Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 11 November 2016
The map in your head
After Iris's confession on the last post, today's burning ambition is to get her around here for cocktails. I am used to being called an arsehole, but from her it would be an honour and a privilege.
So today I start the young mason off on his first bit of free carving on an expensive lump of white marble. He doesn't yet fully understand what is meant by 'free' carving, but by the time he has knocked the corners off, he will.
When you begin to cut into an expensive block of material, you know where you are by the corners. Once you get rid of them, it is very easy to get lost. The more time you spend on the carving, the more expensive the thing becomes. It can be frightening if you are - as all masons are - used to working to lines.
In masonry, you draw a line then you cut it away before drawing another line and doing the same, right through from start to finish. You always know where you are.
There are 'pointing' systems which almost geometrically allow you to measure the model and compare the depth of a cut in the carving to the original, but - as I pointed out to the mason earlier in the week - if you rely on them, it is like driving somewhere using Satnav. You get there, but the map is not in your head, so you would find it difficult to retrace your steps without using Satnav again.
When I was assisting a sculptor in carving some life-sized, classical figures about 30 years ago, we were working on seven foot-high blocks of imported French stone, and spent the first day manually getting them into the workshop - down steps - and hoisting them to an upright position.
The first few days were spent roughing the blocks out using heavy points and 'pitchers', knocking great lumps off and creating three wheelbarrows-full of waste chippings per day. That is a lot of stone to shift when taking the corners off the block.
A few days in, we compared the rough block to the life-sized model made of polystyere and plaster beside it (it was based on the Venus above) and decided that I needed to remove a great bit across the back which amounted to several cubic feet of stone, in one large sectional cut. The sculptor left the room for an hour or two, and I hacked into the block, proud at the quantity of stone I was removing with nothing but hand-tools.
The sculptor returned and walked up to the block, looked at it for a few seconds, then said, "That's fine, but I thought I had asked you to work on the back, not the front."
My blood ran cold. I had forgotten where I was and mistook one side for the other, miraculously missing any vital bits of material which should have been left on.
I never admitted to this almost disastrous and stupid error.