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: