Portrait sculpture in marble – direct carving

This is a portrait carved directly into carrara marble by UK portrait painter, commissioned in 2010
Jamie, Portrait sculpture, direct carving in Carrara Marble

This is one of my favourite portraits, carved in beautiful Carrara marble from Italy. Looking at it here I feel its got a nice sense of the person as well as a simplicity and wholeness. This was a bit of a fluke but I’m hoping to use it as a benchmark for future portrait sculptures. Its a challenge trying to capture eyes in monotone like this, and too much detail doesn’t usually work making the portrait appear ghoulish. Here though I was pleased with the result, and its something to explore in further work.

At first I had made a clay portrait of the sitter which I worked up from photos, but I abandoned the clay portrait and it lay in my studio for a good few months. Then I suddenly had the desire to carve the portrait, so using the clay model as a reference I carved directly into a block of marble I had lying around in the yard. I don’t use a pointing machine or anything when I carve, but I do use callipers to measure distances between say eyes to bottom of nose, width of mouth etc. There is an image below of some preliminary drawings I did for another sculpture in marble with various measurements of distances across the face. I’ve got no other ‘work in progress’ photos of Jamie’s portrait sculpture unfortunately.

The only problem I had with it was that I had bought the marble from a reclamation yard in Oxfordshire so it had already been out of the ground for over 100 years. This meant it had hardened to the extreme and was very difficult to work, or at least a lot harder than recently quarried marble. I’m not sure of the physical processes marble undergoes when it comes out of the ground, but freshly quarried stone has what masons call ‘sap’ in it. This is water embedded in the stone, and it makes stone softer to carve. Once it is dug out of the ground stone gradually loses this quality and hardens further, and with marble this gives it a very hard brittleness. Good marble has an almost buttery quality to it, and is very consistent, making it a joy to carve. Marble is definitely one of the harder limestones, but once you’ve got going its lovely hammering away and feeling the chisel cut into it! My neighbours didn’t like it too much after a while but all is forgiven now.

Preliminary measurements, grace portrait SMALL.jpeg

I hew off large areas first, for example from the side of the block the area between the head down to the shoulders can all come off at right angles, then the distance between the projection of the nose and the rest of the face, then down to the cheeks. You can see an example of this in the photo below of another portrait sculpture where the tip of the nose is still square. I carved down to the cheeks first and then began to round them.

Matt Harvey Devon sculptor at work SMALL
Should have been wearing goggles. Working from photos

This is a method I picked up when working as a stone mason in the Wells Cathedral yard, where I worked while taking a year out of art school. It’s a typically pragmatic way of working for a mason, and it helps a lot when working only from photos. Further on you should discard it and focus on the roundness and wholeness of things, so that a sculpture  doesn’t get too mechanical.  For a portrait you need to have a sense of precision and exactness to get a likeness so its a good method to use for that. I’ve been painting a lot recently and am looking forward to carving a portrait in the near future!

Drawing with willow charcoal

Charcoal drawing of a dancer by contemporary portrait painter and artist Matt Harvey
Dancer, willow charcoal on paper 40x50cm

I reworked this drawing a bit today and realised again how much I love working with willow charcoal! I’m hoping to start a new series of work inspired by dance using this medium. I have always loved life drawing and working from the figure and its nice to have something to work on between painting portraits.

Drawing practice

The most intense ‘drawing’ experience I have had is when I am carving directly into marble. This piece was done from photos with some simple measurements I took with a set of callipers as a guide (not easy with a baby – generally done while she was asleep!) With marble carving any wrong move would ruin the whole thing and a months work, making it pretty stressful but a great discipline. Because of that pressure I think I improved my ‘looking’. For me drawing is about making a mark, and then checking it, and checking again, and deeply looking at the subject. I even feel that the depth of the looking etches the subjectivity of the artist on the media they are working, be it drawing, painting or sculpture. I don’t know what that subjectivity is but its an emotion, and its possible to embody that emotion in a work of art. Making a sculpture in the round is like doing hundreds of drawings simultaneously. Without drawing, or when the drawing is lacking, the painting’s ruined.

In my experience CUTTING CORNERS with drawing is the biggest waste of time and I have probably wasted YEARS of my life throwing good after bad in paintings, going over and over attempting corrections when all the effort could have been saved with earlier checks. Its the ultimate false economy..

‘Drawing includes three and a half quarters of the content of painting… Drawing contains everything, except the hue’. (Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres) from Art Quotes

Portrait sculpture, Direct marble carving

Jamie, Portrait sculpture in Carrara Marble, Matt Harvey SMALL

For this piece I made a clay model which was in turn worked up from photos, and then using the clay model as a reference I carved directly into the marble. I didn’t use a pointing machine or anything, but I do use callipers to measure distances between say eyes to bottom of nose, width of mouth etc. I hew off large areas first, for example the width of the head down to the shoulders can all come off at right angles, then the distance between the projection of the nose and the rest of the face, then down to the cheeks. You can see an example of this in the photo below of another portrait sculpture where the tip of the nose is still square. This is a method I picked up when working as a stone mason in the Wells Cathedral yard, where I worked while taking a year out of art school. #art #devonartistnetwork #carraramarble #carrara #stonecarving #sculpture #portrait #portraitart #portraitsculpture #elbowgrease

Portrait of a baby in Carrara marble, direct carved using hand tools

Portrait sculpture in carrara marble by british portrait artist Matt Harvey. Commissioned in 2013
Miki, Carrara marble – This was a portrait commission for a marble bust of a child. Carved over one month in hand tools, working directly from photo references

Alice’ carved in Carrara Marble. 20x25x20cm. The sculpture is created from photos – One master photo, and then others to guide the 3D form. When someone smiles the cheeks get pulled up, they then narrow the eyes, the ears get pulled a bit, the neck creases.. All these things need to be pulled together at the same time to create the piece. Working in stone always makes me think of a Nichiren Buddhist quote: ‘It is like the case of a fishing net: though the net is composed of innumerable small meshes,when one pulls on the main cord of the net, thereare no meshes that do not move. Or it is like a garment: though the garment is composed of countless tiny threads, when one pulls on a corner of the garment, there are no threads that are not drawn along.’ The 2 milk teeth were fun to carve, but I need to get some really small chisels to carve inside the mouth