Carving During Holidays: Arguments with Stone

I’ve just spent some time in the workshop, getting re-acquainted with my carvings-in-progress.  I left them alone for three weeks to design a new website, which then resulted in sales that needed to be shipped right away.  And now Christmas is getting closer.  Sometimes it’s a struggle to make art a priority, even when it is your main occupation.  Social events, family, decorating, gifts, and other holiday celebrations all call for attention this time of year.  Keeping at work while juggling other responsibilities is not always easy; as much as I enjoy Christmas, peaceful January with its blank whiteness and calm is often a relief.    Being away from your art for any period of time is dangerous.  Author Annie Dillard had a perfect way to describe how it feels to return to working on a book after being away from it (in The Writing Life, to paraphrase): like being a lion tamer, returning to a lion that has become wild again in your absence.   

I’m working on three pieces right now – one that is giving me a lot of grief, because the stone doesn’t want to be the animal I want it to be; it wants to be something I have never carved before.  The second is an owl, in a lovely variegated Canadian soapstone, and that is progressing quietly and properly.  The third carving is a figurative work, my first, in pink Chinese soapstone.  This one intimidates me to a degree – I saw the figure while the stone was quite rough, and resisted it for a while, because I wanted it to be a Snowy Owl.  The stone did not.

Soapstone is an ancient substance, a metamorphic stone that has already transformed into something different from the original rock that it was.  When stone wants to be something specific, my feeling is that you should listen to it, go with it, see what comes of a collaboration between you, the artist, and the stone itself.  Often this is simply a matter of examining the colours and veining of the stone, and then planning an animal carving that can best highlight these qualities.  But sometimes, as with this 35lb piece of pink Chinese soapstone (it’s smaller now), the stone itself has other ideas.  I won’t show a picture of this work-in-progress yet, because it feels like that would be presumptuous.  Let’s just say it has a religious theme (another first, I have only carved animals and pendants).

I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas, or follow other faiths or seasonal traditions.  It is a time for sharing, and giving thanks, and remembering that we are all in this together, human, other animals, plants, rocks, air, water. 

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year,

Cindy Presant

Long Point Art Studio