Sculpting with Stone- Connecting Body and Soul
As a sculptor working in stone, particularity a woman working in stone, I’m often met with curiosity about how I physically do it. I love this inquiry because I love to relay my process of a very ancient art form that is imagined to have only been done by strong men. A logical deduction, as it’s an art form that is very “physical”. There is the heavy weight of the stone, the hand and power tools, and the many hours of sanding and finishing a piece that takes what I call a little “grit”. But for me it’s this physically engaging interaction with the medium that gets infused into the work and brings it to life. Over the last several years the scale of my work has been increasing. I’ve gone from stones that have weighed under 50 lbs. to those now weighing close to 400 lbs. Why? Well, that’s an easy one. It’s like having a bigger canvas to paint on. And it’s thrilling to stand before this massive hard rock and imagine that I can create something with it. But with that comes it’s unique set of practical challenges like “How am I going to move this thing?” I often laugh at myself as while I’m working on a fairly large piece, even though I haven’t removed much of the stone, I’ll try to push it. Then I remember “Oh! this still weighs about 300 lbs”; several times more than my own body weight. There are also the other factors such as copious amounts of dust and inclement weather. My fellow sculptors and I work outside with large fans blowing away the dust. During summer there’s intense heat and during the winters some very cold days. Yet, I’m grateful to be able to work all year long here in sunny Clearwater, whereas my friends up north have to forgo sculpting during the frigid winter months.
The actual carving is done with not only the traditional hammer and chisel, arduous on the wrists and hands; but thanks to electricity, the use of saws and grinders help speed up the process. The air hammer was an incredible invention for the stone sculptor. Like a motorized hammer and chisel it cuts through stone with greater speed yet after you’ve done it for some time, you feel as if you’ve been working with a mini jack hammer. So care and rest from the vibration into my hands is really important. Then there is the dust, this lovely dust that I’m covered with by the time I’m done for the day. And even though I always wear a scarf, goggles, ear plugs and smock, some of it always manages to get on even the covered parts of my body. And some days, after sweeping and blowing out the entire studio, I feel as I’f I’ve just run the 5k at midday.
So what is it that keeps me doing this art form, when I could have easily chose something a lot less strenuous and neat?I ask myself this and always get the same response “It’s just in me”. When I get into the flow of the work my entire body must be in the process. How am I holding the chisel? What is the pressure with which I’m hitting the the stone with the hammer? Are my shoulders and and arms in the proper position as I lift the 7″ saw to the stone? Is the weight of my body balanced and in a stance that I can hold for some time? I have to consider these and so much more in terms of subtleties that make my tools do what I want then to do, keep me safe and respect the stone. I’m also continually moving around the piece as well as stepping back and moving toward it to understand what the viewer would see as they approach the piece. This perspective is so important for me. And then there is the constant touch. How does what I’ve just carved feel? How does is flow in my hands in addition to my eyes? Sculpture to me, is meant to be touched so once I can accomplish the visual harmony along with the tactile, I’m satisfied.
When I was learning to sculpt stone it was more about conquering the stone. Now it’s about listening to it and dancing with it. Body and soul become one with it. And in each unique piece I create there’s all of both infused in the work.
By Christina Bertsos