On every continent we can enjoy enduring art left by our ancestors, preserved for all time in stone. This art memorialises peoples so far in the past that without these timeless records, we would have no knowledge they ever existed. Art on stone is the most enduring and stable form of art ever created by humankind.
This ancient form of art is still produced by stone artisans today, and is just as treasured by moderns as it was by our ancient ancestors. However, today’s artists have a distinct advantage and that is the modern tools which afford them powerful techniques for creating their art with greater speed and precision. Popular modern techniques still include hand carving but also now employ sand blasting.
Certain types of natural stone are popular choices for stone art because their beauty and texture responds so well to the artist’s hand.
Popular choices of stone
Limestone – A sedimentary rock formed on ancient seabeds, prized for its texture and beautiful colour. Exquisite examples can be seen in such diverse settings as Egyptian temples and modern churches.
Slate – Beloved for it’s beautiful black sheen and gleaming texture. Perfect for creating arty memorial plaques
Granite – An extremely hard and durable stone available in many colours, and resistant to weathering and acid rain damage.
Marble – Prized for its soft structure and resistance to cracking when struck with a chisel, and its timeless elegance.
Popular Stone Art Techniques – Hand carving and sand blasting.
Hand Carving Stone
The unique touch of the artist’s hand can never be replaced. Michaelangelo is known forsaying he saw the figures in the stone and merely released them. That artist’s eye guides these tools to make their vision a reality.
Some of the basic tools include mallets, adzes, axes and hammers for hitting the stone. Preliminary rough shaping requires wedges and feathers (used to split the stone). Cutting tools include chisels, either hand held or powered. Abrasives for shaping include cutting and grinding wheels, water erosion tools, and dressing tools like various types of sanders. Something early stone artists would be dazzled to see are modern laser cutters!
Another great advantage of modern technology is the actual tool material itself, like tungsten carbide tipped tools, and forged, heat treated, high carbon steel.
The hand carver’s basic technique is to place a chisel on the stone at about a 90° angle and strike it with a hammer, shattering the stone beneath. Using the different tools, the artist refines the shapes until the final resulting artwork is produced.
Basically, an abrasive material is pressure blasted against the stone, eroding it. Sandblasting materials include sand, plastic pellets, glass beads, even walnut shells!
The blaster consists of a pressure pot, a compressor, and the nozzle, or gun. Sculpting is achieved by the use of stencils made of rubber or vinyl, which are adhered to the stone and provide “resist.” Gradually, by changing stencils, a three dimensional pattern and shape is cut into the stone.
Even with these modern tools and techniques, the stone artist must still study carefully to become a master. Artist guilds still exist today to protect and preserve the standards, skills and knowledge gathered over the centuries. One such is the Worshipful Company of Masons based in London and extant since 1356.
One of the most enduring forms of art on stone is the memorial stone, a lasting tribute of love and honour for a departed loved one. Should you decide to join in this ancient tradition, talk to any reputable stone art or stone memorial company and they can help you design a work of art which will speak to your descendants through time, just as does the beautiful stone art our ancestors left for us.