Birthing the Bird
-by Al Moore from Bent Pine Studios
In late 2009, Jack Ainsworth, a ‘Renaissance Man’ friend, began showing me photographs he was taking of birds which fed daily in the lake immediately in front of his home. I was fascinated by the photos, which showed birds with their wings in positions I have never seen in almost 40 years of birding.
This fascination lead to a determination on my part to do a life size piece in Limestone of a gull, just rising in flight from a wave crest – capturing the essence of some of these photographs. This posed a few new challenges for me in scale of work, materials acquisition, handling and work space. When completed, this will be the largest piece I will have done in stone.
To produce a full size gull required a block of stone 30″ X 24″ X 20″ which would weigh in at close to ½ ton. This size stone block is not available at most local stone yards – at least at a price an artist can afford. Lifting it, moving it and the required work space in which to carve it would need to be addressed. It was immediately obvious that this would require finding a Quarry source, arranging transport and obtaining some heavy duty materials handling equipment at my Studio.
I found Quality Stone about 15 miles west of Salado which was interested in helping me out, including offering custom cut quarry blocks (standardized chunks of stone 5′ X 2′ X 2′ and weighing 2500 lbs) of specific coloration with special cuts to give me the size blocks I would need for this and other planned large projects.
Next, I had to solve the transport problem. To avoid a rather significant delivery charge, I would need to pick up the stone at the quarry. Having sold my pickup a few years ago, it was obviously time to buy another, or rent a truck to do this. Being a guy, in Texas without a Pickup, I bought one.
In order to move the stone when I got it to my studio, I chose a 2-ton capacity mobile Engine Lift which could be rolled about with the load in place, then folded up and stored in a very small space when not in use.
By May of 2010, everything was in place for bringing home the stone. It took two trips between the Studio and Quality Stone’s quarry to get the Quarry Block, cut in half lengthwise, home to the Studio.
The 1100 Lb Limestone block for the Gull piece just in from the Quarry, is being positioned for work to begin:
With placement equipment removed, the Limetone block set on cribbing blocks & ready for Roughout to begin:
The selected stone block for the Gull piece was set on cribbing for work height, and a ‘First Chip’ ceremony done to keep my inspiration source involved.
Before any work begins, a Little Champagne is poured on the Stone for good luck before ‘First Chip’:
Friends, Ron Clinton, Betty Whitlock and Linda Ainsworth watch as Jack Ainsworth performs ‘First Chip’:
Jack Ainsworth, whose wildlife photography inspired the work, gets the honor of performing ‘First Chip’ on the stone. Everyone got their turn, of course!:
I normally work free-hand and direct, with only rough guide lines laid onto the stone. Many sculptors – especially those working in representational or portraiture/statuary work – do a detailed maquette from which to develop the final, full size piece in the chosen medium. In fact, August Rodin, even though fully knowledgeable and skilled in all aspects of completing a stone or bronze piece, often did only the Maquette, paying skilled stone carvers or a Foundry to complete the work in Marble or Bronze from the maquette.
After scribing center lines on each face of the stone block, the angle (off vertical) of the gull’s body was marked on the ‘sides’ and the centerline marked on the ‘front’ and ‘back’ of the block with black marking pen.. Stone removal then began, working top-down, to reveal the roughed out bird (pics Gull 6 – Gull 9).
Al begins the process of releasing the Gull from the stone block – ‘Roughout’:
Roughout of the Gull begins, and it appears to ‘Rise’ from the block:
As Roughout continues – Top Down, the Gull continues to take rough form:
As Roughout continues and the Gull is further revealed, the form is continuously refined. The lines visible on the stone are reference lines to help assure correct positioning of the Gull form:
Due to the fact that much of the wing form of the bird will be only indirectly supported when complete, the rough-out proceeds in 4-inch increments, with buttressing quantities of stone left supporting the form until rough hollowing out of the space between the wing and body, as well as semi-final shaping of the wing form itself is completed by slowly elongating and thinning the overall rough wing form. The body of the bird is also refined as to angle of inclination, shape and relationship to the wings after each 4″ increment. (Pics Gull 9 through Gull 13)
As more of the Gull is revealed, the wing form is modified and thinned to relieve support stress and to refine it. This will continue until final thickness if achieved just before final polishing:
A view of the back of the piece shows the vertical elongation of the wing form, but that it is still thick and not yet near it’s final form. The wing to the right has just been trimmed down, while that on the left is awaiting the same modification:
As material is removed from both the outside and inside of the wing forms, the overall shape moves toward the final ‘Roughout’ target. The piece has also been moved inside to protect the thinning wings from possible falling limbs, hail, etc:
At this stage (Gull 13) the junction of the Bird and the wave form from which the Gull is rising must be integrated into the overall work as the next 4″ increment is achieved.
The vertical rise of the form is very apparent from the side. Transition from the wing/body to the wave form beneath will now begin. Once that is done, refinement of the bird will continue:
editor’s note: This is a work in progress, to see more about this work and others by Bent Pine Studios be sure and check out their website.
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