Apprentice Alphabet - part 2

   After all of the work that went into masoning my stone - not mention the designing of the letters and the drawing and redrawing of those letters on the stone - the start of carving on my alphabet was a little nerve-wrecking.

   Lettercarving (or really any kind of stone carving) is a bit like tattooing: sure, there are tricks that can be employed to fix a mistake, but it’s better to avoid mistakes in the first place. The stakes seem very high indeed when you’re an inexperienced carver. Luckily, I did’t pysch myself out, and I did what I always do: just get stuck in.

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The pristine surface... Time to take a sharp bit of metal to it! 

   Aside from being a fairly novice carver, my biggest challenge was the stone itself, which was very hard nabresina, chock-full of even harder shells.

   Early on, I realized I was not only going to have to take my time carving this, but that I was going to have to pay strict attention to what I was carving. Some sections were much shellier than others, and sometimes much harder. For example, If I were carving the center of an R (where the upright, leg, and bowl all meet), I would have to be very conscious if there was anything that would cause stone to pluck out or crumble. 

   There were also all of the fine serifs to consider. Many of the long, thin serifs went through bits of hard shell, or had small holes from the grain of the stone in and around them. So great care was needed to keep the serifs intact. 

“X” marks the spot for the first cut.

“X” marks the spot for the first cut.

   Much to my surprise, the carving was not quite as harrowing as I thought it might be (things are rarely ever as bad as they are in my own head!). Starting from the bottom line of letters, I worked my way up. (I saved the small numbers until after I had warmed-up a bit on the bigger letters). Generally, I took as much time as was needed to do each letter, carefully not to rush or cut corners (both literally and figuratively), as that’s when things always seem to go wrong for me.

   Here and there, tiny blow-outs or crumbling occurred, but these were outside my power to prevent - and luckily easy to fix. 

Reaching the homestretch! 

Reaching the homestretch! 

    As I progressed through the alphabet, which is easily the most letters I’ve cut at once thus far, I began to gain confidence, eventually trying to get faster and more efficient as I went along - all the time careful to maintain quality and not rush any of the tricky work. By the end, I had easily cut my carving time in half - which is one of the things I’m most proud of. 

   Eric, my teacher, had advised me to get every letter as finished as possible before moving on to the next one (as my initial impulse was to rough everything out, then go over it again). I was glad I took his advice. The idea of having to start all the way at the beinning again would have seemed daunting to me, in hindsight.

   After the initial carving, I did a rubbing of the whole alphabet and marked areas that were questionable or needed fixing. This served as an initial roadmap for any obvious corrections. This rubbing also helped point out a few small areas that needed to be filled in as a result of tiny shells bursting or crumbling. Luckily, there were very few of these spots and they were very minor.

Mistakes for miles... 

Mistakes for miles... 

   Once everything was filled, I did one more pass of looking over the letters closely and fine-tuning them. Any letters, or parts of letters, I wasn’t sure about I took rubbings of and used those to see any wobbles or flats.

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Two “B” or not to be, that is the question.

    I can’t say that I fixed every problem or sorted every wobble - in fact, I know this to be the case - but I do believe I removed most of the howlers and potential eyesores. 

   As this is my very first alphabet, and I’ve done the best I can at this stage in my training, I try not to be too hard on myself, and I am generally very pleased with how the carving came out.

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All cut and waiting for a lick painting. 

   In a future post, I will discuss the painting and finishing of my alphabet. Mixing color is something I quite enjoy, though I think my work will be cut out for me... Thanks!