Spring has arrived, and I am inspired by the wildlife that returns. I enjoy this time of year - it is great for getting reference photographs and sketches of water birds to spark new ideas for future soapstone carvings.
My backyard is filled with the sounds of Red-Winged Blackbirds, as they migrate up the Causeway in the hundreds. I saw my first Turkey Vulture of the year yesterday. The (Lake Erie) Inner Bay along the Long Point Causeway has open water crowded with Tundra Swans, and ducks like Redheads, Canvasbacks, and Buffleheads.
Longer days and warmer temperatures mean it’s easier to get in a quick morning walk along the Long Point Beach, before donning my dusty long-sleeved work shirt, leather gloves, and dust mask, and beginning carving for the day. Over the next few weeks, I will be re-organizing my garage so that I can carve there, too, with the garage door open to fresh air, sunlight, and bird songs (and the occasional passer-by). Working “plein air”, whether carving or sketching or painting, brings an element of life to my artwork that is real but hard to define.
My Grey Wolf carving that I began last fall (in response to a casual suggestion from a cousin!) is nearly finished, after going through many stages of development and change. While working on it, I have been constantly reminded of that quote by Milt Liebson in the book Direct Stone Sculpture, about reaching ”...the sculpture, beneath the sculpture, beneath the sculpture”.
As I have gradually removed layers of stone, the Wolf has slowly taken form. I took many photos along the way, as much to document the process, as to convince myself that the carving was actually changing. This carving was certainly difficult, but rewarding in many ways. Although I have painted dogs, wolves, and foxes in the past, this is my first carving of the Canine family.
Carving stone takes time, effort, and patience. Some soapstone, like most Brazilian soapstone, for example, is soft and easy to carve, but the Canadian soapstone I have been carving through the winter demands more sweat equity. I’m finishing a Painted Turtle that is carved from the hardest piece of soapstone I have ever used.
My wood chisels were practically useless on it; even a stone rasp I recently bought required a fair bit of muscle behind it to smooth the surfaces. I destroyed a fine new tungsten-tipped point chisel on it after only owning the tool for a week. I would have been lost without my carbon steel stone hammer and (remaining) stone chisels to form it. The Painted Turtle is simpler than many of my other carvings, but I am irrationally proud of it, partly because I triumphed over the obstinance of the stone. I used to feel the same way about winning over stubborn or obstinate people, but I have since gained wisdom and realized that life is too short.
It will be an interesting season, here at the Long Point Art Studio. I have lots of ideas for new carvings, and some good stone to try them out on. May you also rediscover your creativity in the days ahead. I am looking forward to meeting some of you during my spring show in May, or at other times by chance or appointment. If you do visit, there’s lots to see and do in the area. Enjoy the yearly miracle of spring, wherever life leads you.
March 20, 2019, Long Point Art Studio, Port Rowan, Ontario