A Leaf Falls…

The story of a stone           

A Leaf Falls …

It begins in the mind's eye — a moment captured in time, an image. Then to the artist comes the passion to see it realized. There is something profound in carving away cold, hard, unforgiving stone to reveal a glowing moment of animated life. As the ripples and leaf gradually emerge I am amazed; amazed to watch these delicate forms rise up out of the receding stone …and come alive.

A fallen leaf inspires.

A stone is cut.

Composition plotted.

Water imagined.

The stone is then shaved to the waterline.

After the ripples are painstakingly carved and smoothed, work can begin on the leaf, the focal point of the whole endeavor.

Gouging out the rough contours of the leaf is the most nerve-wracking. One must commit to the bold shape. No going back. 

Gradually it begins to take shape. It's always good to keep models of the real thing on hand.

Needing a lighter touch, the power tools are set aside. It's now all by hand, finessing the details.

Using a rotary bit as a small hand-file the final shape is touched up. The smooth, delicate curves are looking good, but there's still a long way to go.

Once the shape is refined, the sanding begins. Working wet at this stage, the water keeps the sandpaper clean for best performance. Continually washing the slurry away prevents the loosened particles from scratching the stone. It also makes it easier to monitor progress.

The sanding process starts at about 200 grit and works up to very fine grit. The objective is to carefully sand away the micro-scratches of the rougher tools and previous grade of sandpaper. Each round of sanding ends with a thorough washing and careful inspection of the new surface before changing to the next finer grit. If any lingering scratches are detected, the area is reworked with a slightly coarser grit to remove the scratches, then worked back up again to the finer grit.

Beautiful, but still nowhere near done.

With such high arching curls in the rim of this particular leaf, the underside (or what should be the underside) of the leaf is clearly visible. The sturdy wedges of support are too obvious, undermining any impression of delicacy. So they must go.

Much better! But delicate.

Now for more sanding…  Because the various minerals in the stone give it an irregular pattern of hardness, the surface of the water area cannot be sanded with soft fingers, lest it result in an irregular surface shape. Instead, small, custom shaped, wooden blocks must be used for virtually all the sanding.

As the stone is carefully worked over with progressively finer grits, it begins to shine, making the stone's surface more "invisible", allowing the dark luster of the natural stone to show through.

In the end, the stone has been sanded with paper up to 2000 or 3000 grit. It is as shiny as it can get without a finish.

Removed from the brackets which had held it in place until this point, it is time to clean up the edges of the stone and prepare the underside. The critical challenge is to be able to lay the slab upside-down and do heavy work on it without damaging the delicate leaf or scratching the pristine water surface.

A styrofoam pad is fashioned, with a protective cavity for the leaf. A layer of cellophane is added to further protect against abrasions. This allows the bottom and edges to be worked on without damaging the top surface.

The sides are carefully trimmed and smoothed with sanding blocks to give a clean squared edge. Then a 45 degree bevel is ground away, to give the slab a lighter "visual weight". There are some scuffs and scratches on the bottom, which will have to be sanded down. After this, all surfaces will be sanded with blocks to bring everything to a precision crispness and a mirror shine.

A base slab is prepared and will be glued on after final sanding. It functions both as a keel, to strengthen the long, thin carving, and also as a pedestal, so the carving floats in the air a bit.

With the base glued on, the finish can be applied. In this case the finish is bees wax. The entire stone is heated so the wax will melt and be absorbed into the stone.

Next, the top is waxed, but only the water surfaces. The leaf is left in its unfinished state.

Carefully guiding the molten wax along the water/leaf boundary the distinction between wet and dry is enhanced. Note that the rounded-up junctions between leaf and water are waxed, appearing just as an actual water surface would, reaching up to grip the leaf.

After allowing the stone to completely cool down, the waxed surface can be polished to a high gloss.

After weeks of work, it is finished. Now to take it outside and have a good look at it.