and let the stone tell you what it wants to be.
If you find one that says "I'm a mermaid," then great! But it may say, "I'm a bear" or "I'm a woman's head" or maybe even "How the heck should I know? Why not attack me with the hammer and chisels and see what happens!"
There are many ways of speaking to the stone.
My partner, Laura is "the stone whisperer". She can charm any piece of stone into giving up its secret identity, although even she can take months deciding what to carve out of a particular boulder.
What do you do if the stone simply refuses to speak to you? I recommend being patient (you may notice that I listed it as one of the tools you need for step two).
You may puzzle over what it's going to be for weeks then come home really drunk one night and as you're in the process of passing out, you look at the stone and see your sister, Darla staring out at you. There you go! Darla is in there, all you have to do is remove everything that doesn't look like her and everyone in the family will think you're a genius. Unless of course, you really don't like Darla. What fun is it looking into that smug, know-it-all-face for the weeks it could take you to finish the sculpture? This may be the point where you can have at it with the hammer and chisels in an anything-but-Darla frenzy. You may end up with a mermaid, or an abstract or something else altogether.
Once you have a concept in mind, draw it in the sketchbook. Even if you can't draw well it will give you a basic idea of shape and dimensions and how your planned sculpture will work with the shape of the stone you've purchased. Before you actually start carving it's a good idea to draw the shape on the surface of the stone. Different sculptors prefer different media for this. Coloured chalk or wax crayons are perfect for some people. We like a black grease pencil. No, it doesn't easily wash off the stone, but if you chip away as much as you should, there won't be any guide marks left by the time you're done.
One of the most important things to point out to first time stone sculptors is that it doesn't really matter what you sculpt. If you give it the time and loving attention that it deserves, your sculpture will be beautiful.
If you doubt that, then just take a trip to your local bead store and look at some random polished stones.
There may be some that are unspectacular. They may be plain black or bone-coloured with nothing special about them. But when you're dealing with something larger than your head, chances are very high that even the plainest of stone will have some interesting features, some marbling or translucent flakes or interesting stripes and occlusions. You may not know it until you reach the polishing stage, but as long as you do a good job of polishing, I can promise a very high level of satisfaction – however the stone happens to look.
And even if you feel unhappy about your carving skills and it doesn't come out looking the way you wanted, most people will appreciate what you have accomplished. You took this shapeless lump that's as hard as stone (duh) and made it into something with an interesting shape, interesting textures and interesting colours. And what a nice shine! You are a sculptor. And if you keep going and learn more technique, you may eventually become acclaimed as a really good sculptor.
But it all begins with that piece of stone. Look at it, touch it and listen to it! The magic is in there, waiting to be found.
written by DLSproule
Six Steps to Stone Sculpture
Step One: Buying the stone.
Tools required: Your wallet, your ingenuity, your good taste. A chasing hammer or point chisel to test the stone.
So you’ve decided to try your hand at sculpting. Where do you start?
I’m sure many homeowners have given into the temptation just to take a nice stone from the yard and see what they can do with it. Many people use attractive stones around the bases of trees or to line a flower bed. I’m sure you wouldn’t be the first to try sculpting one of these stones.
You have no idea what that stone is made of. One of the most popular garden stones in Ontario is granite. They often contain beautiful red, white and pink streaks. They would make gorgeous sculptures. Except for the fact that trying to carve granite is like a first time mountain climber tackling Mount Everest. Sparks will fly. Chips will come off like bullets – many of them aimed right at your face. Your chisels will go blunt after three swings of the hammer. And you will quite likely give up after less than an hour having done nothing encouraging. You may decide that sculpting is not for you. And you may be wrong.
Other stones often produce similar challenges. If they are too crystalline (like quartzes), they may break in half or even shatter. You may luck into a piece of limestone or something equally carvable – only to conclude when you finish the sculpture that the stone is just plain boring. Or you may get lucky the first time and never again find another garden stone that is fun or easy to carve.
When you buy sculpting stone from a supplier, it is more likely to be fissure-free. It is selected for attractiveness and carvability. When you’re there, you can pick up tools and you should definitely invest in safety supplies including dust masks and eye goggles.
Where can you go to buy carving stone?
Find someone who specializes in it. Good carving stone will generally cost you anywhere from 1.50 to 3 dollars a pound. A 10 to 20 pound piece would be perfect for a first time sculptor. So your first stone purchase will probably cost you anywhere from $15 to $60. Local suppliers may be hard to find, although you can ask around for art stores and local quarries and you may find some good suppliers.
In Toronto, Scuplture Supply Canada in the west end has several containers of first class carving stone in a variety of colors and hardnesses. The sales clerk will probably be able to give you good advice. They have a spray bottle so you can wet the stone and get a better idea of the colour. And they will probably allow you to take a couple swings with the chasing hammer so you can see how – and how easily – it breaks.
There are still hazards. The worst advice we ever got there was to buy the talc – which proved hard to carve because it was too soft. So I would suggest not buying any more than a single piece of any stone the first time. If you can afford two small pieces of different stone, it would be a good idea – not just because you have a backup if one piece isn’t to your liking – but because it’s good to see the difference between different types of stone.
Stoneman Distributors in London Ontario even has starter kits containing a small piece of Brazilian soapstone and a riffler starting at $10. While I personally feel that it’s a good idea to start with something a bit bigger, many people may consider this the perfect way to get their feet wet.
Shopping online will bring you to websites like http://www.soapstonesculpture.com/ - which is run by long-time soapstone carver Sandy Cline. He has a great page of soapstone sources on his website.
If you live in an area where carving stone is hard to find, you may end up ordering online. Shipping costs are high and while you can order stone by type and size – you have to pretty much take what you get when it comes to shape and pattern. On the positive side, you get to choose from a wider range of stone and if you find a good, low priced supplier like Neolithic Stone in BC, you can choose from a wide range of stone for under a dollar per pound. By the time you cover the shipping costs, you’d be paying what most of the walk-in stores would charge.
Shopping online can help you find interesting local sculptors who can probably offer you tips on shopping for stone – and what kind of stone to shop for. That’s how we discovered a local man named Glen Ness who was selling stone out of his back yard. We got some nice soapstone through him, and he warned us ahead of time that the Chinese jade soapstone should not be left out in the rain or immersed in water. So he knew his product well and worked with many of his customers.
Attending the sculpting workshops at Rice Lake Gallery alerted us to the possibility of buying some interesting African stone (do call about availability before going there).Other suppliers include:
Written by DLSproule
Learning Patience – There is No Better Teacher than Sculpture
I guess you’d have to say I have a squirrel mind. It jumps around a lot, first this direction and then the other. It doesn’t focus particularly well. In my lifetime, I have undertaken many big projects and have finished very few of them. I used to have a terrible habit at one of my old jobs of doing 95% of a task and then not doing the final 5%, because I was I such a hurry to get onto the next task. Sculpting has helped me beat those inner demons. It has taught me to come to terms with the fact that not everything can be done instantaneously – or even quickly. It has taught me to take my time and enjoy the process. Since I started sculpting, I have gone from finishing about 20% of projects I undertake, to finishing all of them. And the end product is much nicer than it would have been when I was young and impatient.
Lesson 1 – too much too fast
The extreme caution I had demonstrated on my first few sculptures was wearing off. I was no longer afraid to swing the hammer. In fact, I was getting downright hammer happy.
My first two sculptures were carved out of soapstone and the third was wonderstone. One out of the three was soft, the other two quite hard, but all of them chipped in mostly predictable ways. The third sculpture (the soft one) I had finished in a weekend. I was starting to feel like an expert. But with sculpting, it usually doesn’t pay to get cocky, to look for shortcuts or to assume that the stone is going to behave the way you want.
On my fourth sculpture, I was revisiting the theme/motif I had established with an earlier piece. It was the second of the half dozen “hooded figures” I have carved – this one was sitting down with his fist under his chin – or at least it would have been under his chin, if he’d had a chin rather than just an empty hood. I was working on the hood, thinking that with just the right stroke and the right positioning of the chisel, I could take off the little square of stone I needed to remove to create the impression of shoulders. Tap, tap…oh damn. The piece of stone that sheered off was at least three times what I had intended. There went the entire shoulder! Oh well. I just had to make my figure a little skinnier. And since the whole sculpture was smaller, I could go even faster. Tap, tap, tap, tap…you can probably guess what happened next. Half the sculpture came off and landed inches from my toes.
Somehow I managed to salvage what was left, creating a very skinny hooded figure. The effect was quite surreal and suitable for the subject matter. I was lucky that time. The most recent occasion when I was trying to carve too quickly, the beautiful stone I was working on split right in half, slicing the female figure I was carving in half at the waist. Another promising sculpture reduced to rubble by trying to go too fast. Three days of work and an expensive stone gone to waste!
Lesson 2 - too little too fast
The most common error caused by impatience while sculpting – is removing too little stone rather than too much. Nothing is more beautiful than a well-thought-out, skillfully executed stone sculpture. But when the sculptor is in too much of a hurry, they tend to skip steps:
- Moving from a point chisel to a blade chisel before the proper shaping is done,
- Switching from a blade chisel to a rasp when there are still too many deep grooves and bruises in the stone from using the point chisel or scutch hammer
- Going from a rasp to sandpaper while the surface is still pocked and scored from the shaping
- Not spending enough time with the rough grades of sandpaper in your hurry to polish a piece.
What you end up with is a sculpture that looks amateur. The stone may be nice, but it won’t be as stunning as it has the potential to be. The sculpture may have a nice idea or a pleasing shape, but it is far from reaching its potential. There are nicks and scratches on surfaces that should be smooth as glass. Edges and textures are sloppy. It’s like taking the foundation and frame for a mansion and turning it into a barn.
You may finish the piece and be moderately happy with it – for awhile. But if you do more sculpting and your technique gets better – your growing understanding of the process may allow you to look at the piece and see what might have been – if only you had been more careful, had spent a bit more time on the prep work or on the details.
You just may find yourself, as I did more than once, going back to “finished” pieces to fix the “mistakes” you made by hurrying. And when you see how beautiful you can make your art by taking that extra time, you learn to simply sigh and resign yourself to the notion that when you finish your piece will be just as beautiful as you had imagined when you began.
Lesson 3 – slow and steady wins the race
The final straw for me was working on a very,very hard stone. Did I mention it was hard. On the Moh’s scale where 2 to 6 is carvable stone – this was a 5.9. I was at a workshop and everyone else was whizzing along – while I grew more and more frustrated. Sparks would come off the stone if I struck it with the chisel at the wrong angle. But the most annoying thing was the way it fractured – especially along fissure lines. When I tried to smooth it, fingernail size pieces (or larger) would come off unexpectedly all along the fracture line. After a day and a half of bashing my head against the same problem (and my head by that point may have made a more effective carving tool than the chisels) I realized that the only way to smooth the stone without breaking it was with a rasp. And with stone that hard, rasping would take forever! The solution? I got the best diamond rasp I could lay my hands on and resigned myself to taking three times as long on the sculpture as I would ordinarily take. The result? A sculpture that shines like a jewel – but is filled with fascinating colours and patterns and occlusions. It shines like a mirror.
So there’s the lesson in patience – courtesy of sculpting “when you think you’ve done all you can do, and don’t think you can possibly work on it any longer – just shut up and keep working…slower rather than faster. It will get finished – next week rather than today – and you will be happy. If you take joy in the process, and the process takes forever – that’s one heck of a lot of joy! Especially when you see the fruits of your patience.”
The Attraction of Subtractive Art
by Jill Snider Lum
For most of my life, when asked about my artistic abilities, I’d say, “Sorry; I’m artistically impaired.”
And I thought I was speaking the truth. I can’t draw to save my life; the light-and-shadow-play of painting and pastel-work eludes me; and while I’m proficient at thread-craft, I can’t work without a pattern, so my thread-work is really an expression of someone else’s artistry. Creating art by putting materials together – pencils, charcoal, pastels or paints onto paper, board or canvas – is just beyond me. Despite all my efforts, even with the helpful teaching of others, I can’t do it; I’ve no instinct for it. Artistic ability? Feh. Not me.
But not long ago I was with a group of friends on vacation by the lake, and one of them was carving a crouching cat out of soapstone. I was, to be honest, madly envious of her work. She’d started with a small, grey, rectangular block, and this beautiful little dark-green cat was emerging from it under her hands. It looked like so much fun; so tactile and creative; and in conception, almost miraculous.
But of course, I thought, I could never do that. I can’t make anything artistic. Two-dimensional artwork is impossible for me. Three-dimensional art… I can’t even conceive of it.
I voiced this to my friend as she worked. “You might not be right about that,” she said. “Carving is a different kind of process. Drawing and painting are additive – you’re putting lines and colours there that weren’t there before. But carving is a subtractive art. You’re removing the parts that don’t belong.”
That was something I’d never thought of. To my surprise, it struck a chord with me. When we got back to the city, I went with some other sculpting friends to a sculpture supply place, and bought myself a rock. Armed with a set of wood-chisels, a tack-hammer, some rifflers and a rasp – I hadn’t yet been exposed to the point-chisel, much less the scutch – and with the support of my friends who loved carving, I began the process of subtraction.
I knew what I wanted to make – a Japanese mythological creature called a Tanuki. So I’d picked out my rock according to the shape that seemed most likely for it. I looked at pictures of Tanuki in books, at the cast-porcelain ones, the carved wooden ones… even a little Tanuki figurine I’d found, and was using as a guide to Tanuki anatomy.
As I began to work with the rock, discovering how to use my chisels and rasps, I discovered something else, something remarkable. Three-dimensional subtractive art made sense to me, in a way two-dimensional additive art never had.
After a while, it no longer felt as though I were making a rock into a Tanuki. Instead, I realized the Tanuki was hiding in the rock, and I was getting rid of the bits of rock that weren’t a Tanuki. I’d heard that cliché before, but never realized what it meant, what mental process it referred to.
The Tanuki in the rock wasn’t standing in the way I’d thought he should be. He wasn’t an upright, chipper Tanuki. He’d drunk a lot of sake, and he was bombed out of his skull, leaning against a wall and grinning pie-eyed at the world. His straw hat was crooked, distorted a bit because of the way he was leaning. Instead of the traditional fresh sake flask and promissory note that he was supposed to be carrying, he had a empty cup in one hand, and an open flask in the other, which he was thinking of pouring from if he could only manage the coordination. From the look on his face, he wasn’t quite sure.
I continued removing non-Tanuki layers of soapstone, and the more I subtracted, the more individual he became. And he looked, I realized, not like Tanuki statues I’d seen, but like my own subconscious impression of a Tanuki: fun-loving, sake-loving, not terribly reliable but basically good-hearted, looking for the next party and not concerned with outward appearances – he could shape-shift if he wanted to, but this one couldn’t be bothered. He was having too good a time.
I’m still working on him. I need to remove some more stone that’s keeping me from seeing all of him, and then begin the process of sanding him smooth. He’ll be shades of gold and beige and dark green, in a pattern that reminds me of the fur of wild raccoon-dog tanuki, the basis for the legendary Tanuki who inhabit Japanese lore.
It’s amazing how much pleasure I’m getting out of not being artistically impaired!