Friday, April 27, 2012

Alphabet stone

The last three days have been the most challenging so far; the amount I've learned about the classical Roman alphabet is directly proportionate to the number of mistakes I've made trying to design one. I was brought back to the early days of my carving self-education: I knew I wasn't doing it correctly, but I didn't know how to make the tools do what I wanted, and the stone certainly wasn't divulging any secrets. Fortunately Nick was there to help me push through the blockage of confidence and limitations of skill. It took three trial layouts, but this morning I put the finishing touches on the alphabet that will get me to the stone.

It's difficult to make out pencil on tracing paper, I grant. You'll just have to trust me that it's the best I could do. It's an interesting document because some letters are partially obscured by generations of erasings and redrawings, particularly the N, O, Q, S and W, all problem letters. It is a portrait of effort, of a subject refusing to sit still and behave. Some minor spacing issues will have to be resolved at the tracing stage, but I was only too glad to begin transferring, anything to get back to carving. Before I could pick up a chisel, though, a good amount of fabrication needed to be done. First I had to cut the stone to size. The width was already established at 10.625". Nick and I agreed that a height of 18.5" would make for a comfortable dimension. On went the wet gear and out came the saw.

Nick's tiny wet-work skull cap fits me only if I wear it at a jaunty tilt. The lobstering get-up brought me back to my first morning at the JSS, a fond and distant memory as my six weeks begin to wind down. For stock I'm using the other half of the Italian slate panel I cut that day. When I went to measure out my 18.5" I realized the stone was very far from square, necessitating two cuts. I've cut plenty of two-by-fours in my day, and but for the sweet smell of sawed pine you can hardly be sure the blade is making contact, so effortless is the glide. Stone does not want to be cut. The saw labors, the water-cooling obscures your drawn measurement with slurry and you're pretty sure you're going to lose your hand somehow. Disaster averted, I managed two clean cuts, with two pieces of slate for later projects to spare. Next comes the angle grinder, which Nick capably demonstrates here.

This surfaces each edge of the stone to flatten any grooves or bulges left by the saw. It only takes a light touch of the grinder to take off the necessary material. We also put a protective chamfer on the carving side to keep the grinder from ripping off a corner. This process leaves fairly rough blade marks along the edges, which need to be gritted down by hand with a sanding stone. Tiring and tedious work, but the smooth surface is worth the effort. Makes it nice.

Once that dries, the stone is ready for the transfer. Passing the scribe over my penciled outlines was like walking through an alphabetic fun house, each letter a mirror image of the classical form distorted by odd weight distributions and other optical hijinks. Flawed and weird for sure, but there is a redeeming honesty in the fact that they are my letters. At some point you just have to own the best you can do, even if it's not actually very good.

1 comment:

  1. That photo of you with the scull cap makes you look like either Rodin or a drunken sailor. In either case, a good look. Work it.