Thursday, April 19, 2012

Peter I

A stat: In eighteen days at the Shop I have carved 33 stems and two complete alphabets, plus a handful of beach stones. Closing in on a hundred characters, perhaps about as many as I carved in the first two years of independent study. No lower case or italic yet, so you might say my repertoire is comparable to that of a Roman stone carver of two thousand years ago. I would not have fooled the anonymous master responsible for Trajan's Column, but perhaps on the frontier of the Empire I might have passed for a dab hand. Or as I liked to say before I got to Newport, I'm about as good as any Colonial farmer, many of whom counted the carving of gravestones as one of their ten thousand tasks.

It is gratifying, at any rate, to have progressed enough over the last two weeks to take on a time-honored Jedi test of skill for the apprentice carver: the pet stone.

Peter, it must be assumed, was a good boy. So good that his name has been commissioned to appear on a slab of shaped and chamfered Buckingham slate somewhere in his owner's yard. For the layout Nick called up a shop Roman on his Mac, fiddled with the letterspacing and pressed Print. To prepare the stone for transfer I scribed a center line down the middle and two horizontal lines indicating position and letter height. Paul kindly gave me a hand.

Before the layout can be positioned properly the center of the line of text must be determined. This is done by folding the sheet of paper so that the outer characters overlap, optical adjustments having to be made in cases where stems meet up with diagonals or bowls, as in the case of P and R.

Once that's decided the layout can be transferred with a steel scribe and a sheet of carbon paper. The Buckingham slate has a cleft surface and trying to draw a straight line on a rough natural surface can be a challenge. Slow and steady finishes the race.

The transfer rendered a bit weakly, so Nick had me go over the lines with a watercolor pencil to brighten them up. Normally one would carve from rebrushed letters, but there wasn't the time.

Now it's all over but the carving. . .

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