Stone Relief Carving

Learning to Carve Stone

I remember when I first tried my hand at stone relief carving I was full of trepidation. Worried about chipping off the wrong piece. How to make a sculpture that described the forms with only using a few centimeters of depth.


As always preparation is vital. Choosing the right design. Not to complicated to begin with. Details can be added afterwards. I usually begin with a drawing, outlining the important contours. I then transfer this onto the stone.

Depending on the design I might make a template by cutting around the shape. Or by using carbon paper and tracing paper.

I select a good quality of stone. Finding the finest grain. Looking out for any signs of cracks, big shells that might make it difficult to carve.

Celtic knotwork man
Celtic knotwork man


Having a basic set of tools is all you need to begin with. Pointed chisel, flat edged chisel, claw chisel, small hammer. With each chisel, you can carve lots of different textures. ( With softer stones I find old wood carving chisels can be quite good if you’re on a small budget.)

Having transferred my design onto the stone, I then decide what areas will stand out the most. Carving around these shapes with the flat chisel. Then roughing out the depth with either the pointed or claw chisel. This is repeated several times until I’m happy with the depths.

Flower Relief Carvings
Flower Relief Carvings

Next Step

Once the profiles are in place I then begin rounding off the forms with the claw and flat ended chisels. Its quite important to keep turning your stone to see how your relief is shaping up. Depending on your light source this can really change how you see your carving.


I try and use lots of textures to accentuate the design. This helps give the illusion of depth. Some surfaces can be smoothed using sand paper. Others left with the tool-marks.Its really up to you to experiment and see the possibilities.

Stone Cross
Stone Cross

Going Forward

If you become bitten by the stone carving bug? You can always look out for Stone Carving Workshops to help you on your way and perfect your techniques. I’m still learning!

My Creative Process

So here’s a little insight into my creative process that I go through to create my sculptures and paintings.

I usually begin with an inkling of an idea. It could come from something I’ve seen recently or a memory from way back. A foggy image that has touched me in some way. It could also be a previous sculpture that still needs to be refined.

This next sculpture was inspired when I was working on a house restoration project in France.

the idea

I was working on the second floor of the building when I saw a doorway opening out to an unfinished balcony. The outside railing had not be fixed and there was no door in place. So for safety reasons the workmen had blocked the opening with pieces of wood leaning in between the sides of the doorway, in a zig-zag pattern. Hmmm, I thought that could be a potential idea for a sculpture!


So the first stage was to make a few sketches and see what was possible. There are so many variations that in reality I only really sculpt a small percentage of my ideas. A sculpture is a slow and laborious task!

After this stage, it’s obviously thinking of materials to sculpt and what I can afford and find. I’m a bit truth to materials and don’t like pushing a material into doing something that isn’t natural to it,s particular characteristics. So I sourced some beautiful wood and stone. Thought of the size, colours and textures.

I then drew out some templates to make sure the stone forms would fit perfectly into the wooden frame. Spent hours of dusty carving and doweling. Et  Voila!

The final sculpture

Abstract Sculpture Wooden Frame With Stones Inside

Portland Stone, Sabutu Wood. 135 X 45 X 25.6 cm. Sold.

As I mentioned before, there are so many variations on this idea and I’m sure I’ll be continuing to develop and progress this idea further.

I’m also really pleased that a private collector has acquired this sculpture. Which has pride of place in a beautiful garden overlooking a beach where I played as a young child.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into my artistic journey. Let’s see where I go next?



Stone Sculpture Techniques

Looking back at some of the stonework I have carved over the years, makes me realise how achieving the mastery of stone carving techniques can liberate but at the same time restrain artistic expression. What mark of a tool is better than another? I was taught to keep sharp edges, straight lines, flat surfaces. Working with templates, straight edges, exact measurements.

Stone Doorway

Stone Doorway in St Maximin. France.Carved most of the stonework. Serge carved the fruit.

I,ve always loved watching a craftsman carve with the minimum of effort, using the correct tool for the appropriate job. The marks left on the material have a beautiful aspect reflecting the rhythm and elegance of movement. I also loved the tool marks of the children that I taught, no preconception or worries. The broken edges, chipped corners, expressed their vitality and energy to create. Each style as valid as the other. The final sculptures telling a real journey of discovery.

Child sculpting

Common Ground Project. DARSET. One of my talented students.

So to keep the freshness of my sculptures I have to unlearn a lot of years of making perfect carvings for certain projects. At least I have the choice, but I would really like to be a bit looser. Leaving certain tool marks, letting the stone talk. It’s easier said than done as its always tempting to overwork a sculpture beyond the rough form. Sometimes it loses its vibrancy.

.I think it was Picasso who said it took him a lifetime to learn to see the world through the eyes of a child.

I think its necessary at times to unlearn to regain that freshness. Seeing the forms and textures anew and having the confidence to stop and move on to the next piece. Lets see if  I achieve this in my next sculptures!  ( Maybe blindfolded?) Any thoughts?