Cold blooded and spineless

In July Pete completed a series of four insect relief carvings which were installed along the Pennine way around Low Force waterfall in Teesdale. They are  carved out of the local black Weardale limestone, a very hard stone which polishes to a deep black and gives excellent variation in colour.

The carvings are part of the North Pennines AONB’s Cold Blooded and Spineless project. This is a five year project which aims to raise awareness of the importance of invertebrate life and encourage the public to go out and monitor the number and type of insect life within the north Pennines area.
Pete also carved another four insects into panels of slate which he mounted on the walls of Bowlees visitor centre. These are designed for children (or adults) to take rubbings from and take home a record of the invertebrate to found in the river. This was a great project to be involved with and we hope the carvings will be enjoyed by thousands of people enjoying the Pennine Way for many years to come. The local paper covered the project in an article which you can see here:


Autumn Carvers

We had a lovely carving course in October with mother and daughter team Anna and Biddy, two husband and wife teams, Paul & Jo and Sarah and Mike as well as Chris, who made a striking mask relief. We were also visited by Conchita, who is now a regular; having completed two smaller pieces, Conchita is now working on a large 3-d sculpture for a very special occasion (details not to be divulged). She is doing some work on the piece at home and pops back every couple of months to get some help with the next technical challenge.

Pete ran two courses in November, first of all a weekend at the Mushroom Works up in Newcastle. A northern regular, Ian, attended this weekend and showed us a beautiful gilded slate lettering piece which he had completed at home – it’s really wonderful that Ian is now developing very accomplished skills and producing great work independently. Someone we met for the first time was Keywan, who made a relief carving reflecting his Persian background, he really enjoyed his two days and we hope he will become a regular too.

Back at base in Cornwall, we had a busy late November carving weekend, with Barry returning to complete his bittern relief carving and Conchita putting in another day. Artist Janet inspired us with tales of her art projects and her current interest in soil, which is reflected in her lettering. Local lad Tony made a great start on a bird bath for his garden and Veronica completed a lovely lettering piece with the Maori words ‘Te Ara’, meaning the journey, accompanied by ferns.

Have a look at the students’ gallery to see some of the work from our October and November courses.

Reflecting on the stone carving process

One of our August weekend carvers was Amanda, who spent five days developing a three dimensional carving inspired by the shape of a lapwing’s wing. Amanda is a writer and expert in communication and she has documented her carving days in her blog. She has reflected deeply on the creative process and the powerful mind-body connection that is central to the art of stone carving. Amanda’s piece is quite complex and she has taken the stone back to London where she is continuing to work on it – she will return in November to build on her skills and work with Pete on how to bring the carving completion.

Amanda has teamed up with Becky who completed three days of carving in August. They both purchased carving tools following their time in Cornwall and have met up to work on their carvings in Becky’s garden. It’s great and really rewarding when our students continue with their carving, we love to hear how they are getting on. Read about Amanda’s experience of carving here.


Summer carvers

Well now it’s September and time to look back on a busy summer! There are lots of new photos in the students’ gallery showing the great work that’s been done in the workshop. One of the things I love about our courses is the sheer diversity of the work, each piece really is unique and it’s one of Pete’s strengths as a tutor to help people translate their ideas into stone. Some people have a really clear idea of what they want to make, others choose their subject with Pete’s help when they arrive. Sarah was one student who had thought carefully about her carving and made a very touching relief carving representing her family; the four points of the compass are the four children, symbolised by their star signs and Sarah and her husband Brian are represented by roses at the centre (the flower symbol for their birth month). Sarah has a strong interest in history and archaeology and really enjoyed getting hands-on experience with stone and getting a feel for the traditional skills.

Alabaster, blue elvan and a trip to the Brecon Beacons

Pete has been continuing with an avian theme in his carvings and recently completed a wren in alabaster. The wren sits on a stand made from blue elvan which brings an abstract element to the piece and creates a striking contrast of colours and textures. The wren was bought by a couple from Wales who returned for a second B&B stay with us this spring, giving us the opportunity of a trip to the Brecon Beacons to deliver the carving and enjoy their excellent hospitality. We had a lovely time looking at the paintings, prints, ceramics and sculptures they have accumulated over the decades in their old mill house and garden and were happy to see the wren joining the collection. The next day we climbed up Pen-y-fan, sunshine on the way up and the most dramatic thunder rolling around the hills on the way down.

Below is a photo of the wren which our friend Andrew took at bluebell time this May at Koeschi. It was a lesson in just how hard sculpture can be to photograph! Added to the usual problem of portraying a three dimensional object was the challenge of getting the exposure right on something that is both white and (nearly) black. Very difficult!

Winter carving courses

We had a busy carving weekend in February with some lovely work being made. Billie spent four day with us, working on a relief of the Egyptian god Anubis for three days. Billie’s carving is really atmospheric, with a lot of depth and complete with a backdrop of the pyramids. Continuing the canine theme on day four, Billie tackled lettering and completed an inscription of her dog’s name in limestone. All in all a lot of hard work and fun!

Over the same weekend, Jonathan made a very pretty snowdrop relief (photo on the students’ gallery) and James returned to finish his house name, which will take pride of place outside his home in Lostwithiel. Other carvers’ work is in progress, watch this space!

In early March we visited friends and family in Newcastle and Pete taught for two days at the Mushroom Works arts centre. Returning for his third course was Ian, who has got really into his carving and has completed some excellent lettering work in his own workshop at home. This time, Ian made a relief of an architectural subject, echoing his day job as an architect (photo in the students’ gallery).


Legendary Dartmoor in stone

Steve is Dartmoor born and bred and has a great love for the moors where he runs and walks his dogs regularly. Having worked all his life in the family garden machinery firm, he is making time to explore his lifelong creative and artistic interests. Steve chose the ‘Tinners Hares’ as the subject of his carving, a wonderful motif of three interlocking hares (or rabbits) which is associated with the tinners of Dartmoor and appears in the carved wooden bosses of several Dartmoor churches. The first English example of this symbol dates to AD1300, but its origins are even more ancient, dating back to the first millennium AD in China. There’s an interesting piece about this particular symbol, and hares in general on this Dartmoor website.

Steve started his relief carving last November and returned to finish it in January, taking two days in all. He enjoyed his time in the studio, becoming thoroughly immersed in the work, and is now thinking of starting a new carving continuing the Dartmoor theme. We hope to see him again soon.

Press and awards for Koeschi

Koeschi is the Stone Carving Workshop’s base, an amazing eco-house that we are privileged to rent from our family. A visit to the Stone Carving Workshop comes with the added perk of getting to look round the house and enjoy lunch under the clerestory windows of the dining room. We have had many a conversation about building, self-building and architecture over lunch on stone carving days. The house was designed by our nephew, Josh Penk, at the age of 19 and built by Josh, his parents and numerous friends, family members and volunteers. In October ’13, Josh won the accolade of ‘Best House 2013′ for Koeschi at the Build It self-build awards. Here is an article from the Cornish Guardian celebrating the win.

We also offer B&B at Koeschi and we feature in the Sawday’s Guide.  In October we were featured as one of 20 of the best Sawday’s B&Bs in the travel pages of the Guardian. We had a great response to the feature and the accompanying offer and have consequently had a busy autumn of B&B bookings. It’s always a great pleasure to share the house and show our B&B and carving guests around.

Wandering what you can achieve on a short course as a novice carver?

Well, two students showed just how much can be done in four days at our last weekend course in August. Paul and Michael spent four days carving over the bank holiday weekend and each created really impressive three dimensional carvings. Key to their success was having a clear idea about what they wanted to make – which helped them to get off to a good start, and gave them a clear picture of what they were aiming for. Paul is a garden designer and had developed a sketch of an abstract piece that would fit well with his contemporary style designs. Pete set him up with a nice big piece of Portland stone and it was brilliant to see how closely the finished piece reflected the design idea. Michael’s piece also related to his profession – dentistry. He made a large molar, which is destined to grace his surgery – the tooth is in fact a wonderful sculptural form. We found it slightly disconcerting when he was working on the limestone with a chisel attached the air hammer – like a drill but on a scarily large scale!

The key ingredient to finishing these two pieces within four days was undoubtedly plenty of hard work (plus flapjack and chocolate brownies), but it was great to see what beginner carvers can achieve in so short a period. Staying here in our B&B room is a good option if you want to be on the spot and dedicate plenty of time to carving.

Over the same weekend we were also joined for two days by Dave and Nathan, who work as designers in London. In contrast to Paul and Michael, Nathan didn’t have a firm idea for what he wanted to make, and started on a fish design with guidance from Pete. He let the design evolve over the two days, and showed real flair for carving – the final piece is excellent with great movement and dynamism. It was interesting to see someone take a different, more ‘freehand’  and achieve such a successful carving. There are photos of Nathan’s fish and Michael’s tooth in the student’s gallery.