Sculptor John Davey Dorset

Making a Stone Abstract Sculpture

The Beginning

When I start making a Stone Abstract Sculpture I don’t always begin with a sketch to inspire me. Sometimes I just start carving a stone and see where it takes me. But this time I did make an initial drawing for making this Abstract Sculpture. It evolved from other previous work that I had carved. At times my imagination runs away with me. All the permutations. So its good to get down to the making, seeing the volume in real. Then adapting, changing shapes, proportions to accomplish a piece that will be harmonious.

The Raw Materials

I always keep an eye out for my raw materials, visiting local quarries at Portland or local Stone Workshops. Sometimes I’m not looking for a particular size or type of stone. But I find it’s important to keep a stock to keep my creative processes moving into fruition. There’s nothing worse than having an idea and no materials to make it with. You may have to adapt the original thought to fit the stone but I always enjoy being led by the dimensions and character of the Stone. It is a partnership.

blocks of Stone for Sculpting
Lets see where we go!

The Carving

This piece is of the beautiful Kilkenny Limestone which can be polished. Working with diamond Tools I rough the shape out. At times using a paper template or just by drawing directly on the stone. Letting my tools guide me towards the perfect shape. To get closer to the form I use tungsten files to smooth out the surface. When I,m happy with the form, I then go on to the next stage.

Sculpture in Progress by John Davey
Roughing out of Kilkenny Stone form.


This was a piece of Carrara Marble that I was polishing for another Sculpture but the techniques are the same. I begin by working the stone in water with different grades of rubbing blocks 80 grain then 120 grain. Moving on to wet & dry emery paper. Working through the grades, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, 2500. Phew! This is a laborious process and you have to be careful to rub out all the previous grades marks before moving onto the next grade. It’s a good idea to wait for the stone to dry between processes to see if there are any scratch marks.

Polishing Stones
Polishing the stones.

Assembling the Sculpture.

I then prepare the stones to be fixed together. Using stainless steel threaded bar of the appropriate thickness and a stone epoxy resin. I carefully mark out the positioning of the holes, always slightly bigger than the bar. Measure twice, drill once! Then I cut the bars to the right length for the depths of the holes. Always assemble the stones together dry, to make sure there are no problems or adjustments to be made. Wash all the stones and let dry. Prepare and have all your tools ready before using the epoxy resin. It can set very quickly!

The Final Stone Abstract Sculpture

You can treat the stones with a lot of different products. Here on the Portland Stone I used the Lithofin MN Stain-Stop impregnator and on the Kilkenny Limestone, Keda Marble Wax.

Abstract Stone Sculpture
“Touch”Kilkenny and Portland Stone. 40 x 28.7 x 10 cms. £ 1000

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into the making of a stone abstract sculpture and my creative process. I will be taking part in a local Art Festival at Sculpture by the Lakes, 3rd- 5th July 2020. Showcasing the best Artists and Makers in Dorset. Demonstrating their techniques and talent. Bookings are taken on Eventbrite. Hope to see you there.

Also, feel free to visit my Sculpture page if you would like to see more of my Sculptures.

Stone & Carving Tools Suppliers UK

  • Southern Stone has a great selection of tools and different stones. Malta Limestone, Alabaster and other Marbles.
  • Albion Stone has a great stock of Portland Stone, great for beginners and experts alike.
  • Harbro for tools and stone treatments.

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 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.

My Creative Process

This next sculpture was inspired when I was working on a house restoration project in the Province, France. 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 creatively 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!

Sketch of abstract sculpture idea
Sketch of Between 2

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

My Creative Process Abstract Wood Stone Sculpture
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?