Many years ago when I was bone carving I made this wee fella. The inspiration for it arose from my interest in one of New Zealand’s foremost carvers at the time, Theo Schoon who was very interested in traditional Maori art in Aotearoa and in particular (in part) the rock ‘paintings’ found in limestone shelters near Timaru (have a look here ) There are many wonderful rock ‘paintings’ but the two that took my fancy were the albatross and the taniwha.

The lizard had been used on a NZ stamp (1960) as had other cave paintings and I had been a stamp collector from childhood so there was that added interest.taniwha stampmatariki_2012_stamp_







And so I made the bone taniwha. Obviously it wasn’t an exact replica (and wasn’t intended to be) but the inspiration was pretty evident.

I later gave this carving to my son. I’m not too sure how often he wore it but as you can see from the photo it had a few quite fragile sections. You’ll have to understand that bone has a very definite grain in it (which runs from head to tail in this piece) and as with wood this can be a source of real strength but also a cause of real weakness. In this carving the curl at the tail and the thighs of the hind legs were the weakest points and it so happened that one of the legs broke. Of course such things can be glued and the piece worn again, but….

When I started the jade and hard stone carving in the back of my mind was to replace my boy’s bone taonga with one of stone. Some interesting stone from South Westland came into my possession (via Trademe- what a shop!) and it struck me that the look of it lent itself to being turned into a taniwha.

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So I did!!

It isn’t small so isn’t suitable for everyday neck-wear and can have the suspension cord removed to become a table-top fondle piece, or if so inclined he can put the cord back on and wear the wee taniwha as a dress pendant should he think that suits the occasion. (I hope he gets to go out sometimes!



I haven’t been very busy on my blog this year. Well I haven’t been ‘busy’ at all on it, really. I made several starts when certain things became topical but for one reason or another I didn’t get them finished before the topicality ran out!!

have been a bit more busy with other stuff and completed my ‘Diploma in Jade and Hard Stone Carving’ and in the process have made a few pieces I am a bit pleased with. So- being a bit pleased I thought I’d kill two birds with one carefully directed stone- complete a blog-post and share just some of the pleasing pieces with you!


This is ‘Wairua’, a piece I carved for the Aotearoa Jade Carvers National Exhibition in Hokitika a couple of weeks ago.



I used a combination of design elements based on waves on the sea and ferns in our bush. Interestingly mine was the only one of the 35 pieces in the exhibition that sold!



One of the stones I’ve developed a soft spot for is ‘tangiwai’ a bowenite and close cousin of nephrite.



Tangiwai is classified as one of the ‘pounamu’ stones, along with nephrite jade and serpentine.




The translucence and the colours in tangiwai are quite stunning!


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It’s fun to grind these discs very thin so that one is able to even get to the extent of seeing right through the stone. The irony is, of course that we then hang it against the body so the colours and patterns aren’t seen!



I have a good friend whose daughter talked her into her first tattoo, so to celebrate this momentous occasion I carved her this copy of the design in South-Westland jade.



This is ‘Takutai’, or Foreshore.



I started the carving course because I had ‘an itch I needed to scratch’, to move from bone to stone. My original bone carving on the left and the jade replica on the right could probably indicate “the itch has been scratched!”



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This a simple fold design with a jade bead cord attachment that brings out the internal colours and patterns of this nephrite stone well.


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I completed these simple serpentine drops yesterday. There seems to be nothing special about these pendants but I am pleased that I have done them. They are destined to be gifted to some of the protesters at Ferguson in the United States. If this is going to help in just a tiny way by letting the people know that others are thinking and supporting their protests, I am happy.

Job done! I am now the holder of a Certificate in Jade and Hard Stone Carving and a Diploma in the same ‘discipline’, and I have completed a blog-post!!!

Stone Works

“Ahakoa he kohatu koe, he taonga tino ataahua.”

2013-02-27 11.13.30Our ‘Jade & Hard-Stone Carving Course’ aims not only to teach us to carve stone but also to appreciate the wonderful medium that hard stone is. Obviously for us, jade is the ‘ultimate’ stone, but ours is not the only art form that utilises stone and to enable us to better accept this premise our tutor took us to view the the stone sculpture symposium being held near Lake Kanierekaniere2 27Feboutside Hokitika. It would be sufficient for some to simply visit the ‘open day’, the exhibition where all of the finished pieces are displayed for viewing. but this was not for us. Instead we visited first as the artists were just getting started on their creations, when they were commencing ‘stock removal’, when all of the big, grunty tools were doing their work- drills, saws, chisels, hammers & such and things were very noisy and dusty!!! We returned a week later to see the works much nearer completion and in finishing stages.

One might get a sense of what might be intended by the artist, but this isn’t always the case especially when any initial rough drawing of design made on the block has already been removed with first cuts. The artists were great with us, interrupting their work to help us understand something of what was going on- the stone, the particular tools they were using, hints about what was about to happen next, and so on, and to answer our questions.2013-02-27 11.35.11We must have really been an unwanted distraction but we weren’t once told or signed to “bugger off- I’m busy”!!!

Of the artists who were sculpting at the symposium one was the host, Rory McDougal who was making a Celtic sword form of Dunedin basalt,2013-02-27 12.19.12a lovely dark grey, almost black volcanic stone that looked quite ‘tight’ but didn’t give any hint as to what it might look like when finished.

Barry Te Whatu told me that his first loves are the stones from his rohe potae, Taranaki but the stones (yes, stones) he was using at the symposium were a local granite2013-02-27 12.18.45and a lovely fine-grained black basalt.

Lauren Kitts is a naturalised Kiwi who hails from the US and their loss is very definitely our gain. When we first visited Lauren was almost doubled up using a very noisy, dusty and angry hand saw2013-02-27 11.14.07to remove unwanted stone from a lovely orange granite sourced from a local gold mine.

Anna Korver is another sculptor who comes from Taranaki where she and her partner have an art gallery which features works by herself and her partner, Steve Molloy. When we arrived Anna was almost completely obscured behind billowing clouds2013-02-27 12.25.06of serpentine dust.

Jordi Raga Frances is a young Spanish sculptor who now lives in England and in the process of making his way to Aotearoa New Zealand he became separated from his tools and when we visited they had still not arrived and so he was still playing with his designs for the angular block of serpentine2013-02-27 11.42.24he was to create from.

It was fascinating to wander among these creative people and to see how they went about their art. It obviously had parallels to what we did back at the studio with their use of hand-saws, mallets and grinders2013-02-27 11.20.34against our use of trim-saw and coarse grinding tools to take away unwanted stone and to rough out the desired form. But honestly the connection appeared a bit tenuous!!

Much had been achieved by our sculptors by the time we returned the following week and they were all pretty much in the semi-final(?) stages of ‘finishing’ and this ranged from a variety surface effects to polished highly reflective surfaces that allowed light to play on the form and for the stone to show its inner beauty.

Lauren had almost finished her flowering bud2013-03-05 12.11.44and was using wet sanding discs to achieve the desired smooth surface to the petals while retaining a rough, stippled effect on the inner stamens. Her intent was to make a form that expressed the opening up of potential and she used the flower form with stamens erupting to achieve this. She told me that this local granite is the hardest she has ever worked- they even breed rocks tough on ‘The Coast’.

Barry was making a matau (fish-hook) with the shank being a white granite2013-03-05 11.57.18 and the barb2013-03-05 11.57.06(that would be affixed) made of the very fine-grained, dark basalt.

Rory had completed all of his shaping of the sword form and was giving the basalt a range of surface finishes.2013-03-05 12.07.14There were to be smooth areas that would have the velvet feel to them and highlights achieved using a rough-textured finish. Wetting2013-03-05 12.07.36the piece gave some hint to the final look of the sword.

Jordi’s tools had obviously caught up with him and he had made great progress on his work2013-03-05 11.57.45that he indicated was to look like a shape that had had the air removed from the inside. As he worked with his grinding discs to get the smooth, flat faces he desired Jordi achieved a fascinating effect with the dust that was trapped in the top bowled surface, an effect that our tutor (a mine of information) was able to explain to him.2013-03-05 didn’t need an explanation, I just enjoyed the effect!! At this stage the beauty of the stone was yet to be revealed.

Anna’s sculpture was nearing completion and she showed us its intended position2013-03-05 11.26.24 when it was finally mounted on the base that was being prepared for it. The lovely colours and patterns inside the serpentine2013-03-05 11.49.54became very evident when the almost finished smooth surface was wet.

The symposium was moving to its completion and I went again on the last day to see all of these great and different works finished and on display. The day wasn’t the finest with a bit of overcast which didn’t do some of the pieces complete justice, but I felt it was wonderful to see each piece as the artists intended them and ready to move to their sponsors’ homes and gardens where they would be displayed to the best advantage. And here they are-

Lauren Kitts’ orange granite emerging flower2013-03-09 McDougal’s Celtic sword2013-03-09 Raga Frances’ deflated stone form with his unique hand-etched surface2013-03-09 Korver’s beautiful serpentine flying figure2013-03-09 Barry Te Whatu’s granite and basalt matau.2013-03-09

I don’t know that I have a favourite favourite but I am a bit of a sucker for serpentine so Anna’s piece probably goes to the top of the class (because I think it was a nicer serp than Jordi’s piece of stone) but then the velvety feel of Rory’s  basalt was almost sensual so I might push that up the order somewhat. Of course I really do like the matau form and I think Barry’s design was very pleasing, so… No, there can’t be a favourite because each piece is unique and thus very special in its own way, whether it was the form/shape that the artist gave to the piece, or the treatment the artist applied to the variety of stone, or any combination of other factors each beautiful sculpture deserves pride of place wherever it is finally placed.

Thanks, Ric- it was a very enjoyable and rewarding hikoi.

Thanks Rory, Anna, Barry, Jordi and Lauren for being great hosts- sorry if we got in the way!!

And the meaning of my ‘whakatauki’ at the beginning? ‘although you are a stone, you are a beautiful treasure’. My thanks to my mate Derek Fox for his guidance in this.

Post Script: On our first visit we picked up various chips of the off-cuts from the sculptors’ stock removal and so I made a wee bit of a thing for Anna out of the serpentine she was carving.2013-03-06 19.22.37.cmprssdWhat a nice stone to work it was!! 

Lovely Stone

I’ve now been doing the ‘Jade and Hard Stone Carving’ course at poly for 5 months and have just completed my 6th carving assignment- there have been a few ‘other’ requirements too of course but the carving is the fun part! I’ve posted on a couple of the previous assignments, this one on the limestone carving I did, this one on some early pieces, another done part-way through my ‘free form’ assignment, followed by this one on the finished articles done in the free form section. It goes without saying I am loving the whole experience and each day brings something new.

Yesterday I was given my results for the ‘discs’ assignment. We were required to produce 4 discs and what we did with these was pretty much open-ended as is the case with most of our assignments- they want us to explore our creativity and use our imagination as much as possible with in a few conditions and to extend our skills in the use of the various pieces of technology we have available. A few key words pop up and in this case ‘curve’, ‘centred’, ‘concave’, ‘binding’ were a few of those key words.

The basic disc shape isn’t a biggy as we can use a range of core-drills to cut our blanks (of different sizes if we wish) but from here it is the eye that is most important and technique when removing excess to create symmetry and even curvature to the surfaces of our discs. What we do to decorate or enhance the surface of our discs is the open-ended part. It is not to say a simple, clean greenstone disc isn’t a thing of beauty- it certainly can be exquisite, but an important part of the course title ‘…and Hard Stone’ resonates with me. There are so many beautiful stones available to us that don’t have the same translucency the ‘pure jade’ has but have colours and patterns that just cry out to be presented in one form or another.


I made my first disc way back when I found a piece of dark, dark grey streaked obsidian that took my eye when we were carving asymmetric drops and I played around with a simple disc form. What pleased me most about this little exercise was that I didn’t use any core drill or tool to create my circle but relied on my senses. It worked out OK!!

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Just to emphasise the point about stone other than the ‘traditional’ greenstone/jade/pounamu that has translucency (that’s when you can see the light through the stone, to varying degrees) this is made from one of the many serpentines that are found down this way. The colours are delicious, and the patterns that can be found are endless. It is also classed as ‘pounamu’ but is a small step away from being true jade.???????????????????????????????This another piece of serpentine- very dark and with almost no internal features but veru handsome indeed. One of the elements we were to use was ‘concave’ and so I put a simple dish in the centre. Of course this can be as large as the stone allows, and can also god sufficiently deep to enable light to show through even the least translucent stones. It wasn’t my intention here because the dinky little feature that the suspension comes from wasn’t by design! There was a flaw through the piece and as I worked on the curvature of the faces a section of the side broke away! Never say die!! I simply smoothed this off and made it a feature and it also provided me with plenty of stone to carve a groove to take a hidden cord.2013-06-14 14.05.08 cmprssd liteOne of my favourite stones is Marsden Jade because of the wonderful variety of colours you can get in it. This disc is about 6-7mm thick and this sets good challenges to get the even curvature across the faces right but given it is also nearly 7cm across it provides plenty of surface to show off those lovely colours.
2013-06-10 18.13.33 cmprssd liteI was watching the tutor work on some discs he was doing and he’d had a corporate commission to make a number of large discs. As I’ve intimated with the Marsden disc the bigger the disc is across the greater the challenges of getting the even curvature and good, straight edges. This being so I thought, “I’ve gotta make one!!” Unfortunately the serpentine that I really wanted to use had a couple of fractures (so I used it to make the 6cm dark serp disc above) but there was another nice slab in the ‘goodies box’ so I cut a large (about 18cm) disc and started working it. It was real challenge to keep at it so that there was no flat centre and to preserve enough ‘meat’ at the edge for final finishing without losing the round. Being such a size I thought few would wear such a sized pendant so I cut one of the beach stones I had picked up in half and made a base for it. The base is another nice serpentine- very dark with just hints of colour and patterning. It did have a serious fracture that was going to be very obvious and while it would probably have been OK to leave it rough with the argument that it was just a beach stone “…and they have cracks in them” I thought some surface carving to remove the crack and enhance the face might be the go, so…2013-06-12 18.50.55 liteI had a very dark, almost black piece of serpentine that could possibly be Australian Black Jade that I made into a wee bowl. It is very deep so I had the perplexing problem of how to suspend it. It wouldn’t sit properly if I had simply drilled a hole at the rim and hung it from there, and I thought that the only option for a mid-piece suspension would require two holes which wouldn’t look flash in the middle of the bowl. I then had a bit of a brain-wave- put some fruit in the bowl to disguise any holes! As you can see this I did and I threaded the jade bead ‘fruit’ and took the cords through a shaped silver collar that makes the fruit sit flat, bound it off so it doesn’t slip around, and added a couple of similar jade beads to the ends of the cords to finish the theme off. Nice.

???????????????????????????????So these are the pieces I presented for assessment. I’m delighted my tutor was almost as pleased as I was with them and gave me a very good pass score.

Discs will feature again before long when we are challenged to make a range of pieces that feature the koru as their dominant design element and I already have a couple of ideas about the koru form being carved into the surface of a disc to not only feature the design element but also bring translucency into play.

We’ll see!

Thank You, Oamaru (and Thank You Lee.)

During the Oligocene, conditions were rather quiescent; widespread thin bioclastic limestones formed, associated with glauconitic and occasionally phosphatic terrigenousstarved sediments. These biogenic and authigenic sediments are an important source of marine invertebrates and vertebrates.

To paraphrase-

A long, long, loooong time ago a whole bunch of things died and fell to the ocean floor and over many, many, maaany years were covered by successive layers of other ‘stuff’ which served to compress the thingy stuff and turn it into stone. We call the kind found around Oamaru in NZ ‘limestone’ and it was to this fun material that my stone carving course turned its attention.

Our design brief required that the creation was to have God, god or gods as the inspiration and so…we went to pencil, paper and planned. Lots of ideas, either inspired by lore or imagination. (One of my classmates developed a somewhat cynical but humorous design based on avarice and greed and featuring a large jug with a $ sign on the side and a key suspended around the neck- key, Key…get it?) I initially thought of my son’s association with the Maori god of war, Tumatauenga but none of the designs really gelled so I moved to an arguably more pleasant realm, that of Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea. This ‘inspiration’ persisted but was modified. Tangaroa had a son, Punga who in turn had a son, Ikatere. Ikatere fled to the sea to escape land-based threats and became the ‘father of fish’. I gave Ikatere an offspring and named it (gender neutral, me) ‘He-Uri-O-Ikatere’ (An Offspring Of Ikatere.)

In our ‘stone room’ we were given our choice of stone and this is what I chose.


It was a pretty daunting prospect to see this huge block of stone and picture the quite delicate and flowing model one had drawn hidden within. How to get it out!! First things first- remove the BIG volume of unwanted stone. My dear limestone tutor, Lee said this was an easy operation- first put in some deep saw-cuts that define the stone to be removed, then a few judicious blows with a mallet and the block would fall away. Simple. (I warned Lee this wasn’t going away any time soon.) She decided to show me exactly what she meant so gave the end of the block a few ‘judicious blows’ with the mallet and… off fell the whole end of the block instead of just the surplus section!!

Haha- sorry Lee!

She was super sorry and super apologetic but I looked at this as being a salutary lesson that at any time things can go wrong and not to become complacent when things are breezing along (never suggesting, of course that Lee was in any way complacent!)cmprssd4

Now it was a matter of following the guidelines I’d drawn and continue to remove bulky chunks, working gradually towards the form I’d planned. I don’t know whether my dear friend Lee had a pang of conscience or not but she introduced me to the reciprocating saw and what a great tool for quick removal of waste stone it was. A few cuts and then taps with the mallet and large chucks fell away. Thank you, Lee!cmprssd5

From there on it was saw, chisel, chisel, saw, mallet, chisel, and so on gradually removing more and more stone and getting closer and closer to the desired form. I hadn’t realised, of course how easy the stone was to work with- chiselling, sawing, rasping, sanding, drilling- all of these quickly removed varying quantities and fairly quickly it became easy(ish) to get close to the stage where finer detail emerges and more delicate methods are called for.cmprssd6

Something that was always at the back of my mind (and not TOO far back, either!) was what happened with the first bulk removal and I wondered how strong the stone was in the thinner areas and what danger there might be to chisel and mallet chipping away, a technique I fairly early on decided I wanted to use in order to preserve a very coarse texture on many parts of the work to contrast with some finer features- the ‘arms’ face and ‘offering bowl’. My fears were unfounded and although I was probably very tentative the nearer the point of the shell I got, the shell was indeed completed without ending up with integral bits on the carving room floor!!

As I worked towards the final details I had an inspiration- (I do like the way designs continue to ‘evolve’ as one sees new possibilities!!). I wondered whether I could excavate a line completely through below the head and behind one of the arms…I thought it could look quite good! Go for it!

Yes it did look good! Yes, it did require a lot more work but it did achieve another feature element. It also gave me all sorts of issues with finishing, but…

I intended some carving on the face- very simple stylised lines only and when these were done they did have the desired effect of new shadows and lines. After I’d done these however my friend of the $ jug suggested the moko might be improved by sanding and softening. Initially I didn’t like this idea but after sleeping on it I tended towards his view and so it proved- there was still line and shadow but the softer look suited the face.

The final feature to the carving was to place the paua shell eyes and it was pretty much done!

All that was left, apart from checking this, that and the other for fine touching was to place some ‘offerings’. I had intended simply going to the beach and placing what shells, bones, weed and any other detritus I might find but as I had already carved a couple of nice stone mussel shells I decided that making a bit of a feature of the fascinating stones of our beaches would suit (remember ‘evolving’?) This I did- I have a number of colourful ‘shells’ I carved from various coloured stones and now I await He-Uri-O-Ikatere’s verdict- does he/she find favour with what I’ve made herim, or…
The new experience of working limestone was fascinating, (although it was VERY dusty and messy!) and I reckon I did OK for a first effort! What do you think, He-Uri?

Thanks Lee.

Assignment The Second!

After getting my results back for the ‘free form’ assignment I moved on to the next challenge on my CJA10 Jade & Hard Stone Carving course. This time we were required to produce 4 ‘asymmetric drops’ and to present 2 for assessment. Asymmetric? OK! Piece has balance but no symmetry.

I took a few lessons from my last assignment in that I had tried to run before I had learned how to walk, (or perhaps crawl before I could walk?) I had probably over-designed some of my first efforts despite the two assessment pieces- this one???????????????????????????????and this one???????????????????????????????being pretty basic and largely lacking in any ‘intricacies’.

This time I consciously ‘stuck with the plan’ and used the KISS principle, our tutor indicating that these first challenges are more about the tools than they are about the design and learning how the various point-carving attachments and sanding/polishing tools work and interact with the stone.

So, how’d I do?
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This piece made from Marsden jade is one of my assessment pieces because I think it conforms with the design criteria, but I just love the colours!!

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This piece has developed into a quite nice piece – another piece of Marsden- great colours!. 2003-01-01 00.00.00-11

This is also a piece made from Marsden- simple although getting the curve right across the face was the main hurdle- think I did it!2003-01-01 00.00.00-12I’m using this as my other assessment piece. It’s a nice simple form made from NZ jade. I am pleased with the simple form and have developed nice curves on front and rear. 2003-01-01 00.00.00-14

This is a nice piece of Polar jade from British Columbia- nice colour and picturesque speckles inside feature in the translucence.

I didn’t stop there but also made this pendant.2003-01-01 00.00.00-18It is a wee bit special because there’s a story that goes with it! When my wife and I moved into our new home several years ago there was a large green stone door stop in the lounge. I always wondered whether it was there because it was greenstone or just a green stone. We cut it the other day and this is what was inside! Lovely buttery yellow Marsden stone with a wide variety of other colours- greens , blues, pinks, browns. I am delighted that this stone has proven to be ‘proper’ jade.

Oh, by the way- I got 88% for my free forms!! Did OK!!

Quite Chuffed

I’m pretty chuffed with progress ‘at school’ today (my jade & hard-stone course) where I had my first day on the second assignment- “produce 4 asymmetrical pieces and choose 2 for assessment”.

I learned a bit of a lesson after kinda over designing some of my ‘free form’ assignment pieces- the KISS principle works well in these early stages while we are getting to know the gear we work with and how to use the different bits and pieces more (most?) efficiently.

I have pretty much finished my first two pieces and have done a good amount of ‘stock removal’ on the other pieces. I’ll get back to the workshop on Wednesday when I am confident I’ll get both of these finished, plait some cord to suspend them from, and get some finer work done on the other pieces.

This piece has some wonderful colours- it is marsden jade and has some exquisite colours.asymmetrical 4 cmprssdThis is from the outer part of a boulder and the bottom part of the pendant is actually more rind than pure jade but I still think it is beautiful to look at. (I have some more of this stone so am now VERY excited about working on a piece that comes from nearer the middle of the rock. There is no ‘front’ or ‘back’ necessarily to the pieceasymmetrical 3  cmprssdalthough I like to think of this as a stylised bird with wings and tail spread (picture the cord through the eyes.)

The other almost finished piece is British Columbian jade from the Polar ‘mine’ in the Cassiar area in northern BC.???????????????????????????????I understand it’s pretty high quality stone and is used for jewelry and museum quality carvings. I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I am with the colour. My tutor told me the darkening at the top of this pendant is caused by a minute difference in the mineral content in that part of the stone (and he stressed minute– miniscule, tiny, almost nothing!)

So, I’m quite chuffed!