Stone Tori Gate

How to Make a Japanese Stone Tori Gate

The Initial Idea.

This sculpture was actually inspired by some good friends. Having met them after many years they came up with the idea of having me carve a Portland Stone Tori Gateway for their Zen garden. Life can be strange at times, recurring patterns of memories and coincidences. The very first stone I carved was for the Sculptor Phillip King, 40 years ago. A rough Portland Stone boulder carved into a bowl for his Zen Garden installation at the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park on the Isle of Portland.

This first carving became a catalyst, the start of a long relationship with this beautiful material. ( We have broken up at certain times! Well it broke or cracked. But we always get back together.) As I was carving the round basin I began to rub my knuckles against the sides of the stone. Which was quite painful so I angled the chisel to prevent this and the tool marks began to form a beautiful spiral. Phillip really liked this pattern. Very Zen.

Creating The Design

As with any commission we started by discussing the project. If it should be carved out of one block of stone or several? The rough size and design. How it would be transported. My friends sent me a very useful design which gave me a good base to work from. We agreed that it would be best to make the Tori out of separate elements, cutting the weight down making it easier for transportation and installation.

I then did my own research looking at all the different styles of Tori gates. Seeing which could be suitable in shape and proportion to be carved in Portland Stone. I decided to introduce a few curves to the design to soften the hard angles. Also to use different tooling textures to give the final piece some subtlety.

I needed a full size drawing to see the proportions, adjusting dimensions for strength and aesthetic reasons. Then making a list of the individual stones sizes. I sourced my stones at a local quarry on the Isle of Portland hunting around the off-cuts with their stonemason and found some lovely grained blocks that would be perfect. ( It was like being in a sweet shop as a kid!)

Carving the Stones and Fitting

The off-cuts of Portland stone first needed to be cut to size using a diamond bladed grinder. Then the faces honed using a spinner and sanding disc. This will leave some machine marks on the surface so I needed to hand sand using a tungsten rubbing block to get the effect I desired. The curves were then carved and finished.

Subsequently I prepared the pinning of the stones. Always measuring twice and drilling once! If not three times. Then I washed all of the stones making sure that there was no dust, especially in the drilled holes. Using 8mm stainless steel threaded bar cut to size I assembled the elements using an epoxy resin by Harbro Supplies Ltd (Stone-bond Vertical Mastic.) I always present the stones together dry with the pins in place to make sure that once the resin is applied everything fits. You don’t want to find things don’t fit properly as the resin begins to set. I’m talking from past lessons learnt.

The main stone is attached to the base with pins running through which are bolted into place.

The Viewing

The moment of truth! Will my friends like my interpretation of their initial idea? I moved the stones with the help of Andy, (a strong friend) down the 3 flights of stairs from my flat. Yes I always choose difficulty as a sculptor, keeps me fit (to drop) We then assembled the Tori in the garden being especially careful not to chip any edges. Awaiting with baited breath for their visit and response. Yay or nay?

Finished Portland Stone Tori.

Well it was a Yay. Yoopie. It surpassed their highest expectations. So pleased and of course one very chuffed Sculptor. Although this project was very different from my personal work it did inspire me in many ways. Giving me ideas for future sculptures. Watch this space.

In the Zen Garden

Finally the Tori Gate was installed in the Zen garden. Its so satisfying to see my work set in someones home and it will be interesting to see how it ages and patinates over time. Please take the time to visit my Sculpture page I would really appreciate any feedback. Can you see a connection between the Tori and my personal work?

My Latest Abstract Portland Stone Sculpture Time

My Most Recent Sculpture

I’m really pleased with this last sculpture made out of Portland Stone & Mild steel. It’s been a while since I had the idea and making it real is so satisfying. Only problem is that it’s given me loads of future sculptures to make. The variations are endless. I do like the advice of Sculptor Isamu Noguchi ” Just make something and the idea will come afterwards.” Also how the American Sculptor David Smith talked about not being able to physically make all of his ideas into Sculptures. The brains imagination leaps ahead to what could be. But the hands take a little longer to make them in the real world.


At times I have a job trying to remember what inspired me to make a particular sculpture. Could it be my School visit to Cheddar Caves and the fabulous Stalactites and Stalagmites? (‘mites go up and the ‘tites come down.) Or could it be my fascination with reflections in water. The half seen boulder eventually covered by the incoming tide? I think it’s a combination of these memories, milling around my brain. Combining with the knowledge of the materials I use and how to make the sculpture concrete. ( Mistakes are made until I find the solution!)

I particularly like the combination of different materials in my Sculptures. Contrasting their innate strengths. Steel for its tensile strength and linear sharpness. Stone for its Solidity, Grain and Mass.

Not forgetting that amazing force in nature called Gravity. The weakest force in the universe. For sculptors this is what we play with. How the Sculpture stands. Before sculptures were placed on a plinth disconnecting it from the ground. The sculptor Brancusi was the first to integrate the base with his work. Becoming a unity. His work is so inspirational. One of my heroes.

Now on Show at Sculpture by the Lakes

I am so pleased to be showing my work at Sculpture by the Lakes. Such a fantastic venue. The sculptures come alive when their placed in this setting. The trees striving upwards for light and the ripples moving along the lakes surface. A big thank you to Simon, Monique Gudgeon as well as Lyn who helped me install the sculpture along the trail. Do have a visit there is such a great selection of different styles of sculptures and material your bound to find something you like. Also great food. Yum yum.

John Davey Sculpture at Sculpture by the Lakes.
“Time” Portland Stone & Mild Steel. Sculpture by the Lakes.

Onto the Next Idea

As a painter can’t paint or draw without paper or canvas. Neither can a sculptor carve without any materials. So off to choose some nice blocks of stone at the Dorset supplier Southern Stone. They have a great range of tools and different marbles, soapstone’s. Lets see where I go from there? Tonnes of ideas. Feel free to follow me and any feedback is appreciated. Off chipping.

Abstract Sculpture by John Davey

Dorset Arts Festival 2020

I will be showing my Artwork at this stunning venue during the Dorset Arts Festival 2020 at Sculpture by the Lakes. Really looking forward to demonstrating my carving technique. There will be lots of other Artists and Craftspeople there working in different materials and techniques. You have to book online for a visit. I’ve copied more information from the Sculpture by the Lakes Website. Do visit and I hope to see you there for this fantastic event. It’s been a hard time for us all, so do support your local Dorset artists and creatives. Visit my Website to see my selection of sculptures.

Some of the Sculptures I Will be Showing

Demonstrating Stone Carving Technique.

Tutor Showing Stone Carving Technique
A Little Helping Hand

Dorset Arts Festival 3rd-5th July. 10.00-5.00

Dorset Arts Festival is a brand new three-day festival showcasing the best artists and makers in Dorset. We will have over 50 artists and crafters gathered together at Sculpture by the Lakes. They will also be demonstrating their skills. You will be able to watch paintings being created, pots being thrown, jewellery being made and a whole range of other arts and crafts disciplines. Our aim is to make the whole festival about seeing artists and crafters demonstrate their skills and exhibit their work so you can see and understand the process. 

Entry £12.50 Book online. No Children under 14 or dogs.


We are taking all necessary precautions to safeguard the welfare of our staff and visitors. Some of the challenges ahead are down to us as individuals – our judgment and our common sense. Social distancing and hygiene are of the utmost importance so please bring hand sanitiser with you

*We want to maintain social distancing so you must now book your tickets for entry to the park online. When you arrive just show your ticket at the window. Please do not come into the office. 

*The Gallery Café is operating a TAKEAWAY SERVICE so you can purchase food and drink to eat in the park. This includes picnics as well as drinks, coffee and cakes. Please do not come into the Café – we will operate from a table by the cafe and take your order. We are ONLY accepting payment by contactless credit card, no cash transactions. 

*We have spread all the tables and chairs out for safe distancing and scattered them around the park so you can find a safe place to enjoy your food.

Promising Young Apprentice on the Common Ground DARSET Project.

Portland Stone Carving Workshops in Weymouth

Portland Stone Carving Workshops for Beginners Weymouth Dorset

During the Portland Stone Carving Workshops in Weymouth for the Dorset Art Weeks event, I was so excited to see the passion and addictive nature of hand carving by the first time students. Each student demonstrated passion, enthusiasm and skills. Just like handwriting, all the carvers had their own particular style. Some very precious and detailed. Others were slightly rougher and brut. Consequently giving each sculpture its personality.

Stone carving Taster Courses Weymouth
Budding First Time Sculptors At The Taster Workshops

One particular enthused Student was so passionate that within a week she acquired stone carving chisels, stone and a sturdy table made by her husband. Now happily chipping away in the garden on the next sculpture. Others asking for dates for future workshops to advance their skills and create other unique sculptures.

Some of the Students recognised the therapeutic qualities and directness of hand carving. Which reminded me of my earlier years as an Artist discovering Stone for the first time. I had worked a lot in clay but hated the plasticity and the apprehensive moments of waiting to see your piece coming out of the kiln intact or in pieces. Stone carving happens there and then.

Earlier Workshops

Stone relief carving of Romans.
Relief Carving created by French Primary School Pupils

 I set up this workshop with a local Primary School in France. The children were working on a project about the Romans and an aqueduct that they built in the local area. The border depicts the course of the aqueduct from Uzes to Nimes in the Provence. An engineering feat, with the “Pont du Gard” being its most spectacular part.

Regardless of the feat awaiting them. After an introduction to the Tools, Stone and techniques. The children carved as a team, with no preconceptions lots of passion and sweat. We then decided to paint the stone as indeed the Romans did to brighten up their final oeuvre. Can you spot the Comet? The Stone was finally placed in their Playground to inspire future generations.

Subsequently, years after I was invited back to clean the carving. Additionally, I would have the students assistance who had carved the masterpiece. However, I was, of course, surprised as they were all young adults! Time flies.

DARSET Project.

The young Sculptors carving their Creation
The young Stone Sculptors carving their Creation

I was invited to take part in “Common Ground”. set up the D.A.R.S.E.T. project, (Dorcheter Area Rural Schools Education Team. Taking sculpture out into rural areas, connecting it to the landscape and local communities. I asked the involved schools to research any stones that were found in their locality. Using these to inspire them and to use for the design of their sculpture.

The results were amazing. One of the ideas came from a piece of Flint that the children had found by their playground. This inspired them to carve reliefs of Stone-age tools. Axes, hammers. Also what the tools could do, creating fire!

Piddle Valley First School decided to carve their school. I love the use of textures and the strong sculptural form. I think we can all appreciate the hard-work and passion that these young carvers have invested

The young budding sculptors weren’t afraid to hit hard with their hammers.

Young stone carver.
Pupil working on the little details.

I will be holding further Portland Stone Carving Workshops in the future. Just go to my Workshops page for more details. The workshops are suitable for first-timers and also those who would like to improve their carving skills. 12 yrs+. So why not come and have a go? You can then proudly take your sculpture home to show to your friends and family.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
― Pablo Picasso

Taster Portland Stone Carving Workshops For Dorset Art Weeks in Weymouth

Taster Stone Carving Workshops

Art With a View Exhibition Garden
View over the Garden to Portland Harbour.

With the first Taster Stone Carving workshops finished awaiting the next. I reflected on the fantastic sculptures created by the first students. How fast they learnt and grew in confidence. The weather held and dare I say it? It was nearly too hot! The setting looking across Portland Harbour towards Portland was inspiring. Especially as we were carving the beautiful Portland stone. I specifically chose stones with the finest grain to capture the smallest of details.

The Workshop

As usual, there was the normal nervousness of my students, at first confronted by the stone and the carving techniques to learn. But within a few minutes, I could see their confidence growing. I really enjoyed listening to the sound of chisels being tapped, which was definitely music to my ears. As time went on the rhythm became more regular showing their mastery of the tools and technique.

Of course, there were the usual little accidents, a few chips here and there. The Celtic knotwork pieces needed a little bit of unravelling.

Under? Over? Nevertheless, we did succeed with a little perseverance and some backstitching. I never succeeded in getting my Knots badge at the Sea Scouts!

Stone carving Taster Courses Weymouth
Budding First Time Sculptors At The Taster Workshops

So after just a few hours, the masterpieces were finally finished and I think for complete beginners they did brilliantly. As shown below. Each piece was unique and original. I think they surprised themselves. With one student taking on some small blocks to continue their stone carving journey. Once again another client catches the creative bug. Will you be the next one?

In fact, although I have been carving for over 40yrs I,m still learning and I feel particularly privileged to be able to pass on my passion for stone carving. P.S. A bit of future competition?

Art with a View

To see my Sculptures in this stunning environment was amazing. Especially, my sail sculptures beside the coast edge. Overlooking the harbour and Portland Isle, as well as Chesil Beach in the background. Of course the ideal setting for my Maritime theme. The amazing views around were breathtaking and what a site to inspire your artistic juices. As an Artist who loves above all natures forms and curves, I was in my element. Watching Portlands shape change as the weather conditions came and went. At the same time, the nearby sea’s surface would change its aspect, sometimes smooth at other times rough. In addition, the only problem being as the wind changed direction I had to turn the sculptures to be in the right direction! Only joking.

Sail VII. Portland & Savernake Stone.
Sail VII. Portland & Savernake Stone.

If you would like to try your hand at Stone Carving, do contact me. I will, in brief, teach you the basic techniques to carve your sculpture from a block of stone to an accomplished finished art piece. After you can proudly take it home to show off to your friends and family. Not to mention the memories of having a creative experience. Of course, there’s an Artist in every one of us!

” I really enjoyed my Beginners Stone Carving Workshops and am now the proud owner of three Portland stone carvings in my garden. If you are interested in trying stone carving, I would thoroughly recommend John’s workshops” Susan.

For those that are looking for accommodation, there are onsite flats to rent next to a swimming pool as well as access to the beautiful Castle Cove Beach. Just follow this link. Glenthorne.

Sculptor John Davey Dorset

My Most Recent Abstract Stone Sculpture

I’ve just finished carving my most recent Abstract Stone Sculpture in beautiful Portland Basebed. Really pleased with the result. It started off with an elliptical shape I appear to use quite regularly. As people have favourite colours for no apparent reason,( mine is blue) I have my favourite shapes!


Abstract Sculpture of Shield Form in Stone.

.”Shield II” Portland Stone, Hardwood. 81.5 x 36 x 26 cms.

Its only after the carving of the sculpture that I can stand back and see the influences, forms that have inspired me. Surfboards, tribal shields, leaves. Take your pick?

So I,m pretty busy at the moment getting ready for the Dorset Art Weeks in a couple of months showing with other talented local artists. Carving on my days off from working as a Health Care Assistant and when it isn’t snowing!

The year has started off quite well, showing my sculptures at different galleries. Fingers crossed! But as usual, there were a few hiccups. My good old Honda generator gave up on me, full of stone dust and obviously tired from my lack of attention.( Like topping it up with oil).

Then I decided to try my hand at carving Slate. I love the tight grain and the bluey-grey colour. Everything was going quite well as I carved the first stone only to find at the final polish that there was a small crack running through the middle! Well as I can be quite stubborn I started on another slab, checking it beforehand. Only to find another crack!

I then decided to change to another stone and found some Irish Limestone which carved beautifully. Here’s the result.

Latest Abstract Sculpture “Leap”

Abstract Stone sculpture in shape of fish.

“Leap” Irish and Portland Stone. 37.6 x 32.4 x 11.6 cms.

Obviously, my most recent Abstract Stone Sculpture is a continuous process. Still making others! Looking forward to any feedback and I hope you enjoy this little insight into my creative processes. Feel free to share and hopefully you might find the time to see the finished abstract sculptures during the Dorset Art Weeks. I will be animating a few taster stone carving workshops if you fancy a try? Dates and times to be fixed. Watch this space.

My Good Friend Joseph Smith

While living in France I was lucky enough to meet this great Artist Joseph Smith. A master of technique and creativity. He worked in many media,s, stone, wood, clay. This little painting was inspired by random splashes and shapes on watercolour paper.

One of his favourite techniques while having his breakfast was to place a piece of paper under his coffee cup and then use any stains or splashes as a catalyst for his imagination.

Using coffee, tea and watercolours to create some beautiful paintings. He also used red onions, boiling them to make a reddish wash. I guess there’s a lot of natural pigments which you can make yourself.

Watercolour by Joseph Smith
Minotaur I

In Joe,s own words.

“Through various series in my work I have attempted to put into more realistic proportion man’s relationship to nature, the animal kingdoms…and to himself.”

“I wish for my works to allow viewers to hopefully re-examine their own relative importance in relationship with the vast natural wonder that we are actually infinitesimal within..”

If you’d like to see more of his brilliant artwork please visit his website.

Sculptor John Davey Dorset

Portrait of the Artist By His Son

The Portrait

My Son Sean drew this portrait of me as an artist when he was ten, in 2006. I think he,s really captured my character. Especially the Celtic Nose! It always amazes me how young children have that creative talent, no preconceptions or limitations. They have an innocence. Looking at the world through fresh eyes. Not tainted by conventions or worries.

Drawing of the artist by Son
Portrait of John by his Son Sean

Working Together

While I was living in France in the Province working as a stonemason to make ends meet. I would frequently take my son Sean with me to help on the building sites. As you can see from the following photo!

At first, I thought he would slow me down, but in actual fact, he was more meticulous. Thus jointing stones precisely, giving the concrete mixer a good clean and many other jobs which helped me along. In some way, I was of course passing on the basic techniques of my trade. As well as important work ethics. For instance getting up early, hard work, initiative. The love of accomplishing good work.

Son helping on Site
My Son Sean helping me!

This particular project was to carve and build two stone pillars for ” Le Chateau de la Commanderie” in a village called St Siffret in the Province.( A Knights Templar Castle.)

A lot of preparation was needed for the pillars to support the heavy iron gates which were installed later. At first making one reinforced concrete foundation that crossed from one pillar to the other, consolidating their rigidity. Additionally, all the stones were hand-carved to leave the tool marks apparent. Subsequently harmonising with the age of the Castle itself.

Stone Pillars La Commanderie St Siffret
Restoration of Pillars at le Commanderie St Siffret France

I also look back at this special time working alongside my son and realise how important it was. He’s now coming up to his 25th birthday. Where does the time go? Hope you enjoyed this Portrait of the Artist by His Son page. Feel free to visit my sculpture page to see my personal artworks.

They grow up so fast. 

My Son Weymouth
Sean, Weymouth 2017

Pablo Picasso famously said ” Every child is an Artist the problem is how to remain an Artist once we grow up.”

Art Trophy

how to become an artist

Reminiscing over my Artistic past. Winning 1st Prize for art at the St John’s Youth Club in Belfast at the age of ten. Never been prouder and still have the trophy taking pride of place on my mantelpiece! It is a bit battered, a bit like myself! But it gave me the incentive to carry on.

O. k. some may say it was a fix as my parents and close family where Youth Leaders there! I would just like to clarify on this point that no bribery was involved. No washing dishes for Mum or washing Dads car. ( Actually he didn’t have one !) So you can see it was just natural talent!

Art Trophy

John Davey. St Johns Youth Club. First
Art Winner 1971

Today I must admit that every time I finish a sculpture, I feel I,ve won a prize. The chance to have the tools,materials and time to create. Also to be lucky enough to meet people who take enjoyment from my work and those that adopt them having them in their homes.

I still cherish my old trophy and at the time it was like winning Gold at the Olympics. I wonder how many of us have a prize from our childhood that really touched us? A medal for running, a Cup for Football, something really special that gave us recognition and the passion to continue.

Here’s to all the people who take the time to pass on their passion to future generations, Coaches, Youth Club Workers, Teachers, Parents, Friends. Bravo.


Two Sculptures Finished. Another Started.

After the mayhem of disorder these two sculptures pulled themselves together!

Following my series of Sail sculptures, this one is more angled, leaning back. Much more like a Windsurfing sail. Changing its dynamic. Remember sailing in Portland Harbour in a Force 7-8, leaning back into the wind, trying to read the surface of the water for the next gust. Frequently misjudging and being catapulted head over head unable to release the harness in time!

” Sail VII ” Portland and Savernake Stone.

This Sculpture ” Tale ” in Carrara Marble and Black Granite took a bit of carving. Learning how to cut and polish harder stones. Working through several grades of abrasives to get the final polish. Really pleased with the result. The form goes back to playing with circular curves, bisecting each other. I think its a bit like the shapes of Butterfly Wings but you may see other things?

” Tale ” Carrara Marble & Black Granite