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  • Post author
    Alison Readings


Deborah Harrison sculptor

1. When did you get into stone carving/sculpture?

It was purely by chance that I discovered stone carving. I was in the art tent at a festival called Greenbelt and given a block of terracotta clay to mould. It was too hard to manipulate so I carved it with a craft knife. I made a busty woman with a flowing skirt holding a flag. I had a bit of an epiphany moment as I realised I was a reductive or deconstructive artist: one who takes away waste to find the image within. Then there followed a series of cascading coincidences: Two sculptors moved in next door to our home in Bristol, I met a lady who encouraged me on her sculpting course, and I was given a shed in which to carve for the garden. I then went on to do Fine Art at University, but they wanted me to move away from stone, so I left. When I moved to Gloucester, I gained the top bid at the Gloucester Stone Carving Festival and went on to gain a diploma in stone masonry. After my mother died, I realised life is short so in 2015 I decided to start carving professionally.

2. Why stone/marble/alabaster etc?

Stone is my favourite medium for so many reasons: as I mentioned earlier I am more at home in deconstructive arts to reveal the image inside rather than construction. Stone is also my material of preference due to its resistant nature, which is physically challenging but just about the only thing which tires me out in both mind and body. I find it affirming and therapeutic. It is the most likely, of the natural mediums, to leave a legacy to future generations beyond my lifetime.

Alabaster is my favourite, as I love its translucency, grain, colour and smooth texture. A sculpture in alabaster is impossible to copy as the internal construction of the stone is so unique.
I also love marble pieces as they have a grace and life about them, which gives them a sense of spiritual presence. Marble is one of the more expensive stones available to carve. It has been associated with the elite and wealthy since ancient times so has a bit of a wow factor.

3. Do you decide what you want to create then find the stone or the other way round?

Some pieces are inspired through images in my imagination, in which case I find the best stone to bring it into being. I then sketch and make small 3D models from wax or clay (called maquettes) to represent the image I have envisaged. Then I use callipers to scale up the model. I usually do this in Portland Stone. This was the case for my first series of professional carvings, which were based on people’s transformation stories. (e.g. Weeping Lady, Agonia)

Sometimes when I go ‘stone shopping’ I choose rocks with which I have a feeling, rapport or connection with, then live with it until I see an image inside it. This can sometimes take months. But the longer it takes the better the standard of the piece (e.g. Man in Stone, Areion).

Some stones I can’t see an image inside them, so I use a torch which reveals the signals from within the stones grain and colour (e.g. alabaster). I follow its signals otherwise there is conflict between the carver and the carved, and the characteristics of the stone become flaws rather than highlights. This creates interesting abstract shapes (e.g. Entwined, Conglomerate, Citrus)

I aim to remove the minimum amount of stone for the maximum effect.

Deborah Harrison stone sculptor

4. Where do you source the stone from?

I initially ordered mixed boxes of soapstone online. Now, I like to see the stones I am purchasing to check that there are no flaws and it has a consistent quality. I have found that you can’t make a glorious piece of sculpture from a poor quality stone. I buy my coloured stones mainly from McMarmilloyds, a stone supplier in Marlborough. I also use various local Stone Masonry businesses for different kinds of Limestone. I am planning to visit Italy with my van to choose some marbles for my next series. When I carve for a commission, I order from specialised suppliers to guarantee the stone is cut to the customers required dimensions and to ensure it has the qualities I need such as the colour.

5. How did you learn your techniques?

I had access to a range of basic tools at my first stone-carving course with the Open College network and so began my journey of learning as I went along. In 2005 I bought my first chisel (Tiranti 1cm) and a nylon mallet. It is surprising what can be achieved even with so few tools. As I came across processes that needed a different tool, I would search online for the best rated tool for the job. I have gradually built up a special set through buying one tool at a time.

I signed up for a Fine Art Degree course and although I wasn’t taught skills or techniques I devoured information from their library books about other sculptors.
Through reading I realised that the main technique I use is called ‘Direct Carving’ which was used by the historically great sculptors such as Michelangelo, Brancusi, Epstein, Moore and Hepworth. This technique follows the grain, colour and shapes within the stone. This makes the process of carving a great symbiotic encounter between the sculptor and the stone. The final sculpture is impossible to reproduce as every stone has unique internal grains making every piece a real collectors item.

A few years ago I studied Stone Masonry at Bath City College. The workshop technician taught me about stone tools and has supported me in setting up courses (at Gloucester City Works), where I teach what I have learned to others, for which I am eternally grateful. I didn’t stay on in Bath as I wanted to learn more about the carving of natural and figurative forms. In hindsight experimentation and personal recommendations have helped the most. As a result I have development my own, often idiosyncratic, style.

In 2017 I met with two other sculptors and we set up the Cotswold Sculptors Association. This was to reduce the sense of isolation sculptors can feel, as we are often called 'the lepers of the art world' as we generate so much dust which is incompatable with sharing workspaces with other artists. We learn from and help each other. We now have over 75 members and a great committee. My role is to arrange speakers for quarterly Open Forum meetings so we can learn from those with relevant experience.

6. How long does it take you to create your piece?

A small soft limestone can take me as little as a day and a half but a large marble can take many months! For the creation of sculptures, especially for the more glassy silicone stones, almost half of the time is taken up with perfecting the finish (smoothing, sanding, waxing). Generally, on average it takes three weeks to do one piece.

Deborah Harrison sculptor carving by hand

7. Which is your favourite piece?

My favourites tend to be my latest pieces, which aren’t made out of offcuts. So at the moment that is ‘Areion’ and ‘The Man in Stone’. I love alabaster. When I do the stone justice, it’s features of the stone blend with the carving of the image. This gives me immense pleasure. For example, the sculpture Areion blends so many of the features of a horse with the stone: The clear veins in the blue alabaster matched where the horse has blood vessels, where the horses eyes dribble and where the muscle in the neck has a groove and the white edge of the stone in the sculpture corresponds to the main. So many coincidences!

I also love ‘Connection’, which is a pair of muscular hands carved in Portland, as it resonates with so many people’s stories. Hands are powerful sculptural icons.

8. Do you admire any artists or sculptors in particular?

I believe I can learn things from others whatever their artistic style. Contemporary carvers who I admire include the exceptional Wikje Schoon and Marco Maschio. Historically, Rodin is an inspiration as his work emerges from the stone. But there are so many talented sculptors in history they are too many to mention.

9. What’s the biggest piece you have ever worked on?

My biggest stone piece was a collaboration using my design. It was a bench for Bath City Farm, for which we won the Cognises trophy award.

The largest sculpture I have made is over two metres high, but it was made of sheet metal and welded car parts. It’s a large crucifixion piece, which has been exhibited in churches and Cathedrals.

10. What’s next?

I am aware of several pressures upon me as a sculptural artist: The pressure to comply with commercial and cultural trends and fashions in home and garden which sometimes clash with my inner voice of authenticity, all of which need to come to some kind of agreement. It would be easy to become completely commercial and lose your artistic soul or be completely authentic and become an artistic who lives like a pauper. So, here’s my plan; Develop the areas, which have been selling the best – my spiritual garden carvings, but also consolidate my expertise in ‘carving direct’ for indoor pieces.

Deborah Harrison stone carving

  • Post author
    Alison Readings