Q&A: Unveiling the Art of Stone Carving

Q&A: Unveiling the Art of Stone Carving

Editor’s Note: MASONRY Magazine recently had the opportunity to talk with Ryan James, a talented masonry stone carver based in the UK. In this Q&A session, Ryan shares insights into his unique journey, and the creative impact of his art on the perception of masonry.

MASONRY Magazine: Can you tell me a bit about your work? 

Ryan James: I come from an art background rather than a background in stone masonry. I did complete my capstone at a university, but I was the only student that did stone carving – none of the tutors or anything. My dad is a builder, and it was stone all of the time. From being very young – probably around five – I always enjoyed carving things and he taught me how to do the basics when I was really young. I’ve always just carved stone in my spare time and eventually managed to go full time sculpting a few years ago. I don’t know if you have seen the portrait I did of my granddad, which managed to win an award in London as part of a portrait exhibit. That project got me enough commissions to go full time sculpting and it has been quite fun since then. 

It has been quite interesting because I haven’t come through the stone world; I haven’t done any stone apprenticeships or anything like that. I’m quite unknown, and then all of a sudden I became full time and I started putting all of my work out there and it’s been quite good. I’m getting quite a few contacts and things. 

M.M.: Can you tell me a bit about your recent fireplace project?

R.J.: So, I have a workshop inside a big stone company called Traditional Stone. I don’t work for them, and I am self-employed. The owner really likes creativity and they do a building show every year and they are fireplaces. He came to me and wanted something classy designed; something that will get people talking like a bit of a showpiece. So, I came up with a sketch and he loved it straightaway. Then, we went from there. 

You always see similar fireplaces and variations of that, but they seem to follow the same pattern. I love history and I love architecture so I had visions of Petra in Jordan, ancient things that come straight out of the cliff spaces. I wanted to do something like that. It’s kind of timeless and it looks almost like a fossil or something from 1000s of years ago and I love it. There are so many more ideas I would like to do. I’ve got all sorts of huge doorways carved and fireplaces and all kinds of things in different stones. 

M.M.: Can you tell me about your creation and carving process? 

R.J.: For the fireplace piece, that is one I actually carved pretty quickly in eight days. I think it is because I haven’t had any training and I am self taught so I just do things that make it seem easier to me. I don’t have to follow a strict process. They typically have to work things like straight lines and they have to work the curves in, but I am given a bit of freedom and I can just go for this thing. I use the grinder a bit more and just was let to be a little creative. It doesn’t matter if something is 295 mil when it is supposed to be 300 mil long because it all works visually. 

I sketch things on and I stand back and have a look at it. If I think it works, for example, the lump of stones left on the left hand side of the fireplace, the smaller one, wasn’t originally on the drawings; those are big things. Coming back, I look at it a lot. I am constantly questioning what I am doing and at least things seem to become a bit more obvious the further I get on. It’s as to all things where something seems to get right and then the rest of it just seems to follow. I think I just kind of go with their freedom. There definitely are a lot of stonemasons and things out there, but I just try to be a bit more unique if I can. Mixing art and stonemasonry is where I like to be. 

M.M.: How do you think, if at all, does your work change the perception of masonry and the industry?

R.J.: Well, to start, I am not from stonemasonry but I worked with my dad as a builder as a young kid. Around where we live in rural England in Yorkshire, it is all old stone barns. So, I ended up building quite a few stone barn conversions and things like traditional fireplaces. I work in a lot of people’s homes and I’ve made standard fireplaces as well. I just wanted to show people that anything is possible, and I think it does. Basically, if you’ve got a bit of creativity, you can make something that is genuinely unique. 

Obviously, with the fireplace piece, it’d be difficult to put into most people’s houses since you’d need a pretty strong floor. It’s heavy, actually like a full metric ton. But, I think it just shows what is possible; it shows as someone who carves stone that you do not have to conform. There’s less process to it; you get the raw block and then you carve directly into it. I think you’ll never be able to recreate it the exact same way so it is totally unique. I’d love to push it further with something like the black limestones that you can get where it can look really rough on the outside and then you polish it into a super high sheen and you’ve got the fossils looking beautiful as well. I think it’s about showing that if you’ve got some vision, you can do something completely different.

About The Author
Instagram: RJJsculptor
Website: RJJsculptor.co.uk
Email: Ryan@RJJsculptor.co.uk

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